Art by The Red Dress


R.1, R.3, R.4, R.6, R.7, W.3, SL.1, SL.2, L.4, L.6

Dare to Dream

The incredible story of Bessie Coleman, America’s first Black and Native American female pilot. 


*Starred characters have larger speaking parts

*Narrators 1, 2 & 3  (N1, N2, N3) 

Gus, a barber

*Bessie Coleman

Robert Abbott, a Black newspaper owner

Letter Readers 1 and 2 

Tour Guide

Fans 1 and 2

Crowd, to be read by a group

Marian, a young Black girl

Ruby Mae, a young Black girl

John, Bessie’s friend

About This Play

It’s a dramatization of true events. That means we’ve invented some characters and dialogue to help tell the story.


George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images 

N1: Bessie Coleman was born in Texas in 1892.

N2: In that time and place, racism was common. 

N3: Life wasn’t easy for her and her family.

N1: Bessie’s parents were both Black.  

N2: Her father was also part Native American.

N3: There were a lot of places Black people couldn’t go. 

N1: Many neighborhoods, schools, and restaurants were for Whites only. 

N2: Bessie and her family worked long hours in the fields, picking cotton by hand. 

N3: At that time, many people thought a woman should focus on raising children and taking care of her home. 

N1: But not Bessie. She dreamed of a different life.

TIME MACHINE: Bessie’s America

This play starts in 1918. What should you know about the time period?

Corbis via Getty Images (Wright Brothers); Bettmann/Getty Images

Taking Flight  
Flying airplanes was still fairly new. The Wright brothers took the first successful flight just 15 years earlier, in 1903. 

 The Granger Collection

The Segregated South  
Racist laws called Jim Crow laws were used to treat Black people unfairly in the South. Black children were sent to separate schools, like the one pictured above.

Bettmann/Getty Images

Women’s Rights  
Many people believed a woman’s only job should be to take care of the home. But not everyone agreed. Some women were fighting for the right to vote. (In 1920, they finally got it!)


1918, Chicago, Illinois

N2: Bessie is 26 years old. She works at a barbershop. 

N3: Gus, the barber, is reading the newspaper.

Gus: Look at these new airplanes. They are being built for the war in Europe. 

N1: Back then, aviation was a new and exciting thing. 

Gus: It says here they can go over 100 miles an hour! 

Bessie: Imagine soaring through the air like that. 

Gus: I’d rather keep my feet on the ground, thank you. 

Bessie: Not me. I’ve always wanted to fly an airplane.

Gus (laughing): You’ve got three strikes against you.

Bessie: What do you mean?

Gus: You’re Black, and you’re a woman. Who ever heard of a Black woman pilot?

Bessie: What’s the third thing?

Gus: You’re tiny. You won’t be able to see over the windshield.

Bessie: Just watch me!


1919, Chicago, Illinois

N2: Bessie talks to Robert Abbott. He owns a local newspaper.

N3: He is also one of the first Black millionaires.

Bessie: Mr. Abbott, I hear you give good advice. 

Robert: What’s the trouble? 

Bessie: I want to be a pilot. But every flight school I’ve tried to sign up for won’t let me in. 

Robert: That’s a tough dream, Bessie. They don’t train Black women to fly. 

Bessie: I just need someone to give me a chance! 

N1: Robert rubs his chin. 

Robert: I think there might be a flight school in France that will take you. 

Bessie: I couldn’t afford that.

Robert: What if I helped you pay for it? 

Bessie: What? You would do that for me? 

Robert: Yes—and for me. My newspaper will write about the first Black female pilot. That will sure sell a lot of papers!


1921, Northern France

N2: Bessie works hard and saves every penny. 

N3: With Robert’s help, she buys a ticket on a huge ship. 

N1: It takes her more than 3,000 miles across the ocean to France. 

N2: While she is learning to fly, Bessie writes letters to Robert. 

Letter Reader 1: Dear Mr. Abbott, every day I walk 9 miles to flight school. 

Letter Reader 2: Dear Mr. Abbott, my teacher says I’m a natural. 

Letter Reader 1: Dear Mr. Abbott, I had my first solo flight today. It was a thrill!

Letter Reader 2: Dear Mr. Abbott, I did it! I got my pilot’s license. Coming home soon!


1925, near Dallas, Texas

N3: Bessie has become famous performing in flying circuses. 

N1: These are air shows where pilots do dangerous stunts. 

N2: Today, Bessie tours the airfield where her next show will be. 

Bessie: Why does that gate say “Whites only”?

Tour Guide: Black folks will enter through a different gate. 

