'An American legend': Google Doodle celebrates aviator Bessie Coleman

On Bessie Coleman’s 125th birthday, Google Doodle recognizes the first African-American woman in flight, who became a role model for generations of young pilots.

A screenshot of the Google Doodle on Thursday depicts Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman in flight.

When Bessie Coleman took to the skies, she shattered racial and gender barriers. And she didn’t stop there, using her fame to inspire others.

On Thursday, which would have been the pioneering aviator’s 125th birthday, Google Doodle honors the first African-American and native American woman in flight. In the center of the doodle is Ms. Coleman, aviation goggles on, her scarf flapping in the wind. Around her, a small plane traces out the word "Google," its loops and flips reminiscent of those Coleman performed at air shows across the country.

In her lifetime, Coleman inspired others to take up flying and challenge racial barriers. Through the Google Doodle, which appears on Google’s homepage in the US and various other countries, her story of dreams and determination may reach a new audience – and take on a new life.

Since 2000, when the first Google Doodle appeared in honor of Bastille Day, more than 2,000 doodles have been created to celebrate significant events, including holidays and anniversaries. The focus of the doodles: "to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries that reflect Google’s personality and love for innovation."

Coleman embodied that innovative spirit. She was driven to "amount to something," according to the Atlanta Historical Museum's website in her honor, and she pursued that dream against all odds. 

Born in 1892, she grew up in eastern Texas. Her parents worked as sharecroppers, and she attended a segregated school in a one-room shack that often lacked paper and pencils. By the time she was 10 years old, her father had left the family, so Coleman served as a surrogate mother to her three younger sisters, taking care of the home and family while her mother was at work.

Despite her obvious aptitude for school, she was able to attend only through eighth grade – and a shortage of funds caused her to drop out of college after one term. 

Moving to Chicago at the age of 23, she worked as a beautician and in a chili parlor, saving her money to fuel her dream. Encouraged by her brother, who teased that French women were superior because they knew how to fly, she decided to become a pilot.

At a time when few American women of any race became pilots, Coleman set her sights on the skies. She withdrew her savings and secured additional financial backing from two African-American entrepreneurs. When American flight schools refused to teach her on account of her race, she set off for France.

In seven months, she completed a ten-month course with the prestigious Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, becoming the first African-American to gain a civilian pilot’s license. She was also the only woman of the 62 candidates to earn an FAI license during that six-month period.

Returning to the US, she was fêted by the media, and – following advanced training in France – went on to perform at countless air shows over the following five years. She was outspoken on civil rights issues, refusing to perform unless the crowd was unsegregated.

Her dreams didn’t stop there. She planned to open a flight school and offer the training US operators had denied her to the next generation of pilots, working as a beautician on the side to raise the necessary capital. She saved up to purchase her own planes.

Though Coleman died in a plane crash in April 1926, her legacy lives on in the pilots she inspired. In 1977, a group of African-American women pilots founded the Bessie Coleman Aviation Club. Inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, she was also featured on a stamp in 1995, commemorating her as "an American legend."

"Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed," the Chicago City Council wrote in a resolution requesting that stamp.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'An American legend': Google Doodle celebrates aviator Bessie Coleman
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today