Ms. Elizabeth Coleman, pioneer African American Aviator and a young woman who defied time.

Imagine a young African American woman today who decided she wanted to be a pilot.  For that matter imagine anyone today who decides they want to be a pilot.  Not the easiest career to get.  Lots of training, skills and money would be major ingredients.  I can just hear my father saying “Get a job with the post office.  It pays well and is secure work.”  All I could think of was “Yeah, sorting mail 8 hours a day with the same shape envelope and the only difference being the box they go in.”  How many of you were guided to more secure and permanent jobs by your parents?  For many of us 99%, being a pilot is just one step below being an astronaut. Talk about a pie in the sky job!  Pragmatics often overrules idealism when it comes to those of us in the 99% finding meaningful employment.
Now let’s go back to 1915 in the USA. You are a 23 year old African American part Indian female manicurist.  You are living with your brothers because you have no money.  You spent all of your savings to date at the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University where you ran out of funds after one term and had to quit.  You are living in a country where every day “niggars” are lynched for being uppity.  There are many hotels, restaurants, theaters and public facilities where you are either not allowed or you must go in the back door.  Jim Crow rules and affirmative action will not be heard of for another 46 years.  Your name is Elizabeth Coleman but your friends all call you Bessie.  Most of your friends also call you a foolish dreamer and a wild eyed idealist.  Many of your friends would still call you that today if you were living in the 21st century, but you are living in the early 20th century.  Long before Civil Rights, Martin Luther King and woman had the right to vote, never mind take a job that was not even listed in any career book either for men or woman.  We are talking about a time when it was only 12 years after Orville and Wilbur made the first controlled flight in a heavier than air craft.  What would you give Bessie’s chance of becoming a pilot?  A million to one odds would be a bad bet.  
However, youth defies time because it is full of hope and optimism. Have you ever tried telling some young child that it can’t be done?  They do not want to hear it. It takes many years of pressure before we can convince young people that they must be more practical and give up their childish dreams.  Some of them do not listen to us “wise” folks and they foolishly go about trying to attain their wild eyed fantasies.  Elizabeth Coleman was one of these foolish people.  She did not let money, prejudice, practicality or friends dissuade her from her dreams.  No flight schools in the US would let her in because she was Black and a woman.  Even other male Black aviators would not train her because she was a woman.  So Bessie learned to speak French.  She had heard that in some faraway place called France, there were flight schools that would take an African American woman.  She somehow found financial backing from someone who believed in her dream and she went to France and attended a French flying school.  In 1921, she became the first female pilot of African American descent and the first African American to hold an international pilot license.  Bessie was only 29 years old at the time.  Ms. Coleman went on to a short but illustrious career as a stunt pilot (commercial aviation was ten years away) and media celebrity.  She was called the “World’s Greatest Woman Flyer” and was known for her hair raising stunts and daredevil maneuvers.
Ms. Coleman was ahead of her times in many other ways as well. She was never one to ignore race and did as much as she could to help create a positive image of Blacks that would overcome current racial stereotypes.  She dreamed of starting a flying school for women that would provide other women the opportunities she was denied.  Unfortunately, Bessie died in a plane accident long before many of her other dreams could be realized.  She was only 34 when a plane she was testing crashed and Ms. Coleman died. 
However, Elizabeth Coleman may have died on April 30, 1926 but her legacy not only continues on but it continues to grow in importance.  She continues to defy time.   Books, awards and other honors continue to be heaped upon her for her pioneering and breaking the boundaries of her time.  In 2004, a park was named after her in Chicago and in 2007; a street in Germany was named after her.  If Bessie was alive today, I am sure she would be coaching young men and women of all shades and colors to dream and fight for their dreams.  It is easy to lose your dreams in a world that often seems to want to keep everyone in their place and to ignore the aspirations and hopes of those who are less fortunate.  Mae Jemison, physician and former NASA astronaut, wrote in the book, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator(1993): “I point to Bessie Coleman and say without hesitation that here is a woman, a being, who exemplifies and serves as a model to all humanity: the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity, and beauty. It looks like a good day for flying.”[6](Wikipedia) 
Do you still dream and have great hopes for the future?  If not, what dreams have you put aside as too unrealistic?  What dreams have you decided were not workable?  Why?  Are you living too practical a life?  Do you ever dream of going barefoot on a beach in the Caribbean or riding an elephant in India or going on a photo safari in Africa?  Is your excuse for not dreaming that you have no money or no time?  What do you think Bessie would say of your reasons? 

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