Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Bessie Coleman trained in Paris to become first female African American pilot
Chicago Sun Tims: Bessie Coleman trained in Paris to become first female African American pilot
In 1920, Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) became the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license, after traveling to Europe to attend flight school.
Born in Atlanta, Texas, Coleman moved to Chicago in 1915, and here she discovered her passion for aviation. However, as a black woman she wasn’t allowed to train as an airplane pilot in the United States.
Robert Abbot, publisher for the African-American newspaper the Chicago Defender, urged Coleman to learn French and enroll in France’s Caudron School of Aviation.
Coleman received her international pilot’s license and toured the U.S. as a barnstormer, with the Chicago Defender as her sponsor. Coleman, who gave lectures and flight lessons, became known as “Queen Bess” and “the world’s greatest woman flyer” as her celebrity grew.
Her first Chicago area exhibition was Oct. 15, 1922, at the Checkerboard Field, in what is now Miller Meadow Forest Preserve in Maywood. More than 2,000 people attended.
She died in a plane crash in Florida in 1926 and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, at Kedzie and 123rd in Alsip.
Sources: Encyclopedia of Chicago and Smithsonian Institution Archives