Strong Rooted Volume 1: Issue 6-Bessie Coleman June 1, 2017 (Republished)
We must know where we come from in order to get to where we want to go. Never forget your roots.
Born one of thirteen children, Bessie Coleman was never meant to be a pilot. All the odds were against her. Coleman’s father left the family in Atlanta, Texas, where she was born to travel to Oklahoma in hopes of finding better work, and that meant that Coleman’s mother was left with the responsibility of maintaining the family on her own. Defying odds is what strong-rooted Black women do.
Coleman moved from Texas to Chicago to live with her brother, and it was there that she realized her passion for aviation. Not being able to attend flight school because of her race and gender, Coleman taught herself to speak French and left America to learn to fly. On June 15, 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Upon returning to the United States, Coleman worked as an aerial acrobat. To further enhance her skills, she had to again go to France for additional training because it was not available to her in the United States. Again, upon her return to the United States, she needed to find work. During this time, Coleman moved to Florida and opened a manicurist school, and was able to earn enough money to purchase a Curtiss-JN-4. It would be on this plane that Coleman would lose her life. April 30, 1926, Coleman was practicing for a new stunt to perform when her Curtiss-JN-4 had an engine failure, and she fell 2000 feet to her death. Also on the plane was her good friend and publicist William Willis, who also died when the plane nose-dived, crashed, and burst into flames.
Coleman was undoubtedly a staple of her time and wanted to be sure that she always provided a positive view of Black people. It was her dedication to the integrity of Black people that prevented her from starring in a feature film that could have helped propel her flying career. The director of the movie wanted Coleman to portray being Black as a stereotypical archetype that she just refused to do by walking off the set.
We all have choices, and sometimes we must make the ones that will matter for the greater good. Coleman decided for the greater good, and because of that, we remember her dressed in her pilot gear, standing on the side of her plane, showing us something that only she could show us during that time. Thank you, Bessie Coleman, for your courage and your sacrifices.
“Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet.” – Sadie Delany.
References: Biography: Bessie Coleman. (2018, February 13). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://youtu.be/Ps6M5es45eE