An all-Black female crew operated an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Phoenix in honor of Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1921.
The airline hosted the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars tour this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Coleman performing the first public flight by an African American woman in 1922.
“She bravely broke down barriers within the world of aviation and paved the path for many to follow,” American Airlines said in a statement.
Coleman’s great-niece, Gigi Coleman, was hosted on the flight operated by the all-Black female crew of pilots, flight attendants, customer service coordinators, cargo team members and the aviation maintenance technician, the airline said.
“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 titled “Empowering Women in the Skies.”
Very few American women of any race had pilot’s licenses by 1918, but those who did were often White and rich. Undeterred, Coleman learned French and moved to Paris and was accepted by the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation. In 1921, Coleman became the first female pilot of African American and Native American descent.
Coleman died at 34 in 1926 during a practice run with another pilot. While she never fulfilled her dream to open a flight school for future Black pilots, Coleman’s imprint on aviation history lives on, CNN previously reported.
Black women have been “notably underrepresented in the aviation industry, especially as pilots, representing less than 1% in the commercial airline industry,” American Airlines said.
“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 flight’s pilot, said in the video.
American Airlines said it is committed to diversifying the flight deck, which includes “expanding awareness of and increasing accessibility to the pilot career within diverse communities” through its cadet academy.
The day after the historic flight, representatives from the Bessie Coleman Foundation and American Airlines pilots and cadets met with students at the Academies at South Mountain in Phoenix, where the flight landed, to expose young people to careers in the aviation industry.
“I knew she was the first African American woman to get her pilot’s license, she was the first to do it so she inspired the next generation to follow her footsteps and know that they can also be what they want to be,” said Mohamed Mohamed, an aspiring airline pilot who studies aerospace at the academy, in the video.