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Bessie Coleman First Female African American Aviator

Source: George Rinhart / Getty

Trailblazing pilot Bessie Coleman transformed the aviation industry; charting a legendary path in the sky that empowered and inspired generations of Black aviators to fly. The life and legacy of the pioneer—the first Black woman and Native American to earn an international pilot’s license—is being celebrated through the creation of a new doll, CNN reported.

On Jan. 26—what would have been Coleman’s 131st birthday—Barbie released a doll in her likeness as part of its Inspiring Women collection. The project was designed to amplify the stories of influential women who have shaped history.

Coleman’s path is full of incredible milestones, but her accession to the top was far from an easy feat. The Texas native began laying the foundation for her career in aviation at the age of 23, but experienced overt racism and sexism when trying to enroll in flight schools within the U.S. Soaring above the obstacles, she later relocated to Le Crotoy, France, to study at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation and earned her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1921. A year after receiving her license, she led the first public flight to be conducted by a Black woman.

When she wasn’t traversing through the skies, she led efforts centered on diversifying the aviation industry and hosted flight lessons throughout the U.S. to equip aspiring Black pilots with the knowledge and skills needed to step into the space. Coleman tragically passed away in a plane crash April 30, 1926. But her enduring legacy lives on through Black women aviators who are continuing to make historic strides in their sector.

Coleman’s great-niece, Gigi Coleman, says the creation of the Barbie doll will ensure that her aunt’s powerful story of perseverance is shared with individuals from all walks of life. “Keeping Bessie’s legacy alive has always been a labor of love for my family, and we are proud to recognize her determination and accomplishments for Black women in aviation and continue to share my great aunt’s pioneering spirit with fans of all ages,” she shared in a statement, according to the news outlet. “We hope through this doll more people will discover Bessie’s story and be inspired.”

To coincide with the release of the doll, Barbie is extending support to the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars, a nonprofit led by Gigi that has a mission rooted in making STEM education accessible, as well as the organization Girls Write Now that merges writing and mentorship in an effort to elevate diverse voices. Other pioneering Black women who have been celebrated through the Inspiring Women collection include Ida B. Wells, Dr. Maya Angelou, Madam C.J. Walker, Rosa Parks, and Ella Fitzgerald.

News about the Bessie Coleman Barbie doll comes nearly a year after it was announced her image would be featured on the U.S. quarter as part of the United States Mint’s 2023 American Women Quarters Program.


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