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Road at Tampa Airport honors pioneering black female aviator

Bessie Coleman, born of African-American and Cherokee Indian parents, performed in her first air show in 1922.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

Bessie Coleman Boulevard has a much nicer ring than "Airport Service Road."

But the Tampa International Airport road that starts at the main post office and parallels George Bean Parkway was called just that until Sept. 7, 2000.

That's when the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority officially renamed it after the first African-American aviator of record. The act came in response to a petition by the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees.

Coleman was born in 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, the 12th of 13 children of an African-American mother and Cherokee Indian father. After a childhood of sharecropping and intermittent schooling, Coleman left home to attend college for a year. She performed in her first air show in 1922 and was an instant celebrity. She became a popular flier and lecturer at air shows, but refused to appear in events that barred blacks.

Before long, Coleman was saving her appearance fees to establish a flying school for African-Americans. But she was killed April 30, 1926, in Jacksonville when her plane crashed during a warm-up for an air show.

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