Bessie Coleman: the black, female pilot who fought the status quo

Although her career was brief – Coleman met her untimely death at only 34 – the aviator took over the skies and paved the way for an entire generation of pilots, writes Olivia Campbell

Saturday 19 June 2021 00:05
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<p>Coleman was fearless, tenacious and bold</p>

Coleman was fearless, tenacious and bold

The skies were clear over New York’s Curtiss Airfield on 3 September 1922. Hundreds of spectators had gathered at an air show put on in honour of the first African American regiment sent to France during the First World War. A plane above them glided through the air, dazzling the crowd below with spirals and loops that seemed to defy the laws of physics.

The daring pilot was Bessie Coleman, a fearless aviator who, for a few short years, achieved fame in the 1920s for her talent to pull off dangerous manoeuvres in her surplus military plane. Coleman reached new heights, literally and metaphorically, by becoming the first African American woman to achieve her pilot license 100 years this week.

Although her career was brief – Coleman met her untimely death at only 34 – the aviator took over the skies and paved the way for an entire generation of pilots. Before there was Amelia Earhart or Jacqueline Cochran there was “Queen Bess”.

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