All-Black American Airlines Crew Pays Homage to Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman with her biplane.

Bessie Coleman and her biplane, circa 1920. (Image: via Public Domain)

An all-black American Airlines crew decided to take to the skies to commemorate Bessie Coleman. Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. She was able to gain her pilot’s license in 1921.

The event was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first public flight by a black American woman, which took place in 1922. To do this, the airline hosted the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-star tour.

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In a statement by American Airlines, they said that Coleman “bravely broke down barriers within the world of aviation.” This resulted in a new path for others to follow.

Bessie Coleman's 1921 pilot license. When she died in 1926, she had been performing for only five years.
Bessie Coleman’s 1921 pilot license. When she died in 1926, she had been performing for only five years. (Image: via Public Domain)

Why it matters

The reason why this is important is that Bessie Coleman did what was previously thought to be impossible.

She lived in an era where equal rights were not widespread and opportunity for black Americans, especially women, remained highly scarce.

While racism remained rampant, Bessie Coleman defied the odds by achieving the once-impossible in 1921, followed by another once-impossible feat in 1922.

Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to get a pilot’s license, which was thought impossible for black women. She followed this with the first public flight piloted by a black American woman in 1922.

How American Airlines honored Bessie Coleman

The American Airlines crew honored Bessie Coleman by hosting Gigi Coleman, the great-niece of Bessie Coleman.

The flight hosted a direct descendant of Coleman and was operated by an all-black female crew. In addition, the flight was served with black female pilots, flight attendants, cargo team members, customer service coordinators, and aviation maintenance technicians.

In a video by American Airlines titled “Empowering Women in the Skies,” Gigi Coleman attended the event.

She said she was thankful for the opportunity given to them by American Airlines, highlighting her great aunt’s accomplishment in aviation.

How Bessie Coleman achieved the impossible

Bessie Coleman’s achievement was thought impossible because aside from being black, she was also a woman.

She gained her pilot’s license when it was scarce for women to obtain one. In 1918, it was previously thought impossible for women of color to get a pilot’s license. This is because, during that time, the American women that got pilot’s licenses were usually white and rich.

This made the barrier for getting licenses extremely difficult for women of race due to the educational requirements and other obstacles that prevented them from getting one.

Bessie Coleman first had to learn French to gain her pilot’s license. This is because the education she sought would not be available in the United States.

She moved to Paris to pursue her goal and was accepted by an Aviation school in the country. The Caudron Brothers School of Aviation took her, and in 1921, she passed and became the first black female pilot.

To add to her lineage, she was of African American and Native American descent. This made her accomplishment incredibly remarkable since she achieved the impossible in a male-dominated field and did not have any black women.

Shortly after achieving what was previously thought impossible, Bessie Coleman passed away in 1926. Her death came during a practice run with another pilot, tragically ending her dreams.

She wanted to fulfill her dream of opening a flight school for black pilots. Unfortunately, she died just a few years after achieving what was previously thought impossible. Despite her untimely death, Bessie Coleman’s imprint on aviation history continues.

Bessie Coleman in 1923. (Image: via Public Domain)

Why did American Airlines choose to recognize her achievement

American Airlines said that black women have notably been underrepresented in the aviation industry. According to the airlines, less than 1 percent of the commercial airline industry is black women pilots.

The American Airlines crew is a testament to how the company plans to diversify its flight deck. This is also done by expanding awareness and increasing access to pilot careers within diverse communities.

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