Bessie Coleman (painting #1 of 13) “Influential Women”


Bessy Coleman

Bessie Coleman
1892 – 1926

“Don’t take no for an answer.”

Tragedy stuck Bessie Coleman down at the young age of 34, but not before she left her indelible mark as the first black aviatrix in the world.

Born on a cotton farm in Atlanta, Texas, Bessie was part of the great migration north with her family – settling in Chicago in 1915. Motivated not to suffer the menial jobs available to Negroes in those days, she set her sights on higher goals, just what the goals were, she did not know at first. She had seen movie footage of airplanes soaring through the sky and fantasized about being the captain of such a craft. Her brother, John, returning from World War I, spoke of the “superiority of French women” who were learning to fly. The kernel of possibilities was planted and sparked the imagination of Bessie to become a aviator. Not deterred by the rejection of all of the flight school in the US, Bessie took the advise of Robert Abbot, publisher of the Chicago Defender, and set sail for France with what little money she had saved as a manicurist in a local barber shop. Mr. Abbot and a friend supplemented Bessie’s meager funds so she could attend the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Croytoy, France. Bessie Coleman was awarded her pilots licenses in 1921 by the Federation Aeronautiqe International. She did not let her color or gender diminish her dream and she accomplished her goal in a remarkable seven months after enrollment.

Returning to the US, Bessie made her living “barnstorming” (traveling around giving exhibitions of flying and performing aeronautical stunts). Her goal, additionally, was to establish a school for African American pilots. Coleman was limited in the finer skills of stunt flying, so she returned to France (after once again being refused entry into US flight schools) to learn the advanced methods of daredevil flying.

In 1922 Bessie performed in an air show at Glen Curtiss Field, Garden City, NY. She became an instant success with the crowds christening her “Queen Bess.” Her celebrity status gave her a platform from which she could encourage others, especially women, to learn to fly. Bessie also used her fame to challenge the segregated status quo, refusing on one occasion to perform in her home town in Texas if blacks and whites were not allowed to use the same entrance to the air stadium, instead of the separate entrances that were standard.

Her short six year career ended while her mechanic was piloting her “Jenny” plane (Bessie was not strapped in), she was leaning over the cockpit’s edge trying to spot a potential parachute landing site. An erratic nose dive occurred, due to a wrench left accidently by the mechanic, and the plane flipped over, plummeting young Bessie to her death.

(painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

 

 

 

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~ by Larry Revene on June 30, 2014.

5 Responses to “Bessie Coleman (painting #1 of 13) “Influential Women””

  1. loved the story. love the painting. one of your best if you ask me.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Film Fables.

    Like

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