Commemorating the First Flights of the Wright Brothers December 17, 1903

‹--Return to the Shrine

Bessie Coleman

1893-1926

First Black Woman Licensed Pilot

Inducted in 1989

Bessie Coleman was born into a poor Texas family, and although she was a bright student, poverty kept her from attending college. She moved to Chicago where she saw her first air show. The excitement and thrills created by the barnstorming stunt pilots inspired her to learn to fly.

Coleman refused to give in to the racial and gender prejudices of her day. Rejected by American flight schools, she went to France, learned to fly in Nieuport biplanes, and earned the first International Pilot's License issued to a black woman.

Returning to America in 1921, Coleman yearned to open a flight school for black pilots. She believed "the air is the only place free from prejudices." She turned her accomplishments into celebrity, appearing on newsreels, performing at air shows, and lecturing to encourage other blacks to pursue aviation careers.

By 1926, Coleman had raised almost enough money to open her school. As fate would have it, her dreams never came true. She died in a crash at a Florida air show in 1926.