Barbie officially announced the launch of its Bessie Coleman doll on Wednesday, as part of its “Inspiring Women” series, in honor of both her January 26 birthday and Black History Month’s imminent beginning. Coleman was the first Black and Native American female pilot, and her success inspired other pilots of color to earn their wings.
“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,” said Gigi Coleman, Bessie Coleman’s great-niece, said in a statement.
Barbie will also partner with Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars — a nonprofit founded by Gigi Coleman — that educates students and introduces them to careers in aviation, as well as the nonprofit Girls Write Now.
Coleman, born in 1892 to sharecroppers in Texas, first became interested in flying while living in Chicago.
Because of her race and gender, flight schools in the US wouldn’t admit Coleman — but that didn’t stop her. Coleman went international, learning French and moving to Paris to attend aviation school. In 1921, she became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license, and began performing aerial stunts back in the states.
But her career was cut short. During a practice for a May Day celebration in Jacksonville, Florida, her plane — operated by her mechanic — flipped. Coleman, who was not wearing a seatbelt, plummeted to her death. She was 34.
“We hope through this doll more people will discover Bessie’s story and be inspired,” Gigi Coleman said.
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