In observance of Women’s Equality Day, employees from across the Naval Support Activity Philadelphia gathered on August 28 in the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support auditorium to learn about the history of an African American woman who overcame many barriers to become a professional pilot.
The event, hosted by the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support and NAVSUP Weapons Systems Equal Employment Opportunities committees, focused on the life of Bessie Coleman, the first civilian licensed African-American pilot.
DLA Troop Support Deputy Commander Richard Ellis introduced the keynote speaker and gave a brief history lesson on Women’s Equality Day.
“On August 26, 1920, some 150 years after the passing of the Declaration of Independence, the 19th amendment was signed granting women the right to vote,” he said. “I am grateful to be a part of the Department of Defense; an organization that is dedicated to providing equal employment opportunities for women.”
Daisy Century, American Historical Theatre actress, graced the stage in a theatrical performance of Coleman’s life, a story of one women’s struggle to become a pilot in the United States.
According to Century, as a young girl, Coleman worked with her mother picking cotton from the fields in a small town in Texas despite a strong desire to fly airplanes. After relocating to Chicago with her brother, she worked as a manicurist in a barbershop where she overheard a conversation that led to her dream becoming a reality.
“There were soldiers who just came back from Paris, France and they were telling their stories of women flying airplanes, bringing mail and supplies,” Century said, as Coleman. “That’s what I want to do, I want to fly.”
After failed attempts to get into three different flight schools in Chicago, Illinois, Coleman applied to seven flight schools in Paris.
“After fourth months, a letter came from the Caudron Brothers' School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, Paris, France,” the actress said. “They told me they would be delighted to teach me how to fly.”
Three years later, Century said Coleman received her passport, had saved enough money, and could speak French before boarding a ship from New York City to France for flight training.
“The school was 10 months, divided into three parts: writing, mechanical and a solo flight,” she said. “I aced the tests for the first two parts in the first four months and after 15 solo flights. I received my pilot’s license in eight months.”
After receiving her pilot’s license, Coleman returned home to the United States where she was recognized for efforts to overcome adversity. On April 30, 1926, at the age of 34, Coleman died in an accident during a stunt performance in Jacksonville, Florida.
Lauren Ginsberg, garrison feeding branch chief, Subsistence supply chain considered Century’s portrayal of Coleman very interesting.
“I had never heard of Bessie Coleman before today,” she said. “To see her go from working in a cotton field in Texas to attending flight school in Paris to fulfill her dream was very inspiring.”