Bessie Coleman refused to let any obstacle thrown in her way stop her from changing the world.
Coleman grew up in Texas, where her early, formative years were marred by discrimination. At age 6, she began walking four miles to the segregated one-room schoolhouse where she ultimately completed all eight elementary grades, her studies interrupted once a year by the cotton harvest. At 18, Coleman collected her savings and enrolled herself in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, though she only completed one term before her money ran out.
In 1915 at age 23, she moved to Chicago with her brothers. There, she heard the stories of World War I pilots, who sparked interest in a new path for her: aviation. The notion that a young black woman could pilot a plane was quickly shot down by every American flight school — so she traveled to France for her pilot’s license. On June 15, 1921, she earned it and became not only the first black woman to earn an international aviation license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, but the first American of any stripe to do so.
The next year, Coleman successfully completed the first public flight by an African-American woman in America. Her achievements in flight were soon celebrated at air shows, where she impressed audiences from all walks of life with her winged talents. Sadly, she died in 1926 at just 34 years of age while rehearsing for an aerial show, grounding plans to open a more welcoming flying school in the United States.
Still, Coleman’s tenacity and drive shattered barriers and revolutionized the world of aviation. The quote we feature above reminds us that we all must push past difficult circumstances to find opportunity, success and fulfillment.