Bessie was born to George and Susan Coleman as the tenth of thirteen children.
Bessie Walked 4 Miles to her 1 Room School
She attended the same all black school with her brothers and sisters. Students from grades one through eight were taught by one teacher.
Her Father George Left Her Family
Bessie's world fell apart when her father decided to return to the Indian reservation in Oklahoma where he was raised, and her mother decided not to go.
She Finished all 8 Grades
Bessie learned to read and write, but wanted to go to college. While working in the cotton fields, she also worked as a bookeeper for the other field workers.
She Took Her Ironing Money and went to a College in Oklahoma
In 1910 Bessie took her savings and left home to enroll at the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Lanston, Oklahoma. She had to drop out after completing just one term because she ran out of money.
She Began Beautician Courses And Got a Job at The White Sox Barber
Bessie left Texas because the job opportunities that were there were woking in the cotton fields or a laundress. In Chicago most black women were factory workers or cleaned. Bessie took beautician courses and got a job as a manicurist.
Bessie Married a Man by the Name of Claude Glenn
Claude was a friend of Bessie's brother Walter. He was fourteen years older than Bessie, and their marrige was a friendship rather than true love. They kept separate apartments then he went off to war in Germany.
She Sailed to France to Enroll in a Flight School
When her brother returned from the war he told Bessie French women had careers and some even flew airplanes. She then decided she too wanted to be a pilot, but since she couldn't find a school that would train a black female she decided to go to France.
She Enrolled in a Seven Month School
The first school Bessie applied to refussed her admission because of some recent accidents with women. The second schhool accepted her and altough she didn't hardly speak French she finished the course.
Bessie Graduated from Flight School
When Bessie passed the test she was the first African American in the world qualified to fly.
She Moved Back to America and Reporters Began Calling her "Queen Bess"
Even with all the celebration when Bessie returned to America, she knew it was going to be difficult for her to make a living as an aviator.
She Sailed Back to France to Study to be a Barnstormer
Because her race and sex prevented her from buying a plane, jobs were limited to her as a pilot. She decided an airshow pilot was the way to go, but she needed more training.
She was Scheduled for Her First Air Show
Bessie's friend Robert Abbott asked his staff at the Chicago Defender to arrange an airshow for Bessie. They called her "the world's greatest woman flyer."
She was Rained Out the First Time and Now She Was Scheduled for a Different Date
Her first show was rained out and was rescheduled for September 3rd. When Bessie finally got to fly she made the first public flight of a black women in America.
Bessie's Plane Crashes During an Exhibition near Los Angeles
Moments after Bessie took off in a new plane, her motor stalled. When workers arrived at the crash they found her plane was demolished and Bessie had a broken leg, three broken ribs, internal injuried and cuts on her face.
First Airshow in Columbus, Ohio After Her Injuries
It took three months before Bessie recovered. She worked hard to build her barnstorming career back up, so she borrowed a plane and flew in an airshow. Ten thousand people came to watch.
She Guest Spoke at Every African American School in Jacksonville, FL
Many times when Bessie was on tour she would speak in churches, schools and theaters trying to raise money for her flying school. Many people supported her because she used her influence to try and end racial discrimination.
She Fell Out of a Plane and Died
On the day before a performance Bessie went up with another pilot so she could get a better look at the course. He lost control of the plane and without her seatbelt she fell out and broke every bone in her body and died.
Bessie was Buried in Lincoln Cemetary After 3 Funerals
As the first black female aviator so many people wanted to say goodbye. She was given three funerals services in Jacksonville, Orlando and Chicago. Ten thousand people tried to attend her funeral.
The USPS Issued a Commemorative Stamp in Bessie's Honor
This national distinction was a tribute to Bessie who proved that grand dreams can become reality.