Great Niece To Celebrate Centenary Of Bessie Coleman’s Pilot License


On June 15, Gigi Coleman, great niece of legendary aviator Bessie Coleman, will be at the EAA Aviation Museum dressed in vintage aviation attire to celebrate the 100-year anniversary, to the day, of Bessie earning her pilot’s license. Bessie Coleman was both the first African-American woman and first Native American—man or woman—to earn a pilot’s license.

During two presentations at the museum’s Founders’ Wing (at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.), Gigi Coleman will discuss her great aunt’s life and ambition to fly. According to EAA, her passion for aviation stemmed in part from her brother John, who noted that, in France, women could fly. At the presentations, Gigi Coleman will discuss how Bessie moved to France, got her license, and ultimately performed as an airshow pilot.

Ron Connolly, Director of the EAA Aviation Museum, said, “The ability to have Gigi Coleman come speak on behalf of her great aunt Bessie Coleman is especially important because it encourages individuals to go out and achieve their dreams. Bessie’s achievements show that people are capable of many great things if they set their mind to it.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. You apparently don’t know the story of Queen Bess. She was a manicurist in Chicago when she raised the money to travel to France to learn to fly, since nobody in the U. S. would take on a black woman student.

    So what have you done lately?

    • Excellent retort Stephan. After reading so much antisocial rhetoric in the comments section of virtually every article of AvWeb I it’s easy to lose faith in humanity. Good to know there are still some rational folk here.

    • Pretty much everything in 1920 aviation was difficult, dangerous, and a “first”. Unfortunately many of the self- promoters in that era ended up dying during their stunts.

  2. The story goes that she had an older brother who told her she couldn’t do it – which can be a powerful motivator…

  3. The story of a person overcoming obstacles to become a pilot… is what we aviators are about.

  4. She was an historic figure and an inspiration for many young women who followed here. She died way too young doing what she loved.

  5. Yes dangerous, one female pilot survived a crash so stopped doing stunts.

    Coleman had three firsts before the grandparents of today’s collectivists were born – she just wanted to fly.

    • She died from botched maintenance, a wrench jammed controls of an airplane she was a passenger in.

      • Well, dying a very horrible and early death certainly erases the “encouragement” factor for most women. I applaud anyone for trying to fly, ride high speed motorcycles or base jump; however, becoming a statistic of high risk behavior hardly makes the more risk-adverse women of that era want to be a pilot.

  6. If I may I think the problem here is nowadays we have made the definition of ‘hero’ too broad. It’s a byproduct of a culture that gives participation trophies, and declines to award true excellence in favor of increasing self esteem of those less gifted or underachievers.

    Killed in a school shooting? You are a hero (for sitting at or hiding under your desk).

    Arrested in a protest? You are a hero now as well. (For earning SJW points on YouTube)

    Killed by a policeman while breaking the law? Also a hero. (For being an unwilling focal point for said SJWs)

    Worked very hard and went out of your way leading an iconoclastic lifestyle to get your pilots license (which serves no one but yourself?) Hero. Witness above example.

    In my estimation being a hero means risking yourself for the betterment of others.

    The soldier at Normandy.

    Abraham Lincoln.

    Firefighters or police officers or EMTs running into the area everyone else is running away from.

    Jesus Christ.

    These are heroes.

    The others are just people living their lives.

    • No one used the word “hero” on this page until you brought it up.

      (I haven’t heard the word “hero” used to describe a lot of the examples you gave.)

      Bessie Coleman is mentioned because she overcome restrictions by others based upon her race and gender. And by doing so pointed out the absurdity of such restrictions. It was only a year earlier that the “fairer sex” was even allowed to vote. And Jim Crow laws still restricted that if you were black.

      So for a black woman to learn to fly an airplane, the ultimate expression of freedom, was quite a big deal. Maybe it didn’t cause others to flock to flight schools. But it made many of them think “if she could do that, maybe I could drive a car/start a business/buy a home” (despite the many restrictions against those activities).

      • Today in our enlightened state, we would just call it “cultural appropriation” to do something outside of your cultural heritage 😉

        • Would you like to explain that comment?

          Because it sounds like you’re saying that since white society in the U.S. actively denied blacks the ability to learn how to fly, it’s not in their heritage and therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to fly?