Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bessie Coleman Street in South Africa

Did you know that there is also a Bessie Coleman Street in the Tigane province of South Africa. Bessie Coleman street runs into Thabo Mbeki and Walter Sisulu streets. Mbeki is a ANC member and former president of South Africa. Sisulu was jailed 25 years with Mandela. It is also one street over from Malcolm X and Winnie Mandela streets. Wow, she is in good company. Tigane is situated in Klerksdorp, North West, South Africa. It is west of Johannesburg and Soweto.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bessie Coleman Flying the Blues - A Short Film by Opio Sokoni

Bessie Coleman Flying the Blues
Short film by Opio Sokoni



Florida Times Union Reports on Possible Bessie Coleman Airport Memorial


Memorial to celebrity aviator Bessie Coleman could find home at Jacksonville's airport

Posted: October 27, 2013 Florida Times Union

By Matt Soergel

The famous and daring Bessie Coleman plunged to her death in Jacksonville in 1926, falling 2,000 feet from an airplane over the Westside. The death of the woman known as “Queen Bess” was headline news all across the country. Then America moved on, to other dramas, other tragedies, other heroes.

More than 87 years later, though, her life could soon be honored again at a most appropriate place — in the airport of the city where she died.

Jacksonville native Opio Sokoni has been pushing for a memorial somewhere in the city to Coleman, who was the first black woman to get a pilot’s license. He’s suggested a statue of her, or a street, park or school named after her.

He recently found a supporter in Steve Grossman, CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, who said he favors doing something at Jacksonville International Airport to recognize Coleman.

Grossman said he’s not sure what that would be yet, though he plans to get the project moving in the next few weeks. “I would like to figure out: What should we do, and where should we do it?” he said.
He’s familiar with Coleman’s story; when he was head of the airport in Oakland, Calif., he supported efforts there to name a street after her. “It was the right thing to do,” he said.

Coleman was a nationwide celebrity, famed for her perseverance, boldness and beauty. She died Aug. 30, 1926, the day before a big air show in Jacksonville, after she and pilot William Wills took off to scout where she would make a parachute jump the next day.

During the flight, the plane went into a sudden dive — reports said a wrench slid and jammed the controls — and Coleman, who had been peering over the side, was thrown to her death. Wills was killed as the plane exploded on impact.

In 2012, a bronze plaque with Coleman’s likeness was placed at the front doors of Paxon School for Advanced Studies. In the 1920s, that was the site of the airfield where the ill-fated flight began. But Sokoni thinks more should be done for her. And what better place, he said, than an airport?


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bessie Coleman Street Named

Pioneer Aviatrix Bessie Coleman was from the other Atlanta - a small town in Texas. Just like Chicago and Frankfurt Germany, a street at the airport is named in Brave Bessie's honor...

Atlanta Honors Bessie Coleman
City names street in aviator's honor

Journal Staff Report

The city of Atlanta honored one of its own Friday when it unveiled a street sign renaming the road leading to the city airport to Bessie Coleman Drive. The road was originally named Airport Drive.

Coleman was American's first female African-American pilot. She was born in Atlanta on Jan. 26, 1892, the sixth surviving child of Susan and George Coleman.

She made headlines in 1921when she became the first African-American woman to earn an international pilot's license. On Sept. 3, 1922 she made history as she became the first black woman to fly over American soil.

Coleman died April 30, 1926 in a flying accident near Jacksonville, Florida.
She was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame on Nov. 10 of this year.

Mayor Kay Philips unveiled the sign and guests were treated to refreshments afterward in the terminal at the Atlanta Municipal Airport.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bessie Coleman Original Screenplay now Registered

A screenplay has been registered on the life of Bessie Coleman


A story about the life of the first African-American female to fly an airplane. Bessie Coleman fights through racism and gender bias in the 1920s to eventually triumph in the new aviation field as a barnstormer and stunt pilot.

STORY:       “Men of Honor” meets “Amelia”


The major newspapers in the 1920s had a fascination with aviation. The first black female to fly an airplane, however, was made a household name among African Americans by the black press. They both covered her. Bessie Coleman was called “a vivacious little cutie” in one major newspaper and a “nervy lady” by The Chicago Defender, a black weekly. Bessie’s antagonist is a storm of circumstances that includes her being female, black and economically poor in the exciting times of the roaring twenties. Blues songs and swing-Jazz dances created excitement everywhere. Bessie’s best friend and confidant, Ethel, becomes one of the most celebrated Blues, Gospel and Jazz singers of the day.

