The Story of Bessie Coleman


Conway High School

Conway High School is celebrating Black History Month by recognizing well-known, and lesser known black leaders and influential figures in history.

Megan Lovett, Editor/Staff Writer

Bessie Coleman, AKA “Brave Bess”, and “Queen Bess,” was born on January 28, 1892, in Atlanta Texas. She was known as the first African American and Native descent woman of color to get her pilot license in the U.S. She was and still is a big deal, but unfortunately, she wasn’t recognized as such until after her death in 1926. 


She was the daughter of Susan Coleman and George Coleman. Her mother was African American, and her father was African American and Native American. Coleman grew up with 12 brothers and sisters and eventually was just with her mother and siblings as her father moved to Oklahoma to try and avoid further discrimination. 


In her early 20s, she moved to Chicago and attended the Burnham School of Beauty Culture in 1915. She then became a manicurist at a barber shop nearby. While living with her brothers, She witnessed them serving in WW1, and after hearing about the stories her brothers had to tell, she developed an interest in the subject. 


Despite her efforts in trying to apply for flight schools, no school accepted her because she was an African American woman. Determined, Bessie took the advice of Robert Abbot and moved to France in the hope of accomplishing her dreams. France was known to let women in aviation. Nothing could stand in her way of becoming a pilot. She began taking French classes and soon wrote up her application. She was eventually accepted into the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation. By June 15, 1921, she had officially become an internationally licensed pilot. 


In an effort to earn money, she would perform flight tricks and shows, give speeches, and down the line, one day wanted to own her own plane and flight school. Bessie survived many hardships, some physical, and some mental. Despite the intense discrimination, Bessie managed to accomplish her dreams. Ultimately, she passed away in a flying accident, but her legacy never died. Many flight schools would be named in her honor, and she continues to be an inspiration to many.