Oklahoma History Center Presents Portrayal of Bessie Coleman, First Licensed African American Woman Pilot
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma History Center is proud to announce multiple performances by Dr. Daisy Century portraying Bessie Coleman, America’s first licensed African American female pilot. Dr. Century’s presentations will be Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m. and Friday, March 3, at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. for school groups and 2 p.m. for the general public. Cost for tickets will be $5 for Oklahoma Historical Society members, $10 for the general public and no charge for school groups. A special price for family memberships of $25 will be offered at this performance to receive the discounted price for future living history programs. Tickets may be purchased at the Oklahoma History Center or by calling 405-522-0765. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Bessie grew up in a family of 13 children in Texas, leaving there for a short time to complete one term at Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. At age 23 she moved to Chicago and worked a number of small jobs. While living there, she heard stories about pilots returning from World War I and became interested in flying. American flight schools admitted neither women nor blacks so, after receiving private financial backing, she moved to Paris to train and become licensed to fly. Over the next several years, she would spend time both in the United States and Europe, appearing as a barnstormer and stunt flyer. She was offered a part in a movie that she hoped would advance her reputation and earn her enough money to buy her own plane. However, the film company cast her as a poor black person, wearing rags and torn clothing. She walked off the set because she felt that this role would perpetuate the derogatory stereotype of blacks held by most whites at that time. She did not live long enough to see the establishment of flying schools that admitted African Americans, but she did serve as an inspiration to others dreaming of accepted black aviation. Coleman died while flying the first plane she purchased. It had been poorly maintained prior to the purchase and, while preparing for an air show in Texas, she was thrown from the plane, fell 2,000 feet and died instantly.
Dr. Daisy Century of Philadelphia, Pa., is well known as a writer, historical interpreter and educator. Appearing previously at the History Center as Sojourner Truth—a former slave, preacher and crusader for women’s rights—Dr. Century provided guests with an impressive and moving historical reenactment of Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman.” Among Dr. Century’s other interpretations are Harriet Tubman, Phillis Wheatley and Madam C. J. Walker. She has taught in the Philadelphia School System for 20 years and is an award-winning science teacher.
Funding for this program is provided in part by a grant from Oklahoma Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of Oklahoma Humanities or NEH. Oklahoma Humanities is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote meaningful public engagement with the humanities—disciplines such as history, literature, film studies, ethics and philosophy. The humanities offer a deeper understanding of ourselves and others by confronting us with the questions, values and meanings of the human experience. As the state partner for the NEH, Oklahoma Humanities brings people together to explore these ideas through programming and community grants that support book groups, exhibits, film festivals, teacher institutes and more. Oklahoma Humanities engages people in their own communities, providing forums for education, critical thinking and productive civil discourse.
The Oklahoma History Center is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives and is an accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.