Bessie Coleman (06:08)
According to records kept in a family bible, Elizabeth Coleman was born on January 26, 1892. Her family moved to a booming cotton town in Texas, where her father George found work as a carpenter; most African-Americans struggled to find minimal opportunities.
Coleman's Early Life (06:05)
When Coleman was a child, her father, who was half Native American, moved to Oklahoma leaving his wife and four children in Texas. Coleman excelled at school and liked math and reading. She helped support her younger siblings as her mother worked as a domestic servant.
Coleman Family Moves North (06:36)
By 1910, Coleman and her mother had saved enough money for her to attend Langston University in Oklahoma. She moved to Chicago in 1915 and her family followed two years later. Coleman enrolled in a beauty school to become a manicurist.
Coleman's Life in Chicago (04:39)
Coleman worked at the White Sox's Barber Shop on the Stroll, a section of the Southside known for black businesses and nightclubs. Coleman befriended entertainers and spent time at integrated nightclubs.
Interest in Aviation (03:27)
Coleman read stories in the Chicago Defender about black regiments sent to France to fight in World War I. She followed the story of Eugene Bullard. Coleman began wanted to become an aviator, but struggled to find a flight school that would teach a black woman.
Coleman and Robert Abbott (03:51)
Abbott owned the Chicago Defender and was one of Coleman's customers at the barbershop. He advised Coleman to move to France were black people were treated better. He connected her with a flying and Jesse Binga provided funding.
Flight School Attendance (04:44)
Coleman moved to France in 1920 and attended the Caudron School of Aviation in Somme. She was the only woman and only black student. In addition to learning to fly, she was required to learn the physics of flight, airplane maintenance, and first aid skills.
First Black Female Pilot (03:34)
Coleman received a pilot license in 1921. She returned to America and discovered the Chicago Defender had been reporting on her progress in France. She became a black hero in America.
American Racism (01:59)
Despite her fame, Coleman struggled to find a job in the American aviation industry. Many airplane manufacturers barred her from buying or renting an airplane.
Stunt Pilot (04:13)
Coleman realized she needed to work in a flying circus to raise money for the flight school she dreamed of opening. She returned to Europe to learn stunt flying and trained with numerous World War I veterans and famed aviators, gaining widespread media attention.
Flying Circus (05:03)
Abbott helped Coleman launch her tour that featured and honored black World War I veterans. On the day of her first show, she had to prove to white field officials that she could fly. Her shows were widely successful and she was invited to perform throughout the country.
Coleman's Chicago Show (03:38)
Coleman spoke to every reporter she could to promote her shows. With the help of the Chicago Defender, she promoted her homecoming show at Midway Airport in Chicago. Coleman performed stunts made famous by World War I flying aces.
Plans for Southern Tour (08:55)
Coleman ended her northern tour with a Labor Day show at the Ohio State Fair. Her plans to tour through the south worried Abbott and her agent David Behncke.
Coleman's Plane (04:22)
In 1922, Coleman received an endorsement deal with Coast Tire & Rubber Company to drop leaflets about their tires. She used an advance to purchase her first plane from a government surplus sale. Shortly after buying it, the engine stalled and the plane crashed.
Accident Recovery (03:43)
After spending three months in a California hospital, Coleman returned to Chicago and spent nine months recovering from her injuries. She spent time with family and was romanced by Prince Kojo of Dahomey.
Coleman in Texas (06:52)
Coleman began her southern tour in Houston, where more than 15,000 attended; she also lectured and flew planes at a military airfield. Coleman performed at the Waxahachie Fairgrounds, where she had to fight for the show to be integrated.
Memorial Flight (02:17)
Airplane manufacturers refused to sell to Coleman, foring her to use borrowed planes. She was asked to perform a memorial flight for Harriet Quimby, a wealthy, white aviator who was the first American woman to receive a flying license.
Florida Conflict (04:31)
Coleman sparred with the Orlando Chamber of Commerce over the admittance of black residents. While in Florida, she received sponsorship from a chewing gum company and an offer to be a stunt pilot in an upcoming movie.
Coleman's Jacksonville Show (04:11)
Mechanics at the airfield worried Coleman’s plane was too worn. During a scouting flight the day before the show, the plane flipped over and dove. Coleman, who was riding as a passenger, was thrown from the plane and died.
Coleman's Death (07:29)
Black Americans were angered and confused by Coleman's death; many believed it was a murder. Thousands of people attended Coleman's funerals in Jacksonville and Chicago.
Coleman's Legacy (09:19)
Coleman fought against racism decades before many other well-known Civil Rights activists. Despite the hindrance American racism put on her career, Coleman decided to stay in America to give hope to others.
Credits: The Legend: The Bessie Coleman Story (01:53)
Credits: The Legend: The Bessie Coleman Story
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