At the end of April in 1926, Bessie's Jenny arrived in Jacksonville. On the evening of April 30th, she and her mechanic took the plane up for a test flight. Once aloft, the plane malfunctioned and the mechanic, who was piloting the plane from the front seat, lost control of the plane. Bessie fell from the open cockpit several hundred feet to her death.

Five thousand mourners attended a memorial service for Bessie before her body traveled by train from Orlando to Chicago. An estimated ten thousand people filed past Bessie's coffin to pay their last respects. Thousands more attended the funeral of that little girl from Texas who dreamt of a better life as she picked cotton at the dawn of the 20th century. Only after her death did Bessie receive the recognition that she deserved. Her dream of a flying school for African American's became a reality when William J. Powell established the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, California in 1929. As a result of being affiliated, educated or inspired directly or indirectly, by the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, flyers like the Five Blackbirds, the Flying Hobos(James Banning and Thomas Allen), the Tuskegee Airmen, Cornelius Coffey, John Robison, Willa Brown and Harold Hurd continued to make Bessie Coleman's dream a reality.

In 1931, the Challenger Pilots' Association of Chicago began an annual flyover at Chicago's Lincoln Cemetery to honor Coleman. Three years later, William J. Powell dedicated his book, Black Wings, to Coleman's memory. More than 45 years later, in 1977, women pilots in the Chicago area established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club.

The 1990s brought long awaited accolades: Mayor Richard Daley redesignated Old Mannheim Road at O'Hare Airport as Bessie Coleman Drive in 1990; May 2, 1992 was declared Bessie Coleman Day in Chicago; and in 1995, the U. S. Postal Service issued a Bessie Coleman stamp commemorating "her singular accomplishment in becoming the world's first African American pilot and, by definition , an American legend."

Numerous books have been written about Bessie, including children's books which encourage children to believe in themselves and their dreams. Bessie is referenced in aviation history, references which spurred Doris Rich to "find" her when researching a book on a more famous aviatrix-Amelia Earhart. Ms. Rich's definitive biography on Bessie, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, was invaluable in assembling this website. Up in the Air: the Story of Bessie Coleman by Philip S. Hart also provided valuable information.


*Stamp Design ©2000 United States Postal Service. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. Written authorization from the USPS required to use, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit, distribute, or publicly display this image.

© Lynne Spivey
E-mail Webmaster