Bessie Coleman was fascinated. She loved the worlds that opened to her every time she opened the covers of a book.
At home, she was one of the babies. She had nine older brothers and sisters all telling her what to do all the time, and three younger brothers and sisters to help take care of. There was never any space for her to go and just be by herself and there was always noise everywhere.
But when she started reading the stories in her books, her mind saw somewhere else and her ears were filled with the words of the author. Sometimes she would be off fighting dragons, sometimes she was running along far-away ocean shores. Here in Texas, it was hard to imagine cold winters full of snow and tall mountains spitting fire. Someday, she wanted to see those places.
But first, she had to do her chores. Her daddy was a sharecropper. The whole family lived in a small house on the edge of a large cotton farm just outside of Waxahachie. Everything they had was owned by the man who owned the farm. He allowed them to live in the house in exchange for working on his cotton.
Bessie’s sisters and brothers teased her sometimes, that they weren’t ever going to be able to do anything but work the farms, but Bessie knew better. She knew the books she had in front of her held the keys to a completely different world. Her sisters and brothers knew it, too. Bessie knew they knew it because they helped make sure she got to school every day.
It was a very long walk to school. They had to walk over the fields their daddy and their oldest brother tended, then through the woods, over two hills and across a creek. It wasn’t too bad when the days were nice. Sometimes the wind was blowing or the rain was sheeting or the sun was blasting. It could be hard for a little girl to want to keep walking on those days.
Even with all her brothers and sisters, Bessie still had to leave school every harvest season to help her family. Everyone would get their own sack that they looped over their shoulder. When they were little, they got a half-size sack. Now that Bessie was 6, she got a full-size sack. Then they would race to see who could fill their sacks first.
Everyone came back together at lunchtime and in the evening with bloody fingers from the sharp barbs that protected the soft cotton. When her fingers started to hurt too much, Bessie stopped picking and decided to rest for a while between stalks.
It was one of the nice days. The sky above was a very pretty blue. The sun was warm but not too hot. There was a light breeze that rustled through the cotton stalks. Bessie was feeling lazy, like she just wanted to lie there and watch the clouds pass by.
“Hey, Bessie, we’re supposed to be picking the cotton. You’re not going to win the race just lying around like that,” her sister called from the next row over.
“I don’t care,” Bessie called back. “I’m not going to be here forever. I don’t need to win this race.”
“What do you mean?”
Bessie plucked at some wisps of cotton that still stuck to one of the plants. She and her sister watched it float up on the breeze. It danced in the air for a few minutes. It reminded Bessie of a picture she saw once. It was a white fairy in a short dress. She had beautiful white wings that trailed down her back. Glitter floated around her. She was the most beautiful thing Bessie could imagine.
“You better just get back to work,” her sister warned. “None of us are leaving here without working for it.”
And that’s exactly what she did. When Bessie grew up, she worked very hard and saved all her money. She moved to Paris, France at a time when girls didn’t go anywhere on their own. But it was the only place that would teach her to fly a plane and she became a famous pilot. Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first African American and first Native American woman licensed to fly a plane in the United States.