Petrolettes In History: Bessie Coleman

Over a century ago, an icon named Bessie Coleman was born. Bessie was the world’s first African American woman pilot, and the first African American to earn an international pilot’s license. Born in January of 1892, she entered our world with an innate yearning to “amount to something,” no matter the odds stacked against her. And those odds stood substantially against her, both as an African/Native American and a female of the South before the era of Civil Rights in America.

While the Emancipation Proclamation was set into effect, African Americans were still fighting an uphill battle at the turn of the century in order to gain their basic rights as citizens of the United States. Turmoil stirred throughout the black communities as racism grew rampantly with the rise of the violent extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the enforcement of “Jim Crow laws” leading to segregation in public facilities. With little to no rights, most blacks were subjected to a life poverty and in order to have any chance at livelihood many black Southerners took jobs on White-owned lands as sharecroppers, reverting back to a life of slavery under the guise of “indebtedness.”

As the child of sharecroppers, Bessie by no means had a ticket to success. In a world where every right was being pried away and people were dying left and right due to the color of their skin, her story brings about a true lesson of tenacity and the power of having a dream.


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