The History Lesson
Bessie Colemanâs life took a while to get off the ground.
Part African-American, part Native-American, she grew up poor in segregated, turn-of-the-century Texas. She couldnât afford to finish college and wound up in Chicago at age 23, doing manicures.
Thatâs where everything changed. Among the folks she met in the Windy City: soldiers returning from World War I. They told fantastic stories about flying aces like Eddie Rickenbacker. Eventually, ColemanÂ got a crazy idea: to become an aviator.
Back then, just a handful of American women were licensed to fly, and the top American flying schools wouldnât even teach a woman of color. So ColemanÂ took French lessons, and with the help of a wealthy patron (Robert Abbott), sailed to way more enlightened Paris, where she earned her pilotâs license in 1921 — two years before Amelia Earhart.
When Bessie returned to the U.S., she was a sensation: the first black female pilot. The press fawned over her. Hollywood offered movie roles. And for years, she traveled the country, performing stunt-laden air shows for crowds of thousands. People called her âQueen Bess.â
Bessieâs goal was to start a flying school for people of color, but she never got the chance. During rehearsals for an air show, she crashed to her death in AprilÂ 1926.
Eighty years later, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Today, in the Chicago, Oakland, Tampa, and Frankfurt airports, youâll find roads named after her.
A riff on the classic cocktail, The Paper Plane. Crafted by Michael Mendoza, bartender at Flight 112 in Elmhurst, Il., a short flightÂ from Chicago O’Hare Airport, whereÂ Bessie Coleman Drive is named in her honor.
- 3/4 ounceÂ Still Moon MoonshineÂ White Lightning
- 3/4 ounce Suze
- 3/4 ounce Clement “Creole Shrubb” Liqueur d’Orange
- 3/4 ounce Lemon juice
- Orange peel
Pour equal parts of moonshine, Suze, Clement “Creole Shrubb” Liqueur d’Orange and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker. Shake and then strain over a coupe glass.Â If you have origami skills, foldÂ the orange peel into the shape of an airplane, or use an X-ActoÂ blade to shape an airplane out of the orange peel.
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