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EAA honors Bessie Coleman 100 years after she becomes the first African American female pilot

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 4:16 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - It was a hundred years ago that the first African American woman received her pilot’s license. And on the anniversary, EAA in Oshkosh is remembering Bessie Coleman.

Pulling up in a Model-T, after her flight over Oshkosh, GiGi Coleman played the part of her great Aunt Bessie. Her arrival at EAA coincided with the 100th anniversary of Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman earning her pilot’s license. It was June 15, 1921, when Coleman became the first African American woman to do so.

“Aunt Bessie got her license two years before Amelia Earhart and 18 years after the Wright Brothers, so this is really a history making time,” says GiGi Coleman.

Born in Texas, but living in Chicago in the early 1920′s, Coleman was inspired to fly by her brothers’ service during World War I.

According to GiGi Coleman, “She had to go to France because in America she couldn’t go to school here because of her race and because she was a woman.”

After receiving her license, Coleman returned to the United States to do what she loved. Her niece says, “She just did amazing things. She did loop-de-loops and all type of stunt pilots, she would do parachute jumps, wing walks -- walk on the outside of the airplane.”

Sadly, while preparing to perform in an air show, less than four years after learning how to fly, Coleman was killed in a plane crash. GiGi says, “She wanted to open up an aviation school, she wasn’t able to because of her passing, and so now I’m keeping her legacy alive by doing this, keeping my mother’s legacy alive by letting people know about Aunt Bessie because even now so many people now, they don’t know about Bessie Coleman.”

While Bessie Coleman has been honored with a postage stamp, a street naming in Chicago, among other tributes, after hearing her story today, her accomplishments are appreciated even more. “It’s interesting learning about all of the different steps people had to go through to be able to do the things that they did and so it’s cool now that they were so the sky is the limit, the opportunity is there and so they did a good job of saying that now,” said Jayce Hall of Oshkosh.

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