American aviator and one of the first female African-American pilots. (1892-1926). Born Elizabeth Coleman, the tenth of 13 children of sharecroppers George and Susan Coleman in Atlanta, Texas, she attended a one-room, all-black, and very poor school, but excelled in reading and math and completed all of the eight grades the school offered. Her father left the family in 1901 -- he was frustrated by racial abuse in Texas and, being part Cherokee Indian, returned to his old home in Indian Country (later called Oklahoma). His wife and kids, however, stayed in Texas.

Coleman enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma, but had to drop out after only one term when her money ran out. She moved to Chicago to live with two of her brothers. While working as a manicurist in a barber shop, she listened to war stories from pilots returning from World War I and began dreaming of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, American flight schools refused to enroll her because she was black and a woman. In fact, black American aviators refused to train her as well. However, she received financial and moral encouragement from a newspaper called the Chicago Defender, its publisher, Robert S. Abbott, and a banker named Jesse Binga, and she traveled to France in 1920 to learn to fly.

Coleman took her lessons in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and earned her license on June 15, 1921. This made her the first African-American woman with an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale -- in fact, she was also the first African-American woman in the world to earn any pilot's license. She spent another few months polishing her piloting skills with a French ace, then returned to America as a sensation in September 1921. 

She quickly ran into some more troubles -- the only way for her to make a living as a civilian pilot was to become a barnstormer and perform stunts for audiences, but she hadn't been trained in stunt flying -- and again, no one in America would teach her. So it was back to France for advanced aviation courses, then to the Netherlands to meet with famed aircraft designer Anthony Fokker, and then to Germany, where she received more training from one of the Fokker Corporation's top pilots.

When she returned to the U.S., she was more popular than ever, especially after she started flying in air shows. She made her debut on September 3, 1922, at a show honoring WWI's all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, at Curtiss Field on Long Island. Her next show, at Chicago's Checkerboard Airdrome, featured figure eights, loops, terrifying dips before a large, enthusiastic crowd. Now known almost everywhere as "Queen Bess," her shows attracted tons of fans who loved her for her flamboyance and her love of doing difficult stunts, even after breaking a leg and three ribs after her plane crashed in 1923.

Coleman was offered a role in a feature film called "Shadow and Sunshine," and while she initially accepted, hoping for more publicity and money to create her own flying school, she backed out when she learned that she'd appear in tattered clothes, with a pack on her back, and carrying a walking stick, feeling that the role would be demeaning to her and other black women.

Coleman died on April 30, 1926, in Jacksonville, Florida. She'd recently purchased a new Curtiss JN-4, though her family and friends felt it was unsafe. While putting in a test flight with William Wills, her publicity agent and mechanic, the plane started spinning during a dive. Coleman wasn't wearing a seatbelt -- she was planning a parachute jump for the next day's show, and was leaning out of the cockpit to check out the terrain. She was thrown from the plane at about 2,000 feet and died when she hit the ground. Wills was unable to gain control of the plane and died when it crashed and burned. An investigation found that a wrench had been left on the engine and had fallen into the gearbox, jamming it. Her funeral in Jacksonville was attended by 5,000 mourners. A second funeral in Orlando attracted thousands more, and when her body was returned to Chicago, about 10,000 people were on hand.

Though she didn't get to establish her planned flying school, Coleman has been an inspiration for decades. Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs began appearing nationwide after her death, and those clubs soon began sponsoring air shows in which all the pilots and performers were African-American. She inspired scores of black pilots, including former astronaut Mae Jemison, who wrote a book about her called "Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator" in 1993.

Department of Defense

For SuperMegaNodeFestQuest 2012. Shazam! - Category: Factual; Chinged writeup; Writeup involving death

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