QUEEN BESS by Doris L. Rich


Daredevil Aviator
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 Rich (Amelia Earhart, 1989) sympathetically limns the extraordinary life of a woman who courageously defied gender and race to become the first African-American to earn an international pilot's license. While admitting that the scant amount of written material about Bessie Coleman has affected the scope of her book, Rich has nonetheless crafted the recollections of aging relatives, friends, and eyewitnesses, as well as press clippings and Coleman's few letters, into a vivid portrait of a remarkable woman. Born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, Coleman found her hitherto happy childhood changing when her father, a day laborer, left Texas in search of better work, and when school became an intermittent thing, squeezed in between cotton-picking and housework. Determined to make something of herself, the future aviatrix headed for Chicago, where she studied to become a manicurist. Though the work brought good money, as well as contacts with leaders of the black community, it failed to satisfy. On the spur of the moment, Coleman, hearing talk of French women fliers, ``decided that flying would provide a way to be noticed.'' Unable to train in the US, the ever-resourceful young woman got financial backing and sailed to France. There, she earned her license in 1921, two years before Amelia Earhart. Returning home as a celebrity, she flew in air shows, performed daring stunts, and--described as ``the world's greatest woman flyer''--spoke widely about the need for blacks to learn to fly. But segregation, sexism, and several accidents made Coleman's life difficult and thwarted her ambition to open a flying school. In 1926, just as her life seemed to be turning around, she died in a crash. A timely and engaging introduction to a woman of stunning accomplishment and courage who deserves a place of high honor in the pantheon of early flying. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1993
ISBN: 1-56098-265-9
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993


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