             We see a thoughtful and intelligent child grow up and leave the harsh realities of a small southern town. Bessie Coleman moves to the big city of Chicago where those that meet her observe signs of a woman destined for greatness. When Bessie decides that she wants to fly an airplane, she could not get flight lessons anywhere in the United States. No flight school would take a black student during that time. But, schools in France would. With the help of wealthy donors, Bessie Coleman takes up studying French and leaves the country to receive flight lessons. A fatal air accident happens while she is in flight school. She decides to stay and complete her training – earning her an international pilot’s license. Bessie Coleman becomes the first black person to receive a pilot’s license in the United States. The press eats it up. The fact that she is regal and stunningly beautiful is not lost on her throngs of admirers.

               Reporters flock behind the incredibly dressed Bessie at airshows. She repeatedly tells them her dream of building a flight school so that [everyone] could learn how to fly. She also angers some by refusing to perform at events that did not permit African Americans. Coleman gets her way because she is a star whose skills as a barnstormer are unmatched. She out dazzles even the best stunt pilots of her day. She walks on the wings of planes and makes her airplane do tricks that only a few would dare. Many barnstormers died at airshows during the early times in aviation. Queen Bess, as she is sometimes called, consistently compels thousands to come see her defy death.

                 Triumph turns to tragedy, however. One day before an airshow she was to headline, Brave Bessie falls 2000 feet from her airplane. She dies instantly. Her not so trusted assistant also dies a bizarre death immediately thereafter when the plane crashes to the ground. What about her dreams? The Red Tails, aka The Tuskegee Airmen, were trained at Bessie Coleman inspired flight schools that sprung up immediately after her death. This screenplay is based on a graduate study and short documentary film of the same name.

Bessie Coleman and the Jacksonville Free Press

Bessie Coleman resolution event is covered by The Jacksonville Free Press newspaper...

Photo: Bessie Coleman resolution event is covered by The Jacksonville Free Press newspaper...

Black Newspaper Report on Bessie in Jacksonville Florida

This was one of the Black newspapers in Jacksonville, Florida that ran a story several years after Bessie Coleman died...

Photo: This was one of the Black newspapers in Jacksonville, Florida that ran a story after Bessie Coleman died...

Bessie Coleman John Betsch the Beach Lady and Johnetta B Cole

The man in this pic is John Betsch. He was a young Howard Univ. grad and Bessie Coleman's contact in Jacksonville for the coming Welfare League air show she was to headline. He saw her fall from the plane to her death in 1926. He is the father of former Spelman president Johnetta B. Cole (top right) and the famed Beach Lady (top left)...

Photo: The man in this pic is John Betsch. He was a young Howard Univ. grad and Bessie Coleman's contact in Jacksonville for the coming Welfare League air show she was to headline. He saw her fall from the plane to her death in 1926. He is the father of former Spelman president Johnetta B. Cole (top right) and the famed Beach Lady (top left)...

Bessie Coleman Grave Flyover

Since 1931 pilots (from the Tuskegee Airmen to Bessie Coleman-inspired female pilots) have flown over Chicago's Lincoln cemetery to drop flowers onto Bessie Coleman's grave...

Photo: Since 1931 pilots (from the Tuskegee Airmen to Bessie Coleman-inspired female pilots) have flown over Chicago's Lincoln cemetary to drop flowers onto Bessie Coleman's grave...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bessie Coleman Honored in Jacksonville Florida





My name is Opio Sokoni, I was born and raised here in Jacksonville, Florida.

              First, thank you to Mayor Alvin Brown who signed this resolution and to all of the members of this body. A special thank you to Councilman president Gulliford and a particular thank you to Councilman Jones. I would be remiss if I did not mention Councilman Gaffney who is my council member.

           Bessie Coleman represents an incredible time in U.S. history. Women were gaining their right to vote. World War I was over and the economy was roaring. Blues, Jazz, and swing dances like the Lindy Hop, the Black Bottom and the Charleston were shared by the entire country. The Harlem Renaissance was at full steam along with the Marcus Garvey movement. Jacksonville, Florida was the winter capital of a booming film industry during that time. Bessie Coleman’s presence here in 1926 added to the incredible excitement that was going on in this city. She was a flying sensation that was written about and adored all across the country.
             Her death here in Jacksonville sent ripples throughout the new aviation world and deep into the African American community.

