When Bessie returned to the United States to pursue her new flying career, she knew she must have publicity to attract paying audiences. She created an exciting image of herself with a military style uniform and an eloquence that belied her background. Her first appearance was in an air show on September 3, 1922 at Curtiss Field near New York City. The show, sponsored by Robert Abbott and the Chicago Defender, billed Bessie as "the world's greatest woman flyer." More shows followed around the country including Memphis and Chicago. On June 19, 1925, Bessie made her flying debut in Texas at a Houston auto racetrack renamed Houston Aerial Transport Field in honor of the occasion.

In the time between her 1922 flying debut in New York and her 1925 Texas debut, Bessie never lost sight of her goal of opening a school for aviators. She flirted briefly with a movie career, traveled to California to earn money for a plane of her own, crashed that plane once she bought it and then returned to Chicago to formulate a new plan. It was another two years before she finally succeeded in lining up a series of lectures and exhibition flights in Texas. Once there, she defied not only racial barriers but gender barriers as well. She appeared in San Antonio, Richmond, Waxahachie, Wharton,Dallas and numerous unreported small towns and fields. At Love Field in Dallas, she made a down payment on a plane from the Curtiss Southwestern Airplane and Motor Company, probably an old Jenny(JN-4 with an OX-5 engine).

Following a brief return to Chicago, Bessie left for a series of lectures in black theaters in Georgia and Florida. After two months in Florida, she opened a beauty shop in Orlando to hasten her accumulation of funds to start the long awaited aviation school. Using borrowed planes Bessie continued exhibition flying and occasional parachute jumping. As she had often done in other U.S. locations, Bessie refused to perform unless the audiences were desegregated and everyone attending used the same gates. With the patronage of a wealthy businessman, Bessie made the final payment on her plane in Dallas and arranged to have it flown to Jacksonville for her next engagement scheduled for May 1, 1926.

© Lynne Spivey
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