Bessie Coleman was an American civil aviator. She was the first woman of African-American descent and the first of Native American descent, to hold a pilot license. She achieved her international pilot license in 1921. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, she went into the cotton fields at a young age but also studied in a small segregated school and went on to attend one term of college at Langston University. She developed an early interest in flying, but African Americans, Native Americans, and women had no flight-school opportunities in the United States, so she saved up money to go to France to become a licensed pilot. She soon became a successful air show pilot in the United States, and hoped to start a school for African-American fliers. She died in a plane crash in 1926 while testing her new aircraft. Her pioneering role was an inspiration to early pilots and to the African-American and Native American communities.
Coleman would not live long enough to establish a school for young black aviators but her pioneering achievements served as an inspiration for a generation of African-American men and women. “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings (1934), dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”Powell served in a segregated unit during World War I, and tirelessly promoted the cause of black aviation through his book, his journals, and the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, which he founded in 1929.