         The impact of Bessie's death, however, caused admirers to fulfill her dreams of opening flight schools in the United States. One of those Bessie Coleman flight schools trained the World War II hero pilots called the Tuskegee Airmen. So many have forgotten about Brave Bessie. She died here. We do well in honoring her. Let’s agree to do more. The way Chicago and Texas has. The way Frankfurt Germany has in remembering Queen Bess. Something to show the beauty and bravery she exuded as an aviation pioneer. Something to show that we remember her. What a wonderful story for this city. What a wonderful story this is for Jacksonville, Florida.     


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bessie Coleman admired Sojourner Truth


                  Aviator Pioneer Bessie Coleman admired Sojourner Truth. The name Sojourner was given to a robotic miniature Mars rover that explored the planet for three months. The name was selected in an essay contest won by a 12-year-old from Connecticut. The height of aviation in our time is the ability to go into space. Bessie Coleman was a pioneer in the field of aviation and has been enshrined into the Aviation Hall of Fame. She died when she was flung from an airplane a day before a major airshow in Jacksonville, Florida. The city's council honored her on Aug. 27, 2013 with a resolution.

                    Sojourner, means "traveler", who escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826.
After going to court to recover her son, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Her best-known extemporaneous speech on gender inequalities, "Ain't I a Woman?", was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves. (-wikipedia)

Bessie Quote

Thursday, July 11, 2013

City Council to Present Resolution Honoring Pioneer Aviatrix Bessie Coleman

City Council to Present Resolution Honoring Pioneer Aviatrix Bessie Coleman

A resolution honoring aviatrix pioneer Bessie Coleman will be presented by the Jacksonville City Council. We are asking that you come out and support this historical recognition. Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman was the first Black female aviatrix. She received an international pilot’s license from France and learned to stunt fly in Germany. Bessie was flung from her airplane at 2,000 feet up on April 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida - one day before an airshow she was to headline.

The information for this occasion is as follows:
DATE:    Tuesday August 27, 2013
TIME:    5pm
PLACE:  Jacksonville City Council Chambers at 117 West Duval St., Suite 425

To have a seat reserved, please contact Opio Sokoni at Call or text him at 904-422-6078. To keep up with the latest on our efforts to properly honor Bessie Coleman (e.g., Statue at the Jacksonville, International Airport), go to the blog at

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Creating a Statue for Bessie Coleman

  • Poli-Tainment, Inc. is looking at different ideas on having a Bessie Coleman memorial statue placed at the Jacksonville International Airport in Florida. This is the city where Queen Bess, an aviatrix pioneer, fell 2,000 feet from her airplane - one day before an airshow she was to headline.

  • We will begin a fundraising campaign to pay for the statue after we find the best artist and know the price. 

  • A life-size bronze art piece seems to be a top contender. We encourage anyone who has interest to present ideas. This project is not specific to the memorial city. All admirers in all countries are encouraged to submit ideas. 

  • All donor names will be a part of the memorial.

  • We will continue to pursue ideas to honor Brave Bessie.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Historical Resolution Honoring Bessie Coleman Set for August 27, 2013

Great News!

The resolution to honor Bessie Coleman has been approved by the Jacksonville, Florida city council and signed by the mayor. Please keep August 27th (Tuesday) 5:30 pm open on your calendar if you plan to attend this historical occasion at the council meeting - 

located:  Jacksonville City Hall 117 West Duval St., Suite 425. Jacksonville, FL 32202 

adjacent to Hemming Plaza downtown. 

Also, send me a message if you would like a reserve seat to 

Thanks so much for your contribution and support for this incredible pioneer in aviation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Draft City Council Resolution Honoring Bessie Coleman

This is the draft resolution honoring aviatrix pioneer Bessie Coleman.  It will be presented at the next big city council meeting. The public is welcome and encouraged to come and witness history in the making.


Introduced by Council Member Jones:       


     WHEREAS, Bessie Coleman was born January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas and raised in Waxahachie, Texas where she was the tenth of 13 children and attended a one-room segregated schoolhouse and became the family’s bookkeeper at a very young age for her mother’s cooking and housekeeping business; and

     WHEREAS, Bessie Coleman at 18 years old attended college at the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma for several months before she ran out of money and headed back home to Waxahachie in grand style with members of the marching band in tow; and she moved to Chicago several years later during the mass migration from the south during World War I where she worked and became known as the fastest manicurist in the city while dreaming of learning to fly and becoming a pilot in the new world of aeronautics; and

     WHEREAS, in 1920 Bessie Coleman, having learned French and using money that she had saved, and receiving an investment from an African-American banker, went to France where gender and racial prejudice was much less pronounced, and completed an aviation course, becoming the first American to receive a pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and thereby became the first licensed black pilot in the United States upon her return to America; and

