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Eugene Jacques Bullard 1894-1961

Eugene Jacques Bullard 1894-1961


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Eugene Jacques Bullard 1894-1961

Eugene Bullard was born on 9th October 1894 to a Creek Indian mother and “Big Chief Ox” being one of ten children. He left home at 8 after seeing his father narrowly escape a lynching, to seek his way to France where his father had told him a man was judged on merit not on the colour of his skin. At the age of ten he stowed away on a ship leaving New York for Scotland. For the next ten years Bullard had various jobs, including being a prize fighter and working in a music hall.

After a trip to Paris he decided to stay in France and when the First World War broke out in 1914 he joined the French Foreign Legion. He fought as an infantryman until 1916 when he was wounded twice. During this period he became known as the “Black Swallow of Death”, taking his nickname from that of his infantry unit (the 'Swallows of Death').

In 1916 he was selected for transfer to the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Air force. It was while serving with this unit that Bullard was to achieve his fame. On 7th May 1917 he became the world’s first Black fighter pilot. He flew over 20 combat missions and achieved 2 kills later with 93 Spad Squadron.

When the US entered the war he tried to enlist in his own country’s flying corps and although he passed the medical he was not accepted as at that time black people were not allowed to be pilots in the US forces. Bullard’s hot temper also got him into trouble and he was transferred back to the French infantry in January 1918 after he got into a fight with another French officer while off duty.

When the war ended Bullard made his living in Paris, eventually owning his own nightclub. He married a French countess but after having two daughters the marriage broke up with Bullard having custody of the two girls. As a black nightclub owner and something of a celebrity he acquired many famous friends including Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong.

At the start of World War 2 Bullard agreed to spy on Germans frequenting his club in Paris as he spoke German, but when the Germans invaded he fled Paris with his girls and fought in defence of Orleans where he was wounded in the back, an injury from which he would never fully recover. He fled to Spain and then from there returned to the USA in July 1940.

He found that in the country of his birth he was not a celebrity and again worked a variety of jobs, including selling perfume and working for Louis Armstrong. His nightclub in Paris had been destroyed during the war. Compensation from the French purchased him a flat in Harlem, but Bullard never felt truly at home in the US.

In 1954 he was invited back to France to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1959. Returning to Harlem he died alone and in poverty of stomach cancer on 12th October 1961. He was buried with honours in the French War Veterans area in a cemetery in ‘Queens’ New York.

Ironically thirty three years after Bullard died, the country that refused to let him fly because of the colour of his skin commissioned him as a 2nd Lieutenant in the USAF, the date of this honour being 23rd August 1994, exactly 77 years after he was refused entry to the US flying Corps.

Eugene Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard (October 9, 1895 – October 12, 1961), born Eugene James Bullard, was the first black American military pilot, [1] [2] although Bullard flew for France not the United States. Bullard was one of the few black combat pilots during World War I, along with William Robinson Clarke, a Jamaican who flew for the Royal Flying Corps, Domenico Mondelli from Italy and Ahmet Ali Çelikten of the Ottoman Empire. Also a boxer and a jazz musician, he was called "L'Hirondelle noire" in French, "Black Swallow".


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About Lt. Eugene Jacques Bullard

The drama of flight from France.

Here Lloyd began his 13-year labor in producing the definitive biography of Eugene Bullard entitled: Eugene Bullard, Black Expatriate In Jazz-Age Paris.

Bullard was still affronted by racism and he resolved to leave the United States for Great Britain. He did so as a stowaway on a German merchant ship, the Marta Russ, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, on March 4, 1912, bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1912-14, Bullard performed in a vaudeville troupe and earned money as a prizefighter in Great Britain and elsewhere in Western Europe. He appeared in Paris for the first time at a boxing match in November 1913.

Eugene Jacques Bullard (9 October 1895 – 12 October 1961), born Eugene James Bullard, was the first African-American military pilot. His life has been surrounded by many legends. Bullard was one of only the few black combat pilots in World War I, along with Ahmet Ali ౾likten.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, one of the 10 children of William O. Bullard, nicknamed "Big Chief Ox", whose ancestors were slaves in Haiti to French refugees who fled during the Haitian Revolution and his wife Josephine Thomas, a Creek Indian. He was a student at Twenty-eighth Street School in 1901-1906, where he learned to read and write. As a teenager, Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, seeking to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen before making his way south to Glasgow. He became a boxer in Paris and also worked in a music hall.

