Oakland Honors Pioneering Aviator
The Port of Oakland honored the first African-American female aviator Friday, who briefly worked in the city nearly a century ago, by renaming a portion of Airport Drive as Bessie Coleman Drive.
Coleman was a 23-year-old manicurist at a Chicago barber shop in 1915 when accounts of the Flying Aces in World War I inspired her to become a pilot.
Unable to gain admission into U.S. flight schools because of her race and gender, Coleman moved to France where she earned her pilot's license.
Upon returning home, Coleman became a star on the barnstorming circuit where she performed aerial stunts. She was well-known in Oakland where she appeared in ads for the Coast Tire and Rubber Company.
[Bessie Coleman standing next to a 160 horsepower engine L.F.G. Roland biplane with instructor Robert Thelen who taught her advanced aerobatics in Berlin ,]
Bessie Coleman standing next to a 160 horsepower engine L.F.G. Roland biplane with instructor Robert Thelen who taught her advanced aerobatics in Berlin , Germany in 1921.The Port of Oakland, Oakland city officials and distinguished guests formally dedicate a portion of Airport Drive leading into the Oakland International Airport (OAK), as Bessie Coleman Drive in honor of the first female African-American aviator at the Oakland Aviation Museum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Port of Oakland Archives)
Coleman died in 1926 when an aircraft piloted by her mechanic malfunctioned as they were heading to an air show in Dallas.
Several elected officials were on hand to honor Coleman on Friday, including Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan and City Councilmember Larry Reid.
"Bessie Coleman was a trailblazer, an inspiration and the finest example of the remarkable contributions made by women of color in our nation's history," Lee said in a prepared statement.
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