     WHEREAS, Bessie Coleman performed in air shows around the country where she became known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie” as a result of her breath-taking air maneuvers and highly entertaining parachute jumps, and the Norman Studios in Jacksonville communicated with Bessie about using her flying skills to make what will later become The Flying Ace, and Queen Bess gave lectures inspiring others to pursue their dreams all while saving up money to make her dream of opening a flight school come true so that African Americans could learn how to fly here in the United States; and

     WHEREAS, in 1926 on April 30th while on a barnstorming tour in Florida, Brave Bessie fell from her plane in Jacksonville at the now defunct Paxon Airfield where Bessie Coleman was killed, and thousands of mourners filed pass her coffin here at the St. Philips Episcopal Church and Bethel Baptist Institutional Church; now therefore

     BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Jacksonville:
     Section 1.      The City of Jacksonville hereby honors and commemorates a legacy of pioneering aviation, self-confidence and heroism of famed African-American female aviatrix Bessie Coleman, and urges all people to profit from her example of persistence and self-determination to follow her dreams and achieve unprecedented success despite long odds and discouraging circumstances.
     Section 2.      Effective Date.  This Resolution shall become effective upon signature by the Mayor or upon becoming effective without the Mayor's signature.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bessie Coleman Scout Trip to Jax Intl Airport

Scouted out Jax Intl. Airport to gain info for the Bessie Coleman honor we are pushing to be displayed there. Looks like plenty opportunities exist for something befitting Brave Bessie's memory. Pioneer aviatrix Bessie Coleman died in Jax FL in 1926.

I am curious as to who or what this female art statue is.
I will be getting back to you on this.  Was told that it was some
sort of Greek Mythical entity.

This is a display case you will see after getting off the airplane and  walking to get your
On the other side (through the glass) is where passengers walk to go to the gates.

This is a sitting area just before a passenger goes to the security check.
This area 
is lined with shops, a piano and a shoe shine stand.

These escalators lead to the baggage claim.

This display case is in the area below in the baggage claim
area. These are some really nice photos. 
I think the caption was "Jacksonville Takes Flight."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bessie Coleman Statute at Jax International Airport

Headed to the Jax International Airport to talk to them about a statute or bust of Bessie Coleman to be placed there. Another airport here (Craig's Executive Airport) is where I rented a hangar to do the Bessie Coleman research several years ago. That airport has a street named after Amelia Earhart (who idolized Queen Bess).


Monday, April 29, 2013

Florida Times Union Corrects the Record on Aviatrix Bessie Coleman

In 2013, one day before the 87th anniversary of the death of Bessie Coleman here in Jacksonville, (The Florida Times Union) posts an historical article about Bessie Coleman. This publication slighted her in 1926 arguably because she was a black woman.


Congrats to Bessie Coleman on a front page honor in Jacksonville's Florida Times Union newspaper. A paper that slighted her in 1926 when she died (April 30), finally corrected the record - on the 87th anniversary of her death in that city.

The Florida Times Union Features Aviatrix Bessie Coleman on Front Page

The Florida Times Union runs Bessie Coleman story on front page April 30, 2013.

Jacksonville asked to honor first black woman pilot

Opio Sokoni sits under the plaque commemorating the first black woman pilot in the U.S. who died in a plane crash at Paxon Air Field which was located near where Paxon High School is now located.  Bessie Coleman crashed and was killed in a flying accident on April 30, 1926.  Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union
Opio Sokoni sits under the plaque commemorating the first black woman pilot in the U.S. who died in a plane crash at Paxon Air Field which was located near where Paxon High School is now located. Bessie Coleman crashed and was killed in a flying accident on April 30, 1926.

It was big news in Jacksonville, briefly, 87 years ago.

On April 30, 1926, the lead headline of the afternoon edition of the Jacksonville Journal was played big: “Jax Airplane Crash Kills Two.” The headline in the next morning’s Times-Union was smaller but flashier: “Death at controls of airplane as two are flung from the sky.”

The stories recounted how aviatrix Bessie Coleman — the first black woman to get a pilot’s license — fell 2,000 feet to her death from an out-of-control plane piloted by William Wills, who was killed as the plane exploded on impact.

Thousands of people attended a memorial service in Jacksonville for Coleman, a celebrity pilot known for her daring, her perseverance and her beauty. Then the city moved on. Now there’s scant evidence in the city where she plunged to her death that she was ever there.

