Bessie Coleman became the first African American woman to earn an aviator’s license and the first American of any race or gender to receive an International Aviation License.
No one in the U.S. would teach her to fly because she was (a) a woman and (b) black so she had to go to France for lessons. She became a “barnstormer” show pilot and an immediate media sensation when she returned to the U.S. She encouraged other African Americans to learn to fly but refused to perform at locations that would not admit those of her race.
|Photo courtesy of civilrights.si.edu|
“She was invited as a guest of honor to attend the all-black musical ‘Shuffle Along.’ The entire audience, including the several hundred whites in the orchestra seats, rose to give the first African American female pilot a standing ovation.” (quote source: pbs.org).
Coleman died in a plane accident at the age of 34 when an unsecured wrench got caught in the control gears and she fell to her death. For a number of years, starting in 1931, Chicago pilots had an annual fly-over of her grave.