On June 15th, one hundred and two yeas ago, Elizabeth Coleman, an African American with Cherokee ancestors (her father's grandparents) received her pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, making her the first African American as well as the first Native American woman to earn an international aviator's license.
The daughter of sharecroppers whose father had left his family to return to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Bess chose to remain with her mother in Texas, working at various jobs and saving her money. When she turned eighteen, she enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored and Normal University in Langston Oklahoma (now Langston University) where she attended classes until her money ran out. She returned to Texas and continued working at odd jobs and saving her money, dreaming of learning to fly.
"Queen Bess" as she became known, wasn't allowed as a woman or an African American in the United States, to take pilot's lessons and had to make her way to France to study aviation. After receiving her first license, Bess returned to Europe to hone her skills in the air. When she returned to America, "Queen Bess" thrilled on-lookers for several years with daredevil maneuvers across the country and dreamed of starting a school for black aviators. She was tragically killed, preparing for an exhibition in a plane she had newly purchased, when the plane went into a dive and she fell to the ground on April 30th, 1926. Ten thousand mourners attended her memorial in Chicago. Today, many libraries, roads and schools are named in her honor.