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Bessie Coleman: Topics in Chronicling America

Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American to earn an international pilot's license. This guide provides access to material related to “Bessie Coleman” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


Bessie Coleman next to a plane. October 7, 1922. The Chicago Whip (Chicago, Illinois), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) left Chicago when she was 24 and working as a manicurist in pursuit of a career in aviation. Coleman attended aviation school in France. In 1922, she earned her international pilot's license and returned to the United States to perform at airshows and exhibitions.

In April 1926, Coleman and another pilot were testing a plane before an exhibition show. The plane malfunctioned and flipped over in the air. Coleman fell 2000 feet out of the plane and died instantaneously. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1921 Bessie Coleman leaves Chicago for France to pursue a career in aviation.
1922 Bessie Coleman earns her international pilot's license and returns to the U.S.
1922 Bessie Coleman begins to give lectures on aviation and perform air stunts at air shows and exhibitions.
1923 At a Los Angeles exhibition, Bessie Coleman's plane topples. She is picked up from the field with a broken leg and three broken ribs.
April 30, 1926 Bessie Coleman tests a plane before an exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida. She plunges 2000 feet and dies instantaneously.
May 8, 1926 A funeral is held for Bessie Coleman. Thousands attend.