MARCH 29 - BESSIE COLEMAN
During a period of both racial and gender discrimination, Bessie Coleman Broke down boundaries in 1921 by becoming the world’s first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license. She developed an interest in aviation whilst working as a manicurist in Chicago at the White Sox Barber Shop, where she often heard stories about pilots flying in World War I.
Unfortunately, as a Black woman, Coleman soon learned that no American flight school was willing to train her. She was advised by Chicago Defender founder Robert S. Abbott to study abroad, and as such, she took classes in French and headed overseas to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Though Coleman returned home to become a media sensation, she soon discovered that barnstorming (stunt flying) would be the only way to make a steady income as an aviator. She then proceeded to travel to France, Germany and the Netherlands to expand upon her skills. Due to the combination of her studies, her daredevil mindset, her opportunistic spirit and her background as a Black woman, she quickly gained a strong following as a major attraction at air shows.
Coleman used her platform to encourage other Black individuals to learn how to fly and often took a stand against racism. She refused to do a lecture at a school in Waxahachie, Texas until Black students were allowed to use the same entrance as white students. After she was offered a role in a feature-length film, she walked off the set upon learning that her wardrobe would perpetuate a derogatory image of Black people.
In 1926 - at only 34 years old - Coleman plunged to her death while rehearsing one of her famous stunts. Approximately 10,000 mourners were present at her funeral in Chicago, which was presided over by civil rights icon Ida B. Wells.