While Amelia Earhart is often celebrated for her piloting heroics, it is pioneer Bessie Coleman who broke down barriers for women in aviation.
Coleman took flight in 1921, becoming the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license. She was inspired to take to the skies at 27 after her brother, a World War I veteran, told her that women in France were superior because they could fly. Despite her drive, Coleman was denied flying privileges in the U.S. because she was Black and a woman.
Determined to become a pilot, Coleman began learning French, before leaving for Paris to pursue her dream. After successfully earning her pilot’s license, Coleman returned home and on September 3, 1922, she made the first public flight by a Black woman in the U.S. in a plane she borrowed.
Coleman worked her way into barnstorming, a form of entertainment involving aerial stunt tricks. In April 1926, while performing in Florida, Coleman’s plane began nosediving at 3,500 feet. Because she was performing tricks that did not allow her to wear her seatbelt, she was thrown from the aircraft and killed.