The world’s first licensed Black pilot. And, the first female pilot of African American descent.
“Brave Bessie”, as she was sometimes called, grew up on her parents farm along with her 12 siblings were she, from the age of 6, attended a school that was specifically for African American children. Her father left the family in 1901 hoping to have a better life in Oklahoma. Bessie worked on cotton fields with school to save up for the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston.
After the first semester she had to return home because of financial difficulties. When she was 23, she moved to Chicago to live with her brother and found a job as a manicurist. She knew that this was not what she wanted to do. When she heard the stories of French the female pilots De Laroche, Marvingt and Dutrieu, her became interested in becoming an aviator herself.
In every flight school she applied, Bessie was refused entry because she was either African American or a woman, or both. She started taking French lessons in Chicago and in November traveled to Paris to enroll in the École d’Aviation des Frères Caudon in Le Crotoy. In only 7 months she was the first black woman to complete an aviation pilot’s license. After realizing that the best way to make money as an aviator was by flying in the air shows, she took 2 more months of flight lessons near Paris and became a media sensation in the states where she was introduced as “Queen Bessie”.