As a machine gunner, Bullard was in 1915 in combat on the Somme front in Picardy: in May and June 1915 at Artois, and in the fall of the same year took part in a second Champagne offensive (25 September - 6 November 1915) along the Meuse river. The 1st and the 2nd Foreign legion regiments were fighting as a part of the 1st Moroccan brigade (1re Brigade Marocaine) of the 1st Moroccan division (la Division Marocaine). Formed by Hubert Lyautey, a Resident-General of Morocco, at the outbreak of WWI, it was a mix of the Metropolitan and Colonial French troops, including legionnaires, zouaves and tirailleurs.Towards the end of the war, the 1st Moroccan division became one of the most decorated unit in the French army.

The Foreign Legion suffered high casualties in 1915. It started the year with 21,887 soldiers, NCOs and officers, and ended with 10,683.[15] As a result, the Foreign Legion units fighting on the Western front were put in reserve for reinforcement and reorganization. On November 11, 1915, 3,316 survivors from the 1st and the 2nd Etranger were merged into one unit - the Marching Regiment of Foreign Legion (Le régiment de marche de la légion étrangère), which in 1920 became the 3rd Regiment (3e régiment étranger d'infanterie) of the French Foreign Legion.

As for Americans and other volunteers, they were allowed to transfer to the Metropolitan French Army units, including the 170th Line Infantry Regiment. 170th had a reputation of crack troops and was nicknamed Les Hirondelles de la Mort, or The Swallows of Death.[16] Bullard opted to serve in the 170th Infantry Regiment to which fact testifies his collar military insignia. In the beginning of 1916, 170th Infantry along with the 48th Infantry Division (48e division d'infanterie) to which it belonged, was sent to Verdun. Family request

After hearing about the horrors of the trench war in France, Bullard's father wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State pleading for help in order to bring his son back home. He said that Eugene was born in October 1895, not 1894, and simply added himself a year when he enlisted. However, the French government officials decided that Bullard was old enough to enlist.[11] Aviation

As a part of the 170th Infantry, Bullard fought and was seriously wounded in March 1916 during the Battle of Verdun.[11][17] After recovering from his wounds, Bullard volunteered on October 2, 1916 to join the French Air Service (Aéronautique Militaire) as an air gunner, and went through training at the Aerial Gunnery School in Cazaux, Gironde.[9] Later, he went through initial flight training at Châteauroux and Avord and received his pilot's license number 6950 from the Aéro-Club de France on May 5, 1917. Like many other American aviators, Bullard wanted to join the famous aero squadron Escadrille Americaine N.124, the Lafayette Escadrille, but after enrolling 38 American pilots in spring and summer of 1916, it stopped accepting new flyers. Therefore, after receiving more training at Avord, Bullard on November 15, 1916, joined 269 American aviators at the Lafayette Flying Corps of the French Air Service, which was a designation rather than a unit. American volunteers flew with French pilots in different pursuit and bomber/reconnaissance aero squadrons on the Western Front. Edmund L. Gros, who facilitated the incorporation of American pilots in the French Air Service, listed in the October 1917 issue of Flying, an official publication of the Aero Club of America, Bullard's name in the member roster of the Lafayette Flying Corps.[22]

On June 28, 1917 Bullard was promoted to the rank of corporal. On August 27, 1917 he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 based at Beauzພ-sur-Aire south of Verdun, where he stayed till September 13. The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad aircraft that bore a flying duck as its squadron insignia. Bullard's service record also includes the aero squadron N.85 (Escadrille SPA 85), September 13, 1917 - November 11, 1917, which had a bull insignia. He took part in about twenty combat missions, and is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft (sources differ).[12] However, the French authorities did not confirm Bullard's victories.

When the United States entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps to the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, but was not called in since only white pilots were allowed to serve. A time later, while being on short break from duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into a fight with a French officer and was punished by being transferred to the service battalion of the 170th in January 1918. As a noncombatant, he served past the Armistice being finally discharged on October 24, 1919.

