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Bessie's Dream (Grade 5)

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Bessie’s Dream
by Joanna Chong Jiaxuan

“I know something that French women do that you’ll never do -- Fly!” John snorted.

Bessie rolled her eyes at her brother’s comment as she felt her anger flare.

“Is that so? We’ll just see about that!”

Everyone has moments in their lives where they have a revelation, and make a decision that sets the course of their destiny. That was Bessie’s moment; that was the moment she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

But how was she to do it? Airplanes had just been invented two decades ago, and none of the aviation schools in America were accepting female students. During Bessie’s time, women had access to a very limited number of opportunities. But by a stroke of luck, she heard that she could be accepted to aviation schools in France. Now she just had to save up the money!

As the tenth child of thirteen siblings, Bessie’s family grew up working in the cotton fields, and money never came easy. But she knew she had a dream, and she never lost sight of it. By day, Bessie worked all day to save up money that she did not have; and by night, she relied on the flickering lights of her candles whilst she studied a language she did not know--French.

Five years later, Bessie had done it. She felt a surge of nerves and excitement as she set sail for Paris, bidding farewell to her friends and family who shook their heads in doubt. Little did they know that just one short year later, Bessie would return, beaming with pride as she held her official pilot license. She made history as the first African American pilot in 1922.

One day, Bessie came across a flyer for a pilot performance. “How could piloting possibly be used to perform?" she wondered. That night, as she stood among the crowd, she watched in awe at a pilot soaring through the clouds. As she heard the crowds oohs and aahs rise and fall with the silver plane, she knew she wanted to bring joy to others in the same way. She returned to France once more, this time returning with her new skills of performance piloting.

As she sailed through the winds doing her flips and dips, Bessie was a sight to behold. She became an overnight celebrity, and audiences would travel and pay to watch her breathtaking performances as she quickly became known as “Queen Bess.” And as Bessie gripped the wheel behind her controls during every performance, she felt free.

But Bessie wanted to do more with her newfound fame. She swore to only perform for desegregated crowds and became an inspiration to women of color everywhere who saw the possibility for something more.

During her funeral following her early death in 1926, her loss was mourned by thousands, but that was certainly not the end of her legacy.

In 1929, William J. Powell founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, which gave African American women like Bessie a chance to study aviation-- a chance she was denied years ago. The aero club also inspired other famous flyers such as the Five Blackbirds who followed Bessie’s footsteps in proving the abilities of African American pilots. In 1977, women pilots also founded the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club, and in 1995, the United States Postal Service issued a “Bessie Coleman” stamp, declaring her nothing short of a hero.

Bessie Coleman may have set out to prove the world wrong, but she accomplished so much more than that! She became a symbol of hope, proving that you are not defined by what you look like and that with determination, no one can stop your dream from becoming a reality.
Why did Bessie study French at night?
  1. She loved learning new languages.
  2. She wanted to attend a school in France.
  3. She was impressed by French women.
  4. She hoped to visit the Eiffel Tower one day.
How long did it take Bessie to reach her dream of getting her pilot's license?
  1. a few months
  2. five years
  3. six years
  4. a decade
After Bessie got her pilot's license, what did she decide to do?
  1. She took classes to become a performance pilot.
  2. She decided to get a job with a commercial airline.
  3. She saved up money so she could buy her own plane.
  4. She took her brother for a ride in a plane she piloted.
Why couldn't Bessie study to be a pilot in America?
  1. The schools did not have any openings.
  2. The schools all rejected her application.
  3. The schools did not accept women.
  4. The schools were closed.
As part of her legacy, Bessie Coleman became a hero to
  1. African-American female pilots.
  2. French women who had big goals.
  3. her twelve brothers and sisters.
  4. the United States Postal Service.
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