First Black Woman Pilot Bessie Coleman To Be Honored On US Quarter

Last week, the United States Mint unveiled the five women who will appear on quarters in 2023 as part of the four-year series celebrating women’s contributions to American history. Next year’s diverse honorees include a former first lady, prima ballerina, journalist, composer, and pilot.

The U.S. Mint collaborated with groups including the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, National Women’s History Museum and Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus to put together the recommendations. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has final approval of the honorees. 

2023 quarters include Jovita Idar, a Mexican American journalist and suffragist; Edith Kanaka’ole, an indigenous Hawaiian composer; Eleanor Roosevelt, longest serving first lady; Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina; and Bessie Coleman, the world’s first Black Indigenous woman pilot. 

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892 to sharecroppers. She was the tenth child out of thirteen born to an African American mother and a Cherokee and African American father. 

In 1921, at 29 years old, Coleman became the first African American and first Native American woman to earn an aviation pilot’s license. She also was the first African American person to earn an international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in France. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by an African American woman, instantly becoming a media sensation. She went on to perform tricks and give flight lessons in the U.S. and Europe. 

Known as “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World,” she was infamous for her daredevil flying tricks, including the “loop-the-loops” and flying in the shape of an “8” in the sky.

An advocate for equality, Coleman refused to speak anywhere that discriminated against African Americans during the segregation era. 

She intended to establish a flight school for African Americans but died tragically in a plane crash on April 30, 1926.

Her legacy was first commemorated in U.S. history in 1995 on the Bessie Coleman stamp.

The first quarters in the series released into circulation were of poet Maya Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride earlier this year. Quarters featuring activist Wilma Mankiller, suffragist Nina Otero-Warren, and actress Anna May Wong will also launch into circulation later in 2022.


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