In Paris, Bullard found employment as a drummer and a nightclub manager at "Le Grand Duc" and eventually became the owner of his own nightclub, "L'Escadrille". He married Marcelle Straumann from a wealthy family in 1923, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1935, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving children, daughters Jacqueline and Lolita. As a popular jazz venue, "Le Grand Duc" gained him many famous friends, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and French flying ace Charles Nungesser. When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to a request from the French government to spy on Germans frequenting his nightclub.

After the German invasion of France in May 1940, Bullard fled from Paris with his daughters. He volunteered with the 51st Infantry defending Orlບns when he met an officer whom he knew from fighting at Verdun. He was wounded in the fighting but was able to escape to neutral Spain, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.

In New York City Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. Moreover, he found the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States. He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the war. He received a financial settlement from the French government, which he used to buy an apartment in Harlem, New York City.

In 1949, a concert held by black entertainer and activist Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York to benefit the Civil Rights Congress resulted in the Peekskill Riots. These were caused in part by members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters, who considered Robeson a communist sympathizer. The concert was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concert-goers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured before police put an end to it. The concert was then postponed until September 4. The re-scheduled concert took place without incident, but as concert-goers drove away, they passed through long lines of hostile locals, who threw rocks through their windshields.

Eugene Bullard was among those attacked after the concert. He was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. None of the assailants was ever prosecuted. Graphic pictures of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policeman, a state trooper and a concert goer were published in Susan Robeson's biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

In the 1950s, Bullard was a relative stranger in his own homeland. His daughters had married, and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where his fame as the 𠇋lack Swallow of Death” was unknown.

In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959 he was made a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d'honneur. While this gained him some recognition, his last years were spent in relative obscurity and poverty in New York City.

On December 22, 1959 he was interviewed on NBC's Today Show by Dave Garroway and received hundreds of letters from viewers. Bullard wore his elevator operator uniform during the interview.

Eugene Bullard died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961 at age 66. He was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans' section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens.

Eugene Bullard received fifteen decorations from the government of France. He was made a knight of the Legion of Honor, which is France's most coveted award. He was also awarded the Mille militaire, another high military distinction in France.

In 1972, Bullard's exploits as a pilot were retold in a biography, The Black Swallow of Death.[30] Bullard is also the subject of the nonfiction young adult memoir Eugene Bullard: World's First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly.[31]

On 23 August 1994, thirty-three years after his death, and seventy-seven years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Eugene Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.


Enlightened Free Thinking Nubian Kings And Queens

Bullard was born on October 9, 1895, in Columbus, Georgia, one of 10 children of William O. Bullard, and his wife, Josephine Thomas, a Creek Indian. He was a student at Twenty-eighth Street School in 1901-1906, where he learned to read and write. As a teenager, Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, seeking to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen, Scotland before making his way south to Glasgow. He finally arrived in Paris, France where worked as a boxer and did odd jobs in a music hall.

In 1914 at the age of 20, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion but was pulled out of action after being injured. On leave, he bragged that he could fly a fighter plane and on a bet wrangled a spot in a French flight training school. Bullard learned to fly, joined the then small French air corps and quickly became known for flying into dangerous situations often with a pet monkey. Bullard received many awards and was highly decorated by the French government. When the United States formally entered World War I, many American expatriates applied for transfers to U.S. forces. Despite his three years of flight experience, Bullard’s application was denied, and the United States military further pressured France to permanently ground Bullard in order to uphold the U.S. policy against Negros serving as pilots. France succumbed, and Bullard was taken off of aviation duty.

After the war, Bullard discovered jazz, learning to play drums in Paris nightclubs and eventually owning two nightclubs of his own. He married Marcelle Straumann and had two daughters, but the marriage ended in divorce. After Germany invaded France in 1940, Bullard began working as a spy for the French Resistance and then escaped to the United States with his daughters. He established a new life in New York City, again working odd jobs that included selling perfume, security guard and operating the elevator of the Rockefeller Center, home of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In 1954 Ballard's story came to the attention of The Today Show , prompting a live on air interview by then host, Dave Garroway.

