In the 1920s, the infancy of aviation, pilots took to the skies to shock and awe their audiences with death dives, barrel-roles, and wing-walking. Within these flying circuses, one performer truly stood out: the Bird Woman, Bessie Coleman. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, Coleman knew that to live her dreams, she’d need to leave the US and its prejudiced segregationist policies and move to France. Here, a place where women were truly excelling at the new art of flying, she grew her own wings and became the first Black woman in history to earn her pilot’s licence. At home, she quickly became a sensation, performing daring feats of high-flying acrobatics in her old war-time Jenny. But she was a performer as much on ground as she was in the air, and she wasn’t afraid to self-aggrandise, particularly in the effort to increase Black participation in aviation. As flying became a symbol of her own political empowerment, Coleman soon dreamed of establishing a flying school of her own and opening the skies to those who’d been denied such freedoms.
So put on your goggles, fire up an old biplane, and take to the skies with us as we explore the daring life of Bessie Coleman.