In honor of Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn her pilot’s license all the way back in 1921, an all-Black female flight crew operated an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Phoenix.
To honor Coleman’s legacy, the airline hosted Gigi Coleman, Bessie’s great niece, on the flight. Everyone — from the pilots and flight attendants to the cargo team members and mechanics — were Black women. All in all, 24 people participated in the operation of this historic flight.
“[Coleman] bravely broke down barriers within the world of aviation and paved the path for many to follow,” American Airlines said in a statement.
According to CNN, very few women of any race had a pilot’s license back in the early 1900s, and those who did were usually white and rich. That didn’t stop Coleman, though. She learned French and moved to Paris. From there she was accepted into the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation. In 1921, she became the first female pilot of African American and Native American descent.
“I’m grateful for American Airlines to give us this opportunity to highlight my great aunt’s accomplishments in the field of aviation,” Gigi said in a video posted by American Airlines on YouTube.
Sadly, Coleman died in 1926 at just 34 years old during a practice run with another pilot.
American said it is being intentional in its efforts to diversify its airlines’ flight deck. The company says Black women have been seriously underrepresented in the aviation industry, especially as pilots. They represent less than one percent of the commercial airline industry.
The day after the flighty, representatives from the Bessie Coleman Foundation and American Airline pilots and cadets met with students at the Academics at South Mountain in Phoenix.
“Today, I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of the crew where we are inspiring young girls, young girls of color, to see the various roles that these women play in every aspect to make this flight possible,” Captain Beth Powell, the 737’s pilot, said in the video.