Bessie: I will not perform unless every spectator enters the same way. 

Tour Guide: But we’ve sold thousands of tickets already!  

Bessie: Then you best treat everyone equally.

Tour Guide: As you wish, Miss Bessie.

N3: The next day, the huge crowd cheers as Bessie flies over their heads. 

N1: Fans are amazed by her daring tricks.

Fan 1: Wow! She’s doing a figure eight!

Fan 2: And a loop the loop! 

N2: Another pilot takes the controls as Bessie climbs onto the wing. 

N3: She stands and waves at the crowd. Then she jumps!

Crowd (screaming): Ahhhhhh!

N1: Bessie pulls a cord and her parachute opens. 

N2: She floats down right into the middle of the crowd. 

Crowd: Woo-hoo! Brave Bessie! Queen Bessie!


1926, Jacksonville, Florida

N3: Bessie visits a school for Black students. 

N1: She tells them how she became a pilot.

Bessie: People kept telling me “No,” but I didn’t give up. 

N2: A girl raises her hand. 

Marian: Miss Coleman, could I learn to fly? 

Bessie: I’m raising money to open a flight school, so you can have that chance. 

Marian: Really?

Bessie: You are the hope of the future. 

N3: Bessie looks at all the children. 

Bessie: I want you to dream—and dream big!

N1: As Bessie leaves, a shy girl hands her a letter. 

Ruby Mae: This is for you, Miss Coleman. 

Bessie: What’s your name? 

Ruby Mae: Ruby Mae. 

Bessie: Thank you, Ruby Mae. I can’t wait to read it. 

N2: Bessie tucks the note into her pocket. 

N3: Later that day, Bessie sees her old friend Robert Abbott.

Bessie: Have you come to see my last big air show? 

Robert: Your last?

Bessie: That’s right. After this, no more risking my life. I plan to open my flight school soon.

Robert: That’s great news!

N1: Robert grabs Bessie’s hands. 

Robert: Promise me you’ll wear your seat belt today? 

Bessie: I’m too short when I’m buckled in. I can’t see!

Robert: But Bessie— 

Bessie: Stop your fussing!

Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo (Coleman’s Airplane); Black Film Center Archive/Indiana University, Bloomington (Flyer)

Flying High  
In the 1920s, Bessie became known for doing daring tricks in her plane. This flyer announced one of her famous air shows in Ohio. Would it have convinced you to show up and watch her?


The next day, the Jacksonville Airfield

Rue des Archives/The Granger Collection

Winging It 
In the early 1900s, huge crowds showed up for flying circuses. Stunt pilots performed dangerous tricks—like climbing out on the wings of the plane!

N2: Bessie arrives early for a practice flight with her copilot. 

N3: Her friend John watches them climb into the plane.

John: This plane sure looks old, Bessie. 

Bessie: I didn’t have a choice. 

John: What do you mean? 

Bessie: No one in Florida would sell, rent, or lend a plane to a Black person.

John: You sure it’s safe?  

Bessie: Of course it is, John. I’ll even give you a ride later.  

N1: The plane takes off into the air, higher and higher.

N2: John can barely see the plane reach 3,000 feet. 

N3: Then suddenly, the plane dives and goes into a tailspin. 

N1: John sees a small figure fall from the plane.

N2: Bessie’s seat belt wasn’t buckled. She plummets to the ground.


Two days later, a church in Jacksonville

N3: More than 5,000 people come to Bessie’s funeral. 

N1: Robert Abbott reads a letter found in Bessie’s pocket. 

N2: It’s from Ruby Mae. 

Ruby Mae: “Dear Miss Coleman, you are brave,  and I want to be a pilot like you. You made me believe I can.”

N3: Robert wipes a tear away.

Robert: Bessie wanted Black people to achieve greatness— 

N1: He looks out at the crowd. 

Robert: And she showed us anything is possible if you dare to dream.


You’ve just read “Dare to Dream.” Now it’s time to try this activity. 

Tip: An inference is something that is not stated but can be figured out from clues in the text.

What to do: Imagine that you are Bessie’s friend John a few weeks after Bessie’s death. A news reporter is interviewing you about Bessie. Make inferences to answer each of the reporter’s questions below with at least one complete sentence.

Reporter:  Why did Bessie refuse to perform at an airfield where Black people and White people had to use separate entrances?


Reporter:  Bessie was planning to start her own flight school. How would it have been different from other flight schools?


Reporter:  On the day Bessie died, you noticed that her plane looked old. Why did you mention that to her?


Reporter:  More than 5,000 people came to Bessie’s funeral. Why do you think the event attracted so many people?


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