Jacksonville native Opio Sokoni is pushing to change that. He thinks there should be something named for her in Jacksonville — afterall, a main road at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is named Bessie Coleman Drive.

“Here, I found out, no streets, no schools, no libraries, no parks. No nothing,” Sokoni said.
He found some support when he asked the City Council last week to do something to memorialize Coleman.

Councilman Warren Jones, whose district takes in the area where she died, said he’ll introduce a resolution honoring her. In an interview after the council meeting, he said he will also look into renaming a street or a park after Coleman, though that isn’t always an easy thing.

“He brought up a good point,” Jones said of Sokoni. “I’m just trying to determine how best to do it.”
Councilman Bill Gulliford said he’d support doing something more than a resolution.

“I think that for a woman, and especially as an African-American woman, in that time, to accomplish what she did was pretty doggone impressive,” he said.

There is one reminder of Coleman in Jacksonville already.

In January 2012, a bronze plaque of “Queen Bess,” as she was known, was placed next to the front doors of Paxon School for Advanced Studies, which in the 1920s was the site of the airfield where Coleman’s fatal flight began. It was unveiled by members of the Bessie Coleman Aerospace Legacy Inc., founded by a group of African-American female pilots.

That group sponsors an essay contest for Paxon students, and students see the plaque every day, said the school’s principal, Royce Turner. “She is kept alive in that way,” he said.

The school has another aeronautical connection: The road in front of it has already been renamed for Paxon grad Norman E. Thagard, a one-time astronaut. “And we’re the Eagles, and that gives us another connection to flying,” Turner said.

Marisa Carbone of Atlantic Beach researched Coleman’s life for a screenplay that was featured at a script contest at the Jacksonville Film Festival in 2004.

“You know, there should be a statue here, there really should,” Carbone said. “She was a pioneer here. She was before Amelia Earhart.”

Coleman, the daughter of Texas sharecroppers, was intrepid: When schools in America wouldn’t teach her to fly, she went to language school to learn French, then traveled to France to get her pilot’s license in 1921.

She was pretty and engaging and brave, which made her a favorite of the Chicago Defender newspaper, a black publication that frequently put her on the front page. Railroad porters put copies of the paper on trains, which then took it around the country, where word of the barnstorming pilot spread, Carbone said.

Coleman put on flying displays around the country, and came to Jacksonville in 1926 to prepare for a big show on May 1. The day before, she and Willis took off to scout out where she would make a parachute jump the next day.

In flight over the Westside, the plane, a Curtiss JN-4, went into a sudden dive and Coleman, who was peering over the side, fell to the ground. Wills died moments later in the crash landing. News reports at the time said a wrench had slid and jammed into the “control gears” of the plane.
“They had a huge service for her at Bethel [Baptist Institutional Church],” Carbone said, “and then they put her body on a train, and all across the country the train stopped and there were services along the way, and when it got to Chicago there was an even bigger service.”

Books have been written about Coleman, and she was honored with a postal service stamp. Mae Jemison, the first black women to fly in space, called Coleman an inspiration. On the anniversary of her death, pilots in Chicago do a flyover past her grave.

A resolution in Jacksonville would be nice, Sokoni said, but it’s not enough.

He’s 43, a Navy vet and graduate of Howard University law school. His family goes back generations in Cosmo, a little community in Fort Caroline. After law school he went west and ran a small radio station in Portland, Ore., and had a few stints on TV facing off against Fox News hosts such as Michelle Malkin, Bill O’Reilly and Laura Ingraham. Back in Jacksonville, he now heads a nonprofit called Poli-tainment Inc., which mixes entertainment and social issues.

That’s where he learned of Coleman’s story, which he made into a short film, “Bessie Coleman: Flying the Blues,” that’s now on YouTube. “Bessie Coleman was one of a kind,” he said. “People need to know about her.”

And the city where she died, he figures, needs to do something more to keep her story alive.
“I don’t want this to be just a black thing,” Sokoni said. “The entire city needs to understand that this woman belongs to all of us.”

Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082
Opio Sokoni sits under the plaque commemorating the first black woman pilot in the U.S. who died in a plane crash at Paxon Air Field which was located near where Paxon High School is now located.  Bessie Coleman crashed and was killed in a flying accident on April 30, 1926.  Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union
Bessie Coleman Plaque at Paxon High School
Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman


Jacksonville, Florida City Council members Gulliford and Jones were the first to speak up in support of honoring aviatrix pioneer Bessie Coleman in a major way in the city.

Councilman Gulliford
Councilman Jones

Bessie Coleman Fying the Blues