formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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February 12, 2008 Bessie Coleman

The Liberty Gazette
February 12, 2008

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: I guess nobody ever told Bessie she had every reason to quit. Or if they did, fortunately she didn’t listen. The tenth of thirteen children born to sharecroppers in Atlanta, Texas in 1892, Bessie Coleman would not be defeated. The responsibilities of picking cotton, and a four-mile walk to a one-room school house, sometimes without even pencils or chalk, couldn’t dissuade her from working hard in school, excelling in math.

Lacking the money to complete more than one semester of college at what is now Langston University, Bessie moved to Chicago with a couple of her brothers, hoping for a better opportunity. The job as a manicurist in the White Sox Barber Shop wasn’t bad but Bessie wanted something more. In the barber shop she’d hear stories of the WWI pilots. Flying, she thought, I could do that!

But Bessie faced two barriers – she was female and she was black.

So what do you do when everyone tells you “no”? Turned away from flight schools in the United States, Bessie learned to speak French and after five years in Chicago she left for Paris to learn to fly, where the attitude was more accepting toward women and blacks. That doesn’t mean it was easy; nothing Bessie Coleman sought was easy. In fact, I don’t think “easy” was part of her everyday vocabulary. She was focused, she was determined, she was smart. She was a pioneer who had a dream and would not give up. Driven to success, within seven months Bessie became the first black person in the world to hold a pilot license, awarded June 15, 1921, and upon returning to the U.S., became the first woman to hold an international pilot license.

The following year she returned to France for advanced and aerobatic training because still no one in the U.S. would train her. Her spark caught the attention of world renowned aircraft designer, Anthony Fokker, who, along with a Chicago newspaper owner, supported Bessie and promoted her as the world’s greatest woman flyer. Performing air shows in a bi-plane at places like Curtiss Field in New York City, and what is today Chicago’s Midway Airport, Bessie Coleman’s dreams grew beyond herself. She wanted to help others learn to fly – those who didn’t have easy access, but were willing to work to earn what they wanted.

Mike: The mission of the Bessie Coleman Foundation is to continue Bessie's legacy by educating people about the accomplishments of this great American hero, encouraging black women and men interested in pursuing aviation careers, helping people gain access to available resources for advancement in aviation, preparing aviation enthusiasts for the challenges they will encounter, and honoring and celebrating the achievements of blacks in aviation.

Called a role model of strength, dignity, courage, and integrity, there is so much more to know about Bessie Coleman. These websites provide more information:,, and

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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