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Naperville
Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Transitions – Bessie Coleman: First black female pilot

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Several years ago, I saw a woman at Midway Airport in an airline uniform. A second look confirmed she was not an attendant but a PILOT.

Even today, women make up only 5 percent of pilots.

So, imagine my shock at seeing a story about Bessie Coleman. She got a pilot’s license in 1921 in France, the first Black female and first Native American to do so.

A Texas sharecropper’s daughter, Bessie came to Chicago in 1915. Flying was always her passion, yet women and Blacks couldn’t train. Publicity in The Chicago Defender spawned financial support from the Black community for her flight training in France. Pilot’s license in hand, she returned to the U.S. a hero and gained the moniker, Brave Bess.

She became a famous barnstormer. Always aware of her positive influence, she refused to star in a movie that portrayed Blacks as poor and less than whites. Tragically, in 1926 a wrench jammed the controls of her plane, sending it into a spiral — and she fell out 2,000 feet to her death.

You’ve likely heard of her because of Bessie Coleman Drive near O’Hare. There are many schools, roads, and an American stamp with her name. A U.S. quarter will be issued this year in the American Women series.

In August 2022, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her flying license, American Airlines flew a commemorative flight from “Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix. The flight was operated by an all-Black Female crew — from the pilots and Flight Attendants to the Cargo team members and the aviation maintenance technician.” (CBS News)

Inspired by Star Trek, I wanted my daughters to be pilots or astronauts like Bessie or Mae Jemison (1st Black woman in space); now I wish that for my granddaughters. It will teach them that the sky is not the limit, and persistence puts the world at their feet.

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Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist is a Naperville resident, wife, mother, quilter, and screenwriter. Contact her at BWBLomquist@aol.com.
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