Eugene Jacques Bullard died in Harlem, New York on October 12, 1961. In 1994, Bullard was honored posthumously by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.


Eugene Jacques Bullard

After two years of wandering, Bullard stowed away on a steamer sailing from New York to Scotland. For 10 years he embarked upon various livelihoods, eventually becoming known as a successful welterweight prize fighter.

In October 1914, as World War I began, he joined the French Foreign Legion, engaging in hand-to-hand combat in some of the most hotly contested battles of the war. He was wounded twice.

In October 1916, he was selected for pilot training and on May 7, 1917, he became the world's first black fighter pilot. As an enlisted pilot, Bullard scored two "kills," but only one of them was confirmed. His second kill, early in November 1917, however, was definite.

In post-war France, Bullard, a national hero, became a successful night club owner and popular musician in Paris. He married a countess and became the father of two daughters.

When World War II erupted, he was a member of the underground and an associate of the famed French spy and resistance leader Cleopatra Terrier. He was severely wounded in July 1940 fighting Nazis in Europe and was evacuated to New York City.

In 1954, Bullard was recalled to Paris by the French government to rekindle, along with two white Frenchmen, the everlasting flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc of Triumph in Paris.

Eugene Bullard of Columbus, Georgia, served in the Foreign Legion 1915-16 and transferred to the French Aviation Service on November 30, 1916. He was brevetted and served with Spa-93 from August 27 until November 11, 1917, when he was discharged following a dispute with a superior officer. He was returned to duty with the 170th Regiment of Infantry on January 11, 1918.

The motives that prompted these young men to enter a war under colors not their own are complex and often ill-defined. Once, when a friend asked Eugene Bullard, a black and an ex-boxer who in 1914 was in Paris, hungry and broke, why he enlisted in the Legion, Bullard replied, "Well, I don't rightly know, but it must have been more curiosity than intelligence."

Philip M. Flammer, The Vivid Air: The Lafayette Escadrille . (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1981), p 3.


American Experience

How the first black combat pilot escaped America, became a hero in France, and ended up an elevator operator in New York.

Eugene Bullard (far left) in a group shot circa 1914–1918. Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

In his own words, Eugene Bullard was the “first known Negro military pilot.” That, at least, was what was printed on his business cards. By that time, after a quarter-century in France, Bullard was back in the U.S., living in New York City, where he worked variously as a security guard, a perfume vendor, and a Rockefeller Center elevator operator. First known Negro military pilot Bullard was a man both proud and humble, and his business card reflected that. But it also reflected the world in which he lived. His was not a first that had been formally recognized — much less celebrated. The story of how Eugene Bullard became the first black combat pilot, and why his achievement stayed in the shadows for so long, is a tale of alternate realities, of what happens when opportunity is offered or denied — and, ultimately, seized regardless.

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1895, Bullard would recall that as a child, he was “as trusting as a chickadee and as friendly.” For a while, his parents were able to insulate him from the realities of racism so that he “loved everybody and thought everybody loved me.” But they could only do so much. When Bullard’s father got into a fight with a racist supervisor, a lynch mob came to the house. Bullard’s father survived, but was forced to go into hiding. Dreaming of a place “where white people treated colored people like human beings,” Bullard decided to run away. Accounts vary, but he was likely only 11 when he left home.

For the next five years, Bullard roamed around Georgia, encountering kindness and cruelty from a wide cast of characters along the way. At one point, he joined a band of English gypsies who opened his eyes to the possibility of a better life for African Americans in Europe. Crossing the Atlantic would become Bullard’s new objective in 1912, at the age of 16, he stowed away on a ship leaving Norfolk, Virginia for Germany. It dropped him off in Scotland, where people treated him “just like one of their own.” Within 24 hours, he was “born into a new world” and “began to love everyone” once again.

From Scotland, Bullard would make his way to England. He took whatever jobs he could find, including: street performer, dock-worker, target for an amusement park game, helper on a fish wagon, and boxer — the last of which would eventually take him to France. Bullard was instantly smitten, recalling later how “it seemed to me that the French democracy influenced the minds of both white and black Americans there and helped us to act like brothers as near as possible.” France would become so important to Bullard that he would rewrite his own biography to imbue his arrival there with a sense of destiny in Bullard’s memoir “All Blood Runs Red,” his father has French roots, and it is the dream of France that pulls him away from Georgia in the first place.

