In honor of Black History Month, here are few profiles of contributors to history of African descent:
First African American to earn an international pilot’s license
Bessie Coleman was the first African American to earn an international pilot’s license. She dazzled crowds with her stunts at air shows and refused to be slowed by racism.
She would be a leader, she said, in introducing aviation to her race. She would found a school for aviators of any race, and she would appear before audiences in churches, schools, and theaters to spark the interest of African Americans in the new, expanding technology of flight.
Coleman left Orlando, Florida, by train to give a benefit exhibition for the Jacksonville Negro Welfare League, scheduled for May 1, 1926. Her pilot, William D. Wills, flew her plane into Orlando, but had to make three forced landings because the plane was so worn and poorly maintained. On April 30, 1926, Wills piloted the plane on a trial flight while Coleman sat in the other cockpit to survey the area over which she was to fly and parachute jump the next day. Her seat belt was unattached because she had to lean out over the edge of the plane while picking the best sites for her program. At an altitude of 1,000 feet, the plane dived, then flipped over, throwing Coleman out. Moments later Wills crashed. Both were killed.Coleman had three memorial services—in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Chicago, the last attended by thousands. She was buried at Chicago’s Lincoln Cemetery and gradually, over the years following her death, achieved recognition at last as a hero of early aviation.
Thanks to Tanisha and Bryan Jones and their daughter Sinai for compiling these profiles from the following sources:
1) The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage, by Susan Altman
2) The Roots website, theroots.com
3) Famous Black Inventors website, black-inventor.com