Orange County Honors Orlando Aviation pioneer Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman


Mayor Teresa Jacobs joined state and community leaders in the official street designation ceremony for aviation pioneer Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license and fly a plane.

Held at the Orlando Executive Airport, the event honored Coleman for pursuing her dream to fly and recognized how she overcame the obstacles of poverty and racial and gender discrimination during the early 1900s.

“Bessie Coleman stands as a national symbol of perseverance and reminds us all of the power of the human spirit,” Mayor Jacobs said.

Coleman was born in 1892 and as a young woman was denied entry to flight schools. To pursue her dreams, she taught herself French and moved to France to attend the well-known Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation. Earning her license in just seven months, she returned back to the United States and was able to make living doing aerial tricks, specializing in stunt flying and parachuting. Coleman was known for refusing to fly in air shows that segregated the audience.

The Texas native eventually opened a business in Orlando to help finance her career and fulfill her dream of establishing a school for young aviators. She often gave inspiring speeches and lectures during her travels to encourage individuals to pursue their dreams.

Mayor Jacobs issued a proclamation at the event remembering Coleman “for her pioneering spirit and unconquerable determination.” Mayor Jacobs also praised Coleman for her inspiring legacy and vision for a future without racial and gender barriers.

“To be a pioneer, an individual must have the courage and ambition to overcome the obstacles that develop when one tries to do something worth while for the first time, especially when it is new and different,” Mayor Jacobs said.

Coleman died tragically in 1926 at the age of 34 during a rehearsal for an air show in Jacksonville. A memorial service was held for Coleman in Orlando before she was brought by train to her final resting place in Chicago.

A collection of photos from the official street designation ceremony are available for use by the media and are located on Flickr.


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