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.
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.
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.
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."
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.