Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926) was an American civil aviator. She was the first female pilot of African American descent1 and the first person of African American descent to hold an international pilot license
Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, the tenth of thirteen children to sharecroppers George and Susan Coleman. Her father was part Cherokee.4 Coleman began school at age six and had to walk four miles each day to her all-black, one-room school. Despite sometimes lacking such materials as chalk and pencils, Coleman was an excellent student. She loved to read and established herself as an outstanding math student. Coleman completed all eight grades of her one-room school. Every year, Coleman’s routine of school, chores, and church was interrupted by the cotton harvest.
In 1901, Coleman’s life took a dramatic turn: George Coleman left his family. He had become fed up with the racial barriers that existed in Texas. He returned to Oklahoma, or Indian Territory as it was then called, to find better opportunities, but Susan and the children did not go with him.
At the age of twelve, Coleman was accepted into the Missionary Baptist Church. When she turned eighteen, Coleman took all of her savings and enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now called Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. She completed only one term before she ran out of money and was forced to return home. Coleman knew there was no future for her in her home town, so she went to live with two of her brothers in Chicago while she looked for a job.