Born in Texas, the tenth of thirteen children, Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926) heard tales from pilots who were returning home from World War I and started to fantasize about being a pilot. However, she could not gain admission to American flight schools because she was black and a woman. No black U.S. aviator would train her either.
Robert Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, encouraged her to study abroad. Coleman took French language class and traveled to Paris on November 20, 1920. Coleman learned to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane. On June 15, 1921 Coleman became not only the first African-American woman to earn an international aviation licence from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, but the first black woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot’s licence.
She became known as “Queen Bess” on the airshow circuit and was a highly popular draw for the next five years. Invited to important events and often interviewed by newspapers, she was admired by both blacks and whites. She also quickly gained a reputation as a skilled and daring pilot who would stop at nothing to complete a difficult stunt.