Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to hold a pilot license. (Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress)

By AFRO Staff

After author Maya Angelou became the first African-American woman featured on the 25-cent coin, the U.S. Mint revealed five more women on April 4 to be on the quarter in 2023. Those women included: Jovita Idar, Edith Kanaka’ole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maria Tallchief and the first Black woman to hold a pilot license, Bessie Coleman. 

“The range of accomplishments and experiences of these extraordinary women speak to the contributions women have always made in the history of our country,” said Mint Deputy Director Ventris Gibson of the latest round of honorees. “I am proud that the Mint continues to connect America through coins by honoring these pioneering women and their groundbreaking contributions to our society.”

According to the U.S. Mint, the coins were set in motion by Public Law 116-330—the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. 

The women were recognized for their work in areas such as “suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts,” according to information released by the U.S. Mint. “The women honored come from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. As required by public law, no living person will be featured in the coin designs, and thus all the women honored must be deceased.”

Bessie Coleman was born on Jan. 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas and she was one of 13 children. 

Coleman became known as “Brave Bessie” or “Queen Bess” as she faced barriers of racial and gender discrimination to earn a pilot’s license. 

Before earning a pilot’s license, Coleman moved to Chicago, Ill. in 1915 and attended beauty school and worked as a manicurist in a local barbershop. 

Coleman was inspired by her brother John, who had served overseas in World War I. Coleman listened to her brother’s stories about French women who flew airplanes and declared that flying was something Bessie would never be able to do. 

This only further encouraged Coleman to apply to flight schools throughout the country.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to hold a pilot license. (Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “because she was both female and an African American, no U.S. flight school would take her.” 

It was the publisher of the Chicago Defender, Robert Abbott, that convinced Coleman to move to France to pursue her training in aviation.

In November 1920, Coleman moved to France to attend the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy. On June 15, 1921, she obtained her pilot’s license from Federation Aeronautique Internationale before returning to the U.S. in September of that same year. 

Coleman died at age 34 in a crash during a test flight in 1926. Though her legacy lives on and has opened doors for many African-Americans in the aviation field. Coleman also hoped to open a flight school, and although this did not happen, an airplane manufacturing company was named after her as well as  Bessie Coleman Aero Club, organized by William J. Powell. In 1955, the Coleman was featured on a 32-cent U.S. Postal stamp and in 2006, Bessie Coleman was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. 

According to the agency, the U.S. Mint was created by an act of Congress in 1792. The U.S. Mint joined the Department of the Treasury in 1873.

“As the Nation’s sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage, the Mint is responsible for producing circulating coinage for the Nation to conduct its trade and commerce,” according to information released by the agency. 

The U.S. Mint is also responsible for creating “Congressional Gold Medals, silver and bronze medals and silver and gold bullion coins.”

A total of five coins with a variety of designs on the “tails” side will be released annually over the four-year period from 2022 through 2025.

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