Since Bessie Coleman in 1921 became the first black woman to receive her pilot’s license, she’s had the world and her former hometown Waxahachie looking to the sky.
With the unveiling of the Bessie Coleman official Texas historical marker on Friday at Freedman Memorial Plaza, whole new generations will be reminded to set their goals high and follow their dreams.
“This is a homecoming - Bessie is finally back home in Waxahachie,” City Councilman Chuck Beatty said. “I think it was very timely and overdue, and now Bessie has a fitting place in the Freedman Memorial.”
The Ellis County Historical Commission applied for the historical marker, which was approved by the Texas Historical Commission in 2001. Finding a suitable place to display the marker, however, proved to be a challenge, commission president Sylvia Smith said.
“We are so pleased to finally have found the perfect home for Bessie Coleman’s marker in the Freedman Memorial Plaza,” she said.
She said long-time Waxahachie resident Sam George originally raised community awareness about Coleman’s connection to Waxahachie.
“It was Sam George who brought it to the attention of various people in the historical circles,” she said. “We kind of picked up the ball.”
Director of parks and recreation John Smith said he was also pleased to see the community come together to celebrate the marker and estimated an attendance of about 50 for the ceremony.
“It was nice to see a crowd gather in that park and enjoy it, and hopefully there’s more to come,” he said. “The thing I enjoyed the most about Friday was visiting with some of the folks from the community, hearing their stories and the history.”
An unveiling of the Freedman Memorial will be rescheduled after recent wet weather prevented the monument from being ready for the ceremony planned for Saturday afternoon.
Beatty said the decision is still being made on when to conduct the unveiling, though he would like it to be on a day significant to the community.
Smith said he’s looking forward to when both markers will be on display in the park.
“We’re eager to get that done,” he said. “I think the weather’s starting to cooperate a little bit more now.”
According to a program for the event, Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, and moved to Waxahachie with her family in 1895. After graduating high school and briefly attending college, Coleman moved to Chicago to make her living as a beautician, where she developed the dream to fly.
Refused by flight schools in the United States, she traveled to France in 1921 to earn her pilot’s license and returned to Europe the next year for more advanced training.
She worked as a stunt pilot and barnstormer and traveled the country giving lectures to raise money for her own flight school for blacks. She died in an accident while practicing for a flight show in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1926 at the age of 34.
The Waxahachie Fire Explorers performed the unveiling’s flag ceremony, with an invocation by the Rev. Broderick Sargent, remarks by representatives of the Ellis County Historical Commission and the city of Waxahachie and a ribbon cutting by the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce.