Clipped From The Galveston Daily News
MONDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 6,1993 THE GALVESTON DAILY NEWS 9-B Pioneer black female aviator finally being recognized C t-\ Y\n O K+ \~ilf*n*tvn b-vU^.. r i Earhart biographer now tells her story Associated Press WASHINGTON—She was a pioneer American aviator. Her flights drew big crowds. She was daring and exciting and beautiful, too. And she died tragically while flying. But unlike her contemporary, Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman made no splash in history. Bessie Coleman was black. The world's first black female aviator got her pilot's license in 1921 — two years before Earhart. She flew in Europe, starred in air shows, and tried her best to become famous. But outside of the segregated black world in which she lived, few people ever paid attention. Now the author of an acclaimed biography of Earhart is working to change that, with a new book, "Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator." Doris L. Rich first heard about Coleman while doing research for "Amelia Earhart: A Biography." Over and over, she came across her name in early aviation history. But no one gave details. It took a lot of digging to find any. Coleman didn't leave records; she could barely write. And the mainstream press rarely wrote about her. Old copies of the weekly black newspapers that covered her appearances are not easy to come by. "With Earhart, I was flooded with information," says Rich. "Every time I found a fact about Bessie, I was deeply grateful that day." Looking back, it's hard to believe anyone could have lived Coleman's life. Born in 1892 in East Texas, she grew up in a three-room shotgun shack, picking cotton and taking Bessie Coleman in white people's laundry. She went to Chicago in 1915 and became a manicurist in a black beauty shop. Then one day she decided to fly. How she came to the idea is unclear. But she had always set her sights high, Rich says. "She was bom with a kind of self- confidence in which she viewed herself as very gifted, very special — as someone who was going to amount to something," Rich said. •'With people like that, background and beginnings don't matter." When no one in Chicago would agree to teach her, Coleman raised the money to travel to France, where she took courses at one of the best flight schools — L'Ecole d'Aviation des Freres Caudron at Le Crotoy in the Somme. She returned to France briefly Pioneer aviator Bessie Coleman stands on the wheel of a plans in this shot from the 1920s. She gave exhibition flights in the United States as well as Europe, earning the name "Queen Bess" and tried her best to become famous. But outside of the segregated black wcrld in which she lived, few people ever paid attention. She fell out of a plane and died in 1926. in 1922 for advanced training. Between 1921 and 1926, Coleman earned the nickname "Queen Bess,"touring the country, giving exhibition flights and speaking at black churches and schools. When she took to the air, she wore a dashing and stylish French pilot's outfit, with a leather helmet, long leather coat and leather leggings. Coleman loved publicity, and was prone to bending the truth to get it. She was eternally 24 years old, for starters. And she once told a reporter she had learned to fly after going to France with the Red Cross during the war. But despite her dramatic flair, she was serious, too — especially about her dream of starting a school to train black aviators. Her biggest problem was getting a plane. She scraped together money to buy an old one in California in 1923, but was laid up for three months with a broken leg and other injuries after it stalled and crashed the first time she took it out. Her second plane cost her her life. She fell out of it on April 30, 1926, as it nose-dived toward the ground while she was planning an exhibition flight in Jacksonville, Fla. She was 34 years old. In 1977, a group of black women pilots from the Chicago area formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Day. The city of Chicago made May 2 Bessie Coleman Day in 1992. And fellow pilots fly over her grave in Chicago each year on the anniversary of her death. Rich hopes her book will enrich the memory. But, at only 120 pages, it is far from the full story of Coleman's life. CINEMARK THEATRES MOVIES 12 '!£ s MALL OF THE MAINLAND J-45 & Emmatl F. Lowry Expy 986-7166 THE MAN 11:10-1:45 WE'RE MING A PERFECT WEEK A tXIRAVAGANI BRUNCH By Executive Chef Uflcy 17:00 a.-m. til 2:00 p.m. Piano Accompaniment and Complimentary Champagne. 517.95 SILVE R SflJEC! EW MONDAY 5:00 Hi 8:00 p.m. A Choice of Two Menu Selections for Senior Citizens. 59.50 CONIINENIAL CAROUSEL 6:00 til 10:00 p.m. A Variety of Cuisine From Around me World.