Bessie Coleman

Facts about Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman died at 34 years old
Birthplace: Atlanta, Texas, United States
Best known as: The world's first licensed African-American pilot


Bessie Coleman Biography

Bessie Coleman was the world’s first licensed Black aviator and one of America’s most famous early female pilots.

Bessie Coleman grew up in Texas, moved to Chicago, and got interested in flying after her brothers returned from World War I. Failing to find anyone in Chicago who would teach flying to a Black woman, Coleman determined to go abroad to get training — a daring idea for that era.

Coleman moved to Paris, was accepted to aviation school, and on June 15, 1921 she received her pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The certificate made her the world’s first licensed Black aviator.

Bessie Coleman returned to the United States, and in 1922 began her barnstorming career, doing stunt-flying at airshows across the country.

She died in 1926 while flight-testing an open-cockpit plane; her co-pilot lost control of the aircraft and in the ensuing dive, Coleman was tossed from the plane and plunged to her death.

Extra credit

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Bessie Coleman in 1995… Bessie Coleman’s family line included some American Indian blood: her father George was part African-American and part Cherokee.


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