Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas. At age 23, she moved to Chicago and became interested in the new field of aviation after hearing tales from World War I veterans. She was rejected from multiple aeronautical schools because of her race and gender. Encouraged by the editor of the Chicago Defender and with financial assistance from the president of a Chicago bank, Coleman took French lessons and moved to France in 1920 to get her pilot’s license.
Coleman graduated in 1921 from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale with specializations in stunt flying and parachuting. She became the first Black woman aviator and stunt-flier in the U.S. Her first performance was in Garden City, Long Island in September 1922 with a crowd of 3,000. She became famous and was known as “Brave Bessie” for her amazing stunts.
Over the years, Coleman encouraged other Black people to get involved in aviation. She refused to perform at locations that would not admit Blacks. Coleman died young, in an accident at the age of 30 while rehearsing for a show in Florida.