Born to a sharecropper family in 1892, Bessie Coleman, one of 13 children, was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn an international pilot’s license. She attended a small segregated school and spent one year at Langston University, then went to work in Chicago, where she became fascinated with stories of pilots returning from World War I.
Neither women nor blacks were being accepted in US flight schools, so she received financial backing to go to France. She learned to fly in a Nieuport bi-plane. She found out that she could fly in air shows in the US, because there was no prejudice at those events, and she became a daring barnstorming stunt flier. She went back to Europe, and met with Anthony Fokker, a distinguished Dutch aircraft designer, and received additional training.
In the US, she became known as “Queen Bess, the world’s greatest woman flier.”
Sadly, she was killed in a plane crash while testing a new aircraft in 1926 so her dream of establishing a school for African American fliers was never realized.