About This Library
Bessie Coleman Branch opened and was dedicated March 27, 1993, replacing the Washington Park Branch, a one-room facility in Woodlawn Branch, and the Washington Park Branch, a smaller storefront. The branch was named after pioneering pilot Bessie Coleman, who was the first African American and one of the first American women to receive a pilot’s license.
Coleman’s first flying exhibition was in 1922 at Checkerboard Field, now Midway Airport, in Chicago. She became known throughout the region United States for her daredevil flying prowess and her many encouraging speeches to young African American men and women. Her goal was to open a flying school. At the threshold of achieving this dream, she suffered a fatal accident on April 30, 1926 while preparing for an air show sponsored by the Jacksonville, Fla., Negro Welfare League. Her example continues to inspire, and every year on Memorial Day, the Tuskegee Airmen fly over Coleman’s grave, dropping flowers in her honor. When the Bessie Coleman Branch celebrated its opening day, members of the original Tuskegee Airmen team attended the festivities, along with the Coleman family. One of the airmen presented his own portrait of Bessie Coleman to the branch as a gift to the people of the community.
Bessie Coleman Branch features five pieces of art funded through the Percent for Art Ordinance administered by the City of Chicago Public Art Program: two quilts by Big Mama, a quilt by Laverne Brackens, a britches quilt by Arbie Williams and an ink and acrylic work on paper by Tim Branson.