Barbie celebrates pioneering pilot Bessie Coleman with new doll

The Barbie was released ahead of Black History Month and in celebration of groundbreaking aviator Bessie Coleman’s birthday.

In celebration of pioneering aviator Bessie Coleman’s January 26 birthday and as an early start to Black History Month, Barbie has just announced the Bessie Coleman doll as part of its “Inspiring Women” series.

(Photo credit: Barbie)

Coleman’s story is indeed a wealth of inspiration. The world’s first Black and Native American female pilot may have had her life cut tragically short at the age of 34, but her legacy, one that includes triumphing over racism and sexism, certainly lives on.

In the early 1900s, when her race and gender barred her from being admitted into flight schools in the United States, Coleman found followed her dreams to France, earning her license in 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She became known for mesmerizing American audiences with aerial stunts until a plane crash tragically ended her life in 1926, just five years after earning her license. 

According to a release by Barbie, the doll created in Coleman’s likeness, wears a traditional olive-green flight suit and tall lace-up boots, along with an aviator cap embellished with her initials, paying homage to Coleman’s story through her style. Likewise, Barbie will be paying homage through partnerships with the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars, a not-for-profit organization founded by Coleman’s great-niece, Gigi Coleman, that promotes the legacy of Bessie through STEM programming, and the nonprofit Girls Write Now, which endeavors to bridge the gap between socioeconomic status and developing young writers.

“My family and I commend Barbie for expanding my great aunt’s legacy in such an overwhelming tribute, with a Bessie Coleman Inspiring Women doll,” Gigi Coleman said in the release. “Keeping Bessie’s legacy alive has always been a labor of love for my family, and we are proud to recognize her determination and accomplishments for Black women in aviation and continue to share my great aunt’s pioneering spirit with fans of all ages. We hope through this doll more people will discover Bessie’s story and be inspired.” 

Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel Lisa McKnight said Coleman was chosen for the series because of the “monumental boundaries” she broke for women and people of color. 

“As the first Black and Native American female pilot, Bessie is a remarkable icon to inspire children everywhere to soar to greater heights. Barbie is thrilled to introduce the Bessie Coleman Inspiring Women doll and continue to amplify Bessie’s passion for encouraging people of color to pursue careers in aviation,” McKnight said.

Coleman’s doll sits in good company. Barbie’s “Inspiring Women” series has paid tribute to Madam C.J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Ella Fitzgerald, fellow female pilot Amelia Earhart, and more. 

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