Bessie Coleman, 1921
Bessie Coleman, 1921

external image Quill_and_ink.pngHistorical Biography

Go here for Bessie Coleman 125th Birthday Google Doodle (January 26, 2017)

Bessie Coleman,(1892-1926) the daughter of a poor, southern, African American and Native American family, became one of the most famous women in aviation history.
  • Brave Bessie" or "Queen Bess," as she became known, faced the double difficulties of racial and gender discrimination in early 20th-century America but overcame such challenges to become the first African American and Native American woman to earn a pilot's license.
    • She was raised at a time when African Americans could not ride in railway cars with White people or use facilities set aside for Whites. Few African Americans were barred from voting in the American South by literacy tests.
    • Coleman thrilled audiences with her skills as a barnstormer,
      • She became a role model for women and African Americans. Her very presence in the air as a pilot and aerial performer threatened prevailing contemporary stereotypes.
        • While doing exhibition flying during the 1920s, she refused to perform unless the audiences were desegregated.
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See Bessie Coleman from PBS for more biographical information

external image Podcast-icon.svgBessie Coleman from The History Chicks podcast site

Bessie Coleman from Humanities Texas podcast site

1921 pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
1921 pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale







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Primary Sources

American Aviatrixes: Women with Wings--Bessie Coleman from Digital Public Library of America

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Multimedia Resources


The First Female African American Pilot from Smithsonian Channel on YouTube

Bessie Colemanon YouTube from TexanCultures, University of Texas, San Antonio

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Bessie Coleman Fly Girl Action Figure from History in Action Toys


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Teaching Resources


African American Trailblazer Bessie Coleman Certainly Had the Wright Stuff. Al Jazeera (January 31, 2017) adapted by Newsela

For more information, see Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators from TeachingHistory.org

African American Pioneers in Aviation, 1920 to Present from the National Air and Space Museum

Seventy Years After Bessie Coleman, First African American Pilot examines the accomplishments of Coleman and Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American Senator

Bessie Coleman and her plane, 1922
Bessie Coleman and her plane, 1922


rotating gif.gifSee United States History II.10 for more on America in the 1920s