Born in Texas in 1892, to parents of African-American and Native American descent, Bessie Coleman moved to Chicago at twenty-three and worked as a manicurist. Somehow, Coleman began listening to and reading stories about World War I pilots. She became fascinated. She tried to enter flying school in the United States, but none would admit her.
So she learned French, and moved to France in 1921, hoping to be admitted into less-racist flying schools there. Coleman was so determined to reach her goals that she learned a foreign language in her twenties, and moved across an ocean by herself. Wow. And it was all worth it: Coleman was able to earn her pilot’s license in France, in just seven months.
As the world’s first black civilian pilot – male or female – she was nicknamed “Queen Bess.” She returned to the United States and the same year she got her license, 1922, became the first African-American woman to fly a public flight in the United States. Queen Bess kept going, earning her living doing aerial shows and barnstormings; she specialized in stunt flying and parachuting. In 1926, at the age of thirty-four, she tragically fell to her death while rehearsing for an aerial show.