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WVNCC Marks MLK Birth

Posted 01/14/15

ILENE EVANSThe inspirational story of the first black aviatrix, who began flying in the 1920s, will be presented at West Virginia Northern Community College’s Wheeling campus to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birth.

A special Lunch & Learn performance, a History Alive presentation featuring Bessie Coleman as portrayed by Ilene Evans, will be held at noon Thursday, Jan. 22, in the Student Union, located on the second floor above the Barnes & Noble bookstore. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. and a pizza lunch will be provided.

The public is invited to attend, along with Northern students and staff. However, all those wishing to attend must RSVP to Program Coordinator Ida Williams by Tuesday, Jan. 20, at either or by calling 304-214-8917.

Bessie Coleman was a sensation of the Roaring ‘20s. She said, “You’ve never lived till you’ve flown! The air is the only place free of prejudices.” Coleman roared into the 1920s in style, flying an “aeroplane.” She broke all the barriers that were placed before her: color, race, gender, poverty and a poor education.

In 1921, Coleman earned her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the first American, the first woman and the first person of color to do so. When aviation schools in the United States denied her entry, Coleman learned French and moved to France to earn her license from France's well-known Ecole d’Aviation des Frères Caudron.

Coleman blazed a trail in the sky as the first black aviatrix, sometimes called Queen Bess, Brave Bess and Daredevil of the Sky. “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” In 1922, hers was the first public flight by an African-American woman in America.

The History Alive performer, Evans, has been described as an inspired storyteller, performer and scholar who weaves music, poetry, dance and drama to bring history alive. She creates and presents theater programs and workshops/seminars that inform, educate and entertain audiences young and old. She has toured extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally with her historical and original works.

In 2009, Evans worked with staff from the U.S. State Department to tour Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Columbia to share African-American history and culture through arts, education, literature and music. She has received the Foundation of Freedom Award from Wheeling Jesuit University for her outstanding work. Evans received her bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College, Deerfield, Ill., and her master’s in storytelling at East Tennessee State University.

Evans portrays significant women of color who changed the world: Harriet Tubman, Coralie Franklin Cook, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, Ethel Waters and Bessie Coleman. She also offers a suite of spoken word, poetry, song and dance performances and workshops/seminars tailored for national and international audiences.