Google doodle honors African American pilot Bessie Coleman

The pioneering aviator broke down racial barriers when there were few opportunities for women or blacks to become pilots.



Google
by Steven MusilJanuary 25, 2017
CNET

Bessie Coleman took women of color to new heights, even when many were trying to keep her down.

On Thursday, on what would have been Coleman's 125th birthday, Google published an animated doodle highlighting the life of the American civil aviator who was the first female pilot of African-American descent and the first woman of Native American descent to earn a pilot's license.

The 10th of 13 children born to an interracial couple who worked as sharecroppers, Coleman walked four miles each day to a segregated, one-room school. She helped out with cotton harvests while managing to excel at reading and math. But she had a loftier future in store.

In 1916, when she was 23, she fell in love with the idea of being a pilot after hearing pilots' tales of flying during World War I. She worked two jobs to save up money to train to be a pilot, but no American flight school would admit either women or blacks.

Coleman moved to Paris to study, and a year later she became the first female pilot of African-American and Native American descent, and the first to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

She returned to the US as a stunt pilot, performing complex maneuvers that earned her the nickname "Queen Bessie." She dreamed of establishing a school for black aviators but didn't live long enough to fulfill her goal. She died in 1926 at the age of 34 when the plane she was flying experienced an equipment failure and crashed.

Her achievements inspired a generation of African-American men and women. Lt. William J. Powell dedicated his 1934 book "Black Wings" to Coleman, saying that because of Coleman, "we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream."