Bessie Coleman, 1st female African-American pilot, a part of LI history

Bessie Coleman refused to let racism and sexism ground her dream of becoming a pilot. (2/10/14)

GARDEN CITY - As a child picking cotton in Texas, Bessie Coleman vowed to one day "amount to something."

It was the early 1900s, a time when being black in the Deep South meant discrimination, danger and death. But Coleman refused to let racism and sexism ground her dream of becoming a pilot.

Rejected by American flight schools because of her race, Coleman went to France and learned to fly biplanes. In 1921, she graduated from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and became the first black female pilot in the world to hold a flying license.

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Coleman returned to the U.S. in 1922 and gave her first air show in Garden City, over what was once known as Curtiss Field. Today, it's the site of the Roosevelt Field Mall.

Coleman's performance propelled her into aviation history. She shot to stardom as a stunt pilot, and became known as "Queen Bess." Yet she sought to do more, and, believing that the "air is the only place free from prejudices," she hoped to establish a flight school for black pilots.

By 1926, Coleman had nearly raised enough money to open her school when she died in a crash at a Florida air show. But Coleman had fulfilled her childhood promise to one day "amount to something" by soaring across the barriers of race and gender.

Today, Coleman is credited with inspiring generations of African-American aviators, including the Tuskegee Airmen and NASA astronaut Mae Jemison.

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