World's first African-American woman pilot honored with U.S. Stamp
By Agnes Barr
A brief ceremony hosted by the Des Moines, Iowa, International Airport honored Bessie Coleman, the first woman to earn an International Aviation License and the world's first licensed black aviator. The Bessie Coleman Commemorative is the 18th in the U.S. Postal Service Black Heritage series.
During the ceremonies, Richard Watkins of the postal service in St. Louis, presented framed enlargements of the Bessie Coleman Stamp to William Flannery, Des Moines airport director, and to me as a representative of The Ninety-Nines Iowa Chapter. Members Jane Walter and Martha Matthews also attended.
Bessie Coleman was born in Texas in 1892. During World War I, she read about the air war in Europe. She became interested in flying and became convinced she should be up there, not just reading about it. She started looking for a flying school but what she didn't realize was that she had two strikes against her: She was a woman and she was black.
She heard that Europe had a more liberal attitude toward women and people of color so she learned to speak French and earned enough money to go to Paris to get her license. She encountered many problems but would not let go of her dream and earned her license on June 15, 1921 from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale She returned to the U.S. and began teaching other black women to fly, giving lectures and performing at flying exhibitions.
As she gained increasing fame as a barnstorming air circus performer in a war-surplus Jenny Trainer, she became known as "Queen Bessie." On April 30, 1926, while practicing for a show in Orlando, Florida, she was thrown from the plane and fell to her death.
To learn more about this early aviator, visit Bessie Colman.com