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Aviation Pioneer Bessie Coleman to be Featured on U.S. Coin

The first Black woman in the world to earn an aviation license will be recognized for her trailblazing accomplishment on a U.S. quarter.

The U.S. Treasury has selected Bessie Coleman among the five women to appear on the backs of coins as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The program, designed to highlight the contributions of prominent American women, was approved by Congress in 2020.

Bessie Coleman (Wikipedia)

“The range of accomplishments and experiences of these extraordinary women speak to the contributions women have always made in the history of our country,” Mint deputy director Ventris C. Gibson said in a March 30 statement. “I am proud that the Mint continues to connect America through coins by honoring these pioneering women and their groundbreaking contributions to our society.”

The secretary of the treasury selects the women to be honored after consulting with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Women’s History Museum and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus.

Coleman, who died in the cockpit in a 1926 plane crash in Florida, inspired a spark in the aviation industry among Blacks in America. She moved from Texas to Chicago in 1915, to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot but faced prejudice because of her skin color and gender.

With her goal in mind, Coleman worked as a manicurist and then a manager at a parlor until she had enough money to attend aviation school in France. She learned French and gained entrance into the Caudron School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. In 1921, Coleman earned her pilot license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale before returning to the U.S.

Coleman toured the country, drawing more than 2,000 people at her first exhibition. Her success reportedly motivated a group of pilots to create the Challenger Air Pilots Association in 1931. The group built the first airport for Black pilots in Robbins, Illinois, that same year.

The coins will be available in 2023, and will also feature journalist and suffragist Jovita Idar; musician, dancer and entertainer Edith Kanaka’ole; former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt; and America’s first prima ballerina Maria Tallchief.

The 2023 coins are the second group with the honorary tail designs to be released annually by the mint from 2022 through 2025.

Maya Angelou was among the honorees on the list for 2022. Astronaut Sally Ride; actress Anna May Wong; suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, were also etched into the first batch.

Maya Angelou was selected as an American Women Quarters honoree for 2022. (Getty Images/Carl Kauffman)

A special portrait of George Washington will be melted on the front of the coins to mark the nation’s first president’s 200th birthday.

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