African American flying legend to finally receive credit.

 Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman arose from the poverty of the Texas cotton fields at the turn of the century to become the first Black in the world to earn an international pilots license. She was also one of this country’s first (and little known) civil rights activist.

Growing up in the South (the 10th born of 13 children) left lasting scares on Bessie Coleman’s heart. She was appalled at how her people were treated and vowed to someday do something about it and help uplift her race. As a young woman Bessie realized the arrival of the airplane was going to change the world and she wanted her people to be a part of that change. Flying schools in America refused to teach Negroes to fly – undaunted, Bessie learned to speak French and went to France to learn. She became famous in America not only for her uncanny flying skills but her unwavering devotion to help uplift her race. While barnstorming the country to raise money to open a flying school Bessie visited   hundreds of Black schools and her message to the children was always the same…if I can do it…you can do it”.

The level of Bessie Coleman’s courage in a country torn apart by racism and hatred was extraordinary. If Blacks were not allowed at a flying show she refused to fly until they were. She declined to star in a film about her life because it portrayed her people in a negative and insulting manor – this at a time when she had no one’s shadow to walk in. Martin Luther King hadn’t been born yet! There was just a brave young woman, alone, who in her own sweet words …”Refused to take no for an answer.”  Her amazing accomplishments were the direct result of America’s first Black flying school in Chicago in 1929. (Over 35% of the famed Tuskegee Airmen first learned to fly at that school.)

So how it is this remarkable woman is virtually unknown in American history? That’s the same question filmmaker Gardner Doolittle ask himself when he came across Bessie Coleman while researching early aviation in the archives of North Carolina University. Doolittle, a veteran of 30 years in the entertainment industry, was so moved by Bessie Coleman’s courage he decided to make a documentary of her life.


“In the earlier years of this country the White press rarely ran positive stories of African Americans. The occasional stories they did run were mostly crime related”. Doolittle stated.  Sadly this trend of ignoring positive Black history made its way into our schools history books.

Gardner Doolittle Films hopes to change that. In preparation for The Bessie Coleman Story a short preview video was made to show at various Black women’s organizations.

“The response was overwhelming!” Doolittle says. It also reviled a somber indignation by many of the viewers. “Why don’t I know about Bessie Coleman?”

A questionnaire filed out by viewers disclosed the disturbing, but predictable, reason.

Nearly 100% of the viewers knew of the White aviator Amelia Earhart – but Only 8% of them knew of Bessie Coleman. Why? Because they learn about Amelia Earhart From school history books. Think about that. “This is not to blame Earhart for being born White into a well-connected family” Doolittle says. “She was a very courageous pilot. But the facts remain: She came along after Bessie Coleman – didn’t have near the talent – and received a ticker-tape parade for being the first woman to be flown across the Atlantic Ocean.” (Does anyone remember who was flying the plane?)

“America wanted a flamboyant women flyer in the earlier days of aviation and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be a Negro woman!” Says Doolittle.

Gardner Doolittle Films has launched a crowd funding campaign with Indiegogo to help offset the rising cost of professional film making; it can be found at Indiegogo “Bessie Coleman Story” The film will be a four part 90 minute presentation formatted for PBS and commercial distribution.

 There will also be a school room version in much shorter segments because of classroom time and requirements. It will be edited into 8 parts 10 to12 minutes long. Each part will be titled with content and time period to enable the teacher to pull-up whatever segment needed at the time.

 The school version of The Bessie Coleman Story will always be available to teachers free!

Gardner Doolittle feels today’s mass media bombardment to our children is delivering the wrong message. “Children are being taught if you make excuses or blame others for your problems it makes everything OK, just listen to our politicians!  There are no rose colored glasses in the Bessie Coleman Story. The films message, Bessie’s Message, is blunt and to the point.  Quit the drama and take responsibility for your own actions, period! If you think things are tough now try following Bessie Coleman around for a day!”