Every Thursday in the month of February, we’ll be honoring the accomplishments of African-American women throughout history as part of Black History Month. First up: Chicagoan Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman, the first American woman to receive an international pilot’s license.
Too poor to stay in college, Bessie took a job as a manicurist in a barber shop, where she overhead stories about the adventures of pilots returning from WWI. She also met some influential men at the barber shop, including founder and publisher of the influential Chicago Defender, who encouraged Bessie to take up aviation and helped her get to France to study, knowing that no American flight schools would accept her.
“Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream”.
I was so happy to stumble upon Bessie’s story because I find her courage and passion so inspirational. I can only imagine the doubts and fear she must have experienced boarding that first boat to France to embark on her own adventure. I like to think that I would have the guts to do that too.