You are so fly. While I know the basic facts of your life. I am dying to know what exactly it was about you that made you become so awesome. I mean, I know that you were the first African-American woman aviator in the U.S. That’s a fact. I also know that you came from a very, very poor household and was raised by a single mother. Man, you worked hard. You picked cotton and became a manicurist to support yourself. I mean, you scraped by for a lot of years doing a whole bunch of stuff you probably didn’t want to do. But you always wanted to make something of yourself. Why? Where did you get the self-confidence to just push and push and push until you figured out how to get to where you wanted to go?
From reading about you, it looks like your big break came when you left Texas and went to Chicago to become a manicurist for some of the wealthiest movers and shakers in the windy city. When you found out from one of your brothers that women were flying planes in Europe, that was it. You had your dream. Oh yeah, and you would have to learn French?! No problem!
I don’t blame you for wanting to fly and get away from the horribleness on the ground. Rising above the cloudscapes, there is nothing between you and a vastness that can fill you up like a beautiful balloon. And knowing that aviation was in its infancy– wow. You must have felt like a bonafide superhero.
But, of course, they turned you down for aviation school in the U.S. because you were were black. Thanks for nothing, early 20th century. Personally I can not imagine not being able to pursue whatever I wanted to do. I can feel that way because of ladies like you. I can just imagine the word getting out in the newspapers or on the radio. Young women everywhere were probably grabbing onto every word of your successes like gold or diamonds. This is where inspiration begins. The idea of a woman soaring into the sky alone and unafraid held up only by a steel machine, hope and hard work might have even inspired some girls and women to come home to themselves. Can you imagine a moment, however brief, some anonymous girl who is crying herself to sleep over what she’s told she can not do or beover and over again? Then suddenly she thinks, “If Brave Bessie can, so can I. I can be brave.” So, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for not giving up on being you. There are a lot of times I want to give up being me, but I write this blog and I think about things and I pour my heart out to the spirits of people like you who have proven that human beings can live with a certain integrity. That is huge.
I guess I should also thank one of your fancy manicure gentleman clients, Robert S. Abbott who published the Chicago Defender. He pulled together a group of rich people to help you go there, study and get your aviator’s license (two years before Amelia Earhart!). You know, I think that’s what rich people should do. They should help people with crazy dreams– however wacky it might sound at the time. That doesn’t happen much these days, and I don’t know why.
I’m lucky, I guess. My parents have pretty good jobs, though I honestly wish I could spend more time with them. I guess they think that if they make a lot of money they can give me opportunities other kids don’t have. And I guess I’m grateful for that. Still, it would be nice to just hang out. The idea of growing up and having a stressful business job doesn’t sound at all appealing to me. And if I weren’t afraid of dying, I might be interested in becoming an aviator like you.
I think a passion for flying is really interesting. Some people have it, and some people don’t. I don’t mind flying, but I think I’m more cut out for exploring. That, I can handle. I like to get down in the dirt and go hiking or discover cool places that people haven’t been to in a really long time. The thing I do like about flying is that it’s quiet and it feels like the closest we can get to Heaven without dying.
Still, I wish you were around so I could ask you what what made you tick. And to make you even cooler, not only were you a pilot, but you were a STUNT PILOT?! WHAT!There must have been a passion in your voice or an insatiable need to become who you really wanted to be no matter what that people really picked up on. Maybe you were just extremely stubborn. Maybe you were pre-punk rock and just got mad enough to prove some people wrong. Maybe you didn’t think about what you couldn’t do. You thought about what you could.
There are kids all over my school who have lots of resources and crazy amounts of self-esteem. But a lot of them just go to parties, watch TV and complain about their parents and the government. It’s stupid.
They’re nothing like you, Bessie. You were one of a kind. Daring, fearless, ambitious and altogether you. Why isn’t someone making a movie about your life? That’s a crime. You know what? When I make it big (and I will, believe me) I’ll make sure someone does that. Dear Oprah…