Google released a doodle celebrating the life and career of Bessie Coleman, who became the first Black female pilot in 1921. On what would have been her 125th birthday, the tech giant and people around the globe are remembering the late aviator.
Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1892 and was the 10th of 13 children. When she was 23, Coleman moved to Chicago and worked two jobs to save enough money to attend aviation school. Robert Abbott, the publisher one of America’s first Black newspapers, the Chicago Defender, suggested Coleman enroll at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale because, he said, the French were less racist and top of the class in aviation. Coleman trained at FAI and became the first person of Black and Native American descent to gain an international pilot’s license from the institution.
The pilot hoped to go into stunt flying and when American academies shunned her, she trained in Germany and France in 1922. Her new skills attracted U.S. audiences to watch her stunts, which included wing-walking, flying acrobatics and diving, earned her the nickname Queen Bess. She also took a stand for racial equality, becoming one of a few Black celebrities at the time who refused to perform for segregated audiences.
The aerialist’s career came to a sudden end in 1926 during a practice flight for a stunt. Coleman’s plane, driven by her mechanic and publicist, went into a dive and spin, tossing the aviator from her seat. She died instantly at the age of 34. At the time, Coleman was saving up to open a flight school exclusively for Black pilots.
“I decided Blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other Black women to fly,” she said.
Many Twitter users reflected on Coleman’s historical impact.
— ShottHer (@shotbykeish) January 26, 2017
Happy Birthday Bessie Coleman! You are an inspiration of mine!… https://t.co/StA3jI4CzE
— Fatima Scipio (@fatimascipio) January 26, 2017
✈ Happy Birthday to American Aviation Pioneer, Bessie Coleman! She happens to share a name with our beloved Great Aunt. Legacy all her own. pic.twitter.com/GJXVMsHyZf
— EJ Whitaker (@iamEJWhitaker) January 26, 2017
What would Bessie, a known badass, do today? Align herself w/ a #resistance cause and fight for justice with her every fiber. Follow suit!
— Opéola Bukola (@OpeolaBukola) January 26, 2017
Shout out to Bessie Coleman another black women who did amazing things.
— I am that one in ten thousand (@here2_b_nosey) January 26, 2017