Bessie Coleman Earns Her Wings

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It was on this day in 1922 that Bessie Coleman received her pilot’s license. An American hero, and one we should all know a little more about.

Bessie was born on this day, the 26th of January,1892, in Atlanta, Texas. Her parents were illiterate sharecroppers. Facing unimaginable obstacles she strove for excellence.

Bessie was able to obtain some university education, but poverty prevented her from finishing. She became interested in flying. She also saw that while no flying school in the US would take a black woman, there were several women pilots in France, and they had no color bar to training.

Becoming a beautician, Bessie saved every penny she could. She also took a Berlitz course to learn French. And finally with some support from Robert Abbot, the owner of the “Chicago Defender,” Bessie made her way to France to learn to fly.

There she completed her training and was licensed, on this day, as a pilot.

Bessie returned to America to wide acclaim. There would be a return to France for further training. And she became famous as a barnstormer. She also fiercely advocated for women and African Americans.

Sadly, while a passenger in her plane, she was killed in a flying accident in 1926. She was thirty-four years old.

Bessie was an inspiration for many, including many of those who would become the Tuskegee Airmen. We just can never know the consequences of our actions. But, often we can see those consequences. Bessie Coleman, through our fierce devotion to both her own life and the lives of others, touched many people, and inspired some to greatness.

I find myself thinking of the first African American woman astronaut, Mae Jemison, someone I deeply admire. She carried a photograph of Bessie on her inaugural mission to space. I think of that. I think of us.

And, you know, I feel a burst of hope for our poor benighted species…

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