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African American History Month grew out of Negro History Week, which was established in February 1926 by African-American historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was the founder of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. The original history week was in February to include both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s Birthdays. In 1976, the Nation’s Bicentennial, the celebration was extended to be a month-long. For more information on Black History Month visit http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/.  

Bessie Coleman

The First African-American Female Pilot

Personalities AE  96

Born on Jan. 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman grew up in rural east Texas, one of 13 children in a family whose parents were both illiterate. Despite suffering many hardships as a child, she excelled in math and completed all grades. Coleman left Texas when she turned 18 and enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston. After a semester, she decided to head to Chicago, where she moved in with a brother and fell in love with flying. Although she was rejected from every U.S. flight school she applied to, who discriminated against her as both a woman and African-American, Coleman refused to let the setbacks stop her.

With support from Chicago locals, Coleman headed to Paris in late 1920. On June 15, 1921, Coleman became the first African-American woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot’s license, graduating from the famed Federation Aeronautique Internationale. In fact, she was the first American to be awarded this type of license, which permitted her to fly anywhere in the world.

When she returned to the U.S., Coleman utilized barnstorming to gain a foothold in the aviation world. In 1922, she appeared in her first American airshow, an event honoring veterans of the all black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I. The show billed Coleman as “the world’s greatest woman flier,” and featured aerial displays by some of America’s top pilots.

Tragically, Bessie Coleman’s life was cut short on April 30, 1926, in Jacksonville, FL, where she was thrown from her plane as she was preparing for an event the next day. Though her dream of starting her own flight school wasn’t realized during her brief lifetime, she did inspire countless others to pursue their dreams of flying, opening the field up for both women and African Americans.

References

Aviation. (1998). In The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History. Retrieved from http://www.lirn.net/services/proxy?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.credoreference.com/entry/rcuswh/aviation

U.S. Department of Defense Information / FIND. (2012). Bessie Coleman: Woman who ‘dared to dream’ made aviation history. Retrieved from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com.ezp-00rrw.lirn.net

Maurizi, D. (1998). Breaking barriers: The Bessie Coleman story. Flight Journal, 3 (4). Retrieved from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com.ezp-00rrw.lirn.net

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