This Day in History – November 20, 1921

Bessie Coleman becomes the first black woman to receive a permit to fly internationally


On this day in 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first black woman to receive a permit to fly internationally.

Born on January 26, 1892 in Texas, Coleman grew up in a family with 12 siblings. When she was a child, her father left the family and moved to Oklahoma. Coleman’s mother worked hard to raise her children single-handedly, living in poverty and working multiple jobs.

When she was 12 years old, Coleman enrolled in the Missionary Baptist Church in Texas. After graduating, she travelled to Oklahoma to attend the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, she was only able to complete one term.


When she was 23 years old, Coleman moved to Chicago where she worked as a manicurist and lived with her brothers. Shortly after, she began reading stories about war pilots, sparking her interest in the aviation field.

At a peak time of both racial and gender discrimination, Coleman was not deterred from attaining her pilot’s license. While several flying schools in the United States denied her admission, she chose to learn French and move to France in order to achieve her goals. It took Coleman a mere seven months to complete the program at the prestigious French Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation.

After earning her license, Coleman returned to the United States with dreams of opening a flying school for aspiring African American pilots. However, instead, she became involved with stunt flying and parachuting, spending hours practicing aerial tricks.

On April 30, 1926, Coleman passed away at the age of 34. She was killed during an aerial rehearsal for an upcoming show. Today, she remains a huge influence in the field of aviation.


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