Nope. That honor actually belongs to Willa Brown Chappell (photo above), who earned it as Willa Brown (before she got married, right? Right).
The famous Bessie Coleman, actually received her pilot’s license in France in 1921, because no U.S. pilots’ program would accept her. Sexism and racism was rampant, unfortunately.
It took her seven months, but Bessie Coleman did become the very first African American woman in the world to be licensed to fly an aircraft.
But Willa Beatrice Chappell nee Brown—she was the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s certification on U.S. soil.
Earning a BA degree from Indiana Teachers College in 1927 and an MBA from Northwestern University in 1937, Brown sought the assistance of The Chicago Defender weekly newspaper (a publication dedicated to African American readership) publisher and editor Robert Abbott, who had also helped Bessie Coleman to pursue her aviation goals.
Brown enrolled in the Aeronautical University in Chicago, earning a Master Mechanic certificate in 1935. Under the tutelage of certified flight instructor and aviation mechanic Cornelius Coffey, she earned her private pilot’s license in 1938, passing her exam with a near perfect score of 96 percent.
So yes… Willa Brown Chappell got her pilot’s license some 17 years after Bessie Coleman.
In 1941, she became the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The U.S. government also named her federal coordinator of the CAP Chicago unit. Two years later, she became the first woman in the U.S. to have both a mechanic’s license and a commercial license in aviation.
Willa Brown was a member of several flight organizations, including the Challenger Air Pilot’s Association, the Chicago Girls Flight Club, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board. She also purchased her own plane.
Again… these are noteworthy achievements in the still somewhat racist US. The times, folks… the times… I know not everyone was a racist or sexist…
Willa Brown became the first African American woman to run for U.S. Congress in 1946. She campaigned again in 1948 and 1950 before pursuing other interests. It’s still largely an old-boy’s club, but a total of 139 African Americans have served in Congress, mostly in the United States House of Representatives. On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels was seated as the first black member of the Senate, while Blanche Bruce, also of Mississippi, seated in 1875, was the second. Revels was also the first black member of the Congress.
I’ll leave the links alive on the names above, because the U.S. political process is a tad convoluted for my brain.
Willa Brown married a minister in 1955 (Chappell) and taught aeronautics at Westinghouse High School until the 1970s. Willa Beatrice Brown Chappell died on July 18, 1992 at the age of 86.