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Bessie Coleman Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Abby Federico

Abby has taught elementary special education and has her master's degree in this area.

In this lesson we will learn about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to earn a pilot's license. After the lesson, you will know about her early life growing up, becoming a pilot, and the public shows she put on that made her famous.

Have you ever wanted to do something, but you were told you weren't allowed? Imagine if the reason you weren't allowed was because of the color of your skin or whether you were a boy or girl. Read on to see how Bessie Coleman overcame obstacles to become the first African American woman to become a pilot.

Early Life

Bessie Coleman was born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas. Her real name was Elizabeth, but she was called Bessie for short. When she was young, her father left the family to try to find a better life in Oklahoma. Bessie's mother had to support the family, including 13 kids who all helped as soon as they were old enough.

Bessie attended the Missionary Baptist Church in Texas when she turned 12. After she graduated, she attended the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (Langston University). However, she was only able to attend for one term before she ran out of money.

Becoming a Pilot

When Bessie was 23, she moved to Chicago where her brothers now lived. She worked in a beauty shop, but always dreamed of doing something more. She would read stories about World War I pilots and dream about becoming one. However, flying schools in the United States would not allow African Americans or women to train at their schools. So Bessie taught herself French and moved to France to pursue her dreams.

Bessie attended the Caudron Brother's School of Aviation, a famous French aviation, or flying, school. The program should have taken ten months, but Bessie completed it in seven. She returned to the United States as the first African American woman to have a pilot's license.

Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman

Flying Career

Bessie's real dream was to start a school for African Americans who wanted to become pilots, but she realized that in order to do this, she would need money. Bessie began putting on public shows in which she would perform tricks and stunts, parachute, and barnstorm. Barnstorming is when stunt pilots would perform individual or group tricks. In 1922, Bessie's public show was the first one put on by an African American woman.

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