“Look Through The Smoke” - There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. 

Photography: Gabe Tomoiaga

Bessie Coleman by John de la Vega 

Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926)  was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.

Sanke card 511 showing the star performers of Jasta 11 taken at Roucourt, in mid-April 1917, Pictured are (L-R) Sebastian Festner (12 victories), Karl-Emil Schaefer (30 victories), Manfred von Richthofen (80 victories), Lothar von Richthofen (40 victories) and Kurt Wolff (33 victories). This photo was taken in the heyday of Jasta 11. The jovial expressions on their faces is indicative of the fertile hunting grounds they found in their operating area over the Western Front and the vast superiority of their Albatros D.III fighters over the majority of their adversaries machines. 

These men accounted for 83 enemy aircraft in April 1917 alone.

Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first female pilot of African American descent. In 1921, she became the first person of African American and Native American descent to obtain an international pilot license.

She was motivated by stories of World War I pilots, and travelled to Paris to learn to fly, as no aviation school in the US accepted either women or black people. She became a media sensation on her return to her home country, and became known as “Queen Bess”, performing daredevil stunts at airshows. Sadly, she died in an accident before she could fulfil her dream of opening an aviation school for black students.