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On what would have been her 125th birthday, an aviation pioneer who broke both color and gender barriers is honored with her own Google Doodle. Bessie Coleman, credited as the first African-American woman to be granted a pilot’s license, is the subject of the iconic logo takeover, being seen in 14 countries around the world.
According to a biography written by PBS, Coleman was repeatedly refused from aviation schools in the United States after World War I, on the grounds of being an African-American woman. In order to fulfill her dreams of taking to the skies, Coleman would have to travel to France.
Using her savings from working two jobs, Coleman learned French at a Berlitz school in Chicago, before departing for Paris with the financial assistance of Robert Abbott, one of the first African-American millionaires. In France, Coleman studied for less than one year in a 27-foot biplane before being granted an international pilot’s license from the FAI, organized in 1905 and internationally recognized as the governing body for aviation sports.
After earning her license, Coleman performed at air shows across the US for nearly four years, starting her career as a stunt pilot at a performance over Long Island in 1922. Coleman used her newfound fame as a platform to encourage other women and African Americans to enter the aviation industry, and would not perform at segregated aviation shows.
Her final flight took place on April 30, 1926, at an air show in Texas. After a wrench became lodged in the control gears, Coleman fell to her death when her aircraft took an unexpected dive.
The legacy she left behind has not been forgotten. Two separate aviation clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles were found in her honor to encourage women and African Americans to explore aviation. Coleman was also enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame at Dayton, Ohio in 2006.
Today, the International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates there are over 5,000 commercial female aviators worldwide, including 1,500 female captains.
Featured image courtesy of Google.
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