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A crew of Black women powered an American Airlines flight to honor Bessie Coleman

Coleman was the first Black woman to earn a pilot's license in the year 1921. To honor her, American Airlines hosted the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars tour last week.

A crew of Black women powered an American Airlines flight to honor Bessie Coleman
Image Source: AmericanAir / Twitter

Last week, American Airlines hosted the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars tour to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1921. The air carrier operated an entire flight with a crew of only Black women, from the pilots and flight attendants to cargo team members and aviation maintenance technicians. The crew operated and took charge of every aspect of the flight from Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas, to Phoenix, Arizona in the United States. Coleman's great-niece, Gigi Coleman, was also invited on the flight. This is only one of the initiatives launched by American Airlines to diversify its flight deck, an area where Black women are severely underrepresented, NPR reports.


The airline carrier released a press statement to explain its initiative. They said of Coleman, "She bravely broke down barriers within the world of aviation and paved the path for many to follow." Gigi Coleman, who was present on the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars tour, also shared a few words of gratitude. She expressed, "I am grateful for American Airlines to give us this opportunity to highlight my great aunt's accomplishments in the field of aviation." Indeed, Coleman was responsible for throwing open the gates of a highly exclusionary field.


In the same vein, American Airlines announced it was attempting to diversify its own crew. "Black women have been notably underrepresented in the aviation industry, especially as pilots, representing less than one percent in the commercial airline industry," it stated. "Through the American Airlines Cadet Academy, the airline is committed to expanding awareness of and increasing accessibility to the pilot career within diverse communities." According to the carrier's website, its Cadet Academy is an integrated and cost-effective flight training program that provides a clearly defined path to becoming a professional pilot. One of its primary goals is to make pilot training more accessible to all.


Coleman herself received her international pilot's license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1921, after learning to fly in a 27-foot biplane that was known to fail frequently (sometimes in the air). She went on to use her influence to encourage other African Americans to fly, even refusing to perform air shows at locations that had barred African Americans from flying. She sadly passed away in 1926 after preparing for an air show with another pilot. An unsecured wrench got caught in the control gears, causing the plane to crash. Now, pilots honor her memory in various ways. For instance, Black pilots from Chicago instituted an annual flyover of her grave for a number of years beginning in 1931. In 1977, a group of African American women pilots established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. In 1992, a Chicago City Council resolution requested that the US Postal Service issue a Bessie Coleman stamp. The resolution noted, "Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands, even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed."


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