The LIT History Series is for the Legends, Innovators, and Trailblazers that have shaped our culture. I love history, and in turn, I love Black history. So much of our culture has been defined by those who’ve come before us, so I write this to capture and chronicle our narratives.

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted unsung black pilot, Jesse Brown . This week, Miss Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license gets the spotlight.

Bessie was born in Atlanta, TX to an impoverished family. When Bessie first went to school at the age of six, it was a one-room wooden shack and a four-mile walk from her home. Often there wasn’t enough paper to write on or pencils to write with.

In 1915, at the age of 23, she left Texas and moved to Chicago with her brothers where she became a manicurist. It was at this time that she discovered aviation because of World War I.

Because flight schools in the United States denied her entry, she moved to France and learned French to achieve her goal. Coleman earned her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in only seven months!

Photo: PBS

Coleman was well-received when she came back to the U.S. She was invited as a guest of honor to the all-black musical, Shuffle Along, and started performing in countless air shows.

She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, and earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. In 1922, she made the first public flight by a black woman in America.

Coleman initially wanted to start a flying school for African-Americans when she came back from France. Unfortunately, just like Jesse Brown, her life was cut tragically short. At the age of 34, she was killed in an accident while practicing for an air show that was to take place the following day. At her funeral in Chicago, about 10,000 mourners paid their last respects, with several prominent black figures in attendance. Coleman’s service was presided over by equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells.

Because her life ended too soon, Bessie didn’t receive the recognition she deserved during her lifetime. Chicago City Council requested a postage stamp in her honor with a resolution that said, “Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed.” The U.S. Postal Service unveiled a Bessie Coleman stamp in 1995.

May her legacy live on.

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