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All-Black American Airlines crew honors flying pioneer Bessie Coleman

The airline hosted Coleman’s great-niece on the flight, which had a crew made up entirely of Black women.

American Airlines
An Aug. 8 American Airlines flight had a crew made up entirely of Black women, honoring Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license.(American Airlines)

By Matthew Griffin

To honor the legacy of Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license, American Airlines operated a flight earlier this monthfrom DFW International Airport to Phoenix with a crew of all Black women.

Coleman earned her pilot’s license in 1921, traveling to France to do so because of discrimination at U.S. flight schools, according to PBS. She set an example for others to follow in the aviation industry, American noted in a news release.

“I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of the crew where we’re inspiring young girls, young girls of color, to see the various roles that these women play in every aspect to make this flight possible,” said Beth Powell, the flight’s captain,in an American video about the Aug. 8 flight.

American hosted Gigi Coleman,Bessie Coleman’s great-niece, on the flight.

“I am grateful for American Airlines to give us this opportunity to highlight my great-aunt’s accomplishments in the field of aviation,”Gigi Coleman said in the video.

Bessie Coleman, born in 1892 to a family of sharecroppers in East Texas, first became interested in aviation after hearing stories from soldiers returning from World War I.She completed flight school despite being the only student of color in her class and training in an unreliable and dangerous biplane.

After earning her license, Coleman returned to the U.S. and performed as a stunt flier at air shows. “Queen Bess,” as she was known, was a popular draw at a time when aviation technology was still a novelty, according to a book about her published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. She used her platform to encourage other Black people to fly.

Coleman died in 1926. She fell from a plane to her death when, with a mechanic at the controls, a wrench got stuck in the plane’s gears.

Bessie Coleman Middle School in Cedar Hill is named for her.

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