Coleman will be in select company with other women whose contributions and legacy led to them being honored on legal currency, each woman’s likeness to be stamped on a quarters to be issued in 2023, the U.S. Mint announced March 30. Coleman’s quarter is part of a series produced through the American Women Quarters Program, featuring coins with reverse designs depicting the accomplishments and contributions of prominent U.S. women. For 2023, the slate includes Coleman; first lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Native American ballerina and first prima ballerina Maria Tallchief; Mexican American journalist and activist Jovita Idar; and Edith Kanakaʻole, indigenous Hawaiian composer, dancer, and teacher.
Coleman’s aviation story is one of perseverance in the face of racism and sexism: She earned a pilot’s license in 1921 after learning French and moving to France—because no U.S. flight school would teach her—and received her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She could not find employment in aviation in the United States, so she gained additional flight and aerobatic training in Europe, working with Anthony Fokker and others to perfect loops, “trick” climbs, and engine-out landings. Back in the United States, she flew in airshows and gave flight instruction, while encouraging African Americans and women to learn to fly. She refused to perform or give speeches at any segregated venue. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by an African American woman, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
“Queen Bess” or “Brave Bess,” as she became known, purchased a Curtiss Jenny JN–4. In April 1926, she took a test flight with mechanic William Wills. A loose wrench became stuck in the airplane’s controls, according to the NWHM, and Wills, who was pilot in command, could not control the wheel. The airplane went inverted, and Coleman fell out of the backseat to her death. Wills crashed the airplane and also died.
In 1995, the U.S. Postal Service commemorated Coleman with a stamp.