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Bessie Coleman26. february 2011 20:15
by Gary Hudson
Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman aviator, was born on January 26th 1892 in Atlanta, Texas and died April 30th 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida. She was not only the first African American woman to get a pilot license but she was also the first to get an international pilot license.
“Brave Bessie”, as she was sometimes called, grew up on her parents farm along with her 12 siblings were she, from the age of 6, attended a school that was specifically for African American children. Her father left the family in 1901 hoping to have a better life in Oklahoma. Bessie worked on cotton fields with school to save up for the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston.
After the first semester she had to return home because of financial difficulties. When she was 23, she moved to Chicago to live with her brother and found a job as a manicurist. She knew that this was not what she wanted to do. When she heard the stories of French the female pilots De Laroche, Marvingt and Dutrieu, her became interested in becoming an aviator herself.
In every flight school she applied, Bessie was refused entry because she was either African American or a woman, or both. She started taking French lessons in Chicago and in November traveled to Paris to enroll in the École d'Aviation des Frères Caudon in Le Crotoy. In only 7 months she was the first black woman to complete an aviation pilot's license. After realizing that the best way to make money as an aviator was by flying in the air shows, she took 2 more months of flight lessons near Paris and became a media sensation in the states where she was introduced as “Queen Bessie”.
She was invited to join a lot of shows and even survived a few mishaps where she broke a leg and some ribs. Bessie participated in an air show honoring veterans and was introduced as “the world’s greatest fighter woman”. In Chicago, she later demonstrated some stunning stunts. She quickly was considered daring and unstoppable when trying to complete extreme stunts.
Because of her popularity she was offered a role in a film called Shadow and Sunshine which she at first accepted. After learning how she was expected to play her role she defused the part which was suppose to provide her with enough money to open her own aviator school. She wanted to open a school for African Americans that were rejected by other schools because of their skin color. This did not happen however since she died in an airplane accident whilst preparing for a show in Jacksonville at the age of 34.
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