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

So it was no surprise when, just 19-years-old, Bullard joined the fabled French Foreign Legion to fight for his adopted country against Germany in the Great War. He was later transferred to a standard French army unit and fought at the Battle of Verdun, where he was seriously injured attempting to carry a message from one French officer to another. The wound would take him out of ground combat permanently his heroism would earn him the Croix de Guerre military decoration.

It was during his convalescence at a clinic in Lyon that he became acquainted with a French air service officer who promised to help him become an aircraft gunner. The officer made good on his word in October of 1916, Bullard began training as a gunner at a military air station near Bordeaux. There he learned about the Lafayette Escadrille, a squad of American fighter pilots flying under the French flag. The Escadrille was well-compensated and undeniably glamorous (their mascots were two lion cubs named Whiskey and Soda). Bullard immediately asked to train as a pilot rather than a gunner. He would receive his pilot’s license seven months later. Celebrating his achievement with friends in Paris, he later recalled that, “by midnight every American in Paris knew that an American Negro by the name of Eugene Bullard, born in Georgia, had obtained a military pilot’s license.”

As for Americans back in America, they remained ignorant of Bullard’s achievement. It was not reported in American newspapers or magazines, save a small item in the January 1918 issue of The Crisis, a journal produced by the NAACP, which said only that Bullard had “enlisted in the Aviation-Corps.” Bullard’s biographer Craig Lloyd notes that the American military had privately decided not to accept African Americans, and the media silence “may have been a result of censorship, official or self-imposed, by the American press.”

Bullard would soon feel the sting of that rejection directly. After America entered the war in April of 1917, Bullard — who still loved the country he’d left — applied to fly for the American Expeditionary Forces. He was rejected. Still, he derived “some comfort out of knowing that I was able to go on fighting on the same front and in the same cause as other citizens of the U.S.”

He could not have known that his career would soon be cut short entirely. The end of the war was still a year away. Bullard, who had flown some 20 missions, was a competent pilot who had earned the trust and respect of his comrades. So the American was surprised and confused when French military authorities ordered him out of aviation and into a noncombat position in the infantry.

The exact reasons remain murky. According to Bullard, the dismissal could be traced back to Edmund C. Gros, the primary American liaison for the Lafayette Escadrille. Bullard had a tiff with a racist French officer and Gros had used what seemed to Bullard a minor incident to oust him. In their 1972 biography of Bullard, P.J. Carisella and James W. Ryan would reject their subject’s conjecture instead, they relay a story ostensibly supported by Bullard’s wartime acquaintances, in which Bullard is relieved of his duties after committing a far greater offense — punching a French lieutenant. Craig Lloyd, writing almost three decades later, acknowledges that the evidence against Gros is circumstantial, but believes it ultimately “confirms Bullard’s suspicion.”

Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

We may not ever know what happened, but context helps fill in the picture. When Carisella and Ryan discarded the idea that Gros could have been behind Bullard’s dismissal, they did so reasoning that it “seems hardly credible that white Americans living in wartime Paris could still practice their age-old prejudices and deprive France of such a badly needed fighter.” But it is clear that Jim Crow had arrived in France with the American Expeditionary Force in late 1917 and early 1918. As Lloyd explains, American officers believed that the morale of their white American soldiers would suffer if they “saw black American troops enjoying freedom from segregation and discrimination, and especially the freedom to associate with white women.” Measures were taken to disparage black troops white officers publicly accused them of everything from cowardice to rape.

Perhaps the most blatant and notorious display of American racism in France was the Linard Memo. The confidential document advised French military and civilian authorities that “although a citizen of the United States, the black man is regarded by the white American as an inferior being with whom relations of business or service only are possible.” It went on urging them to “prevent the rise of any pronounced degree of intimacy between French officers and black officers” because “we cannot deal with them on the same plane as with the white American officers without deeply wounding the latter.” Though signed by a Frenchman, it was composed by a French-American committee, and clearly reflects American attitudes when the memo came to light in France, it was roundly denounced by the government.

For all the U.S. military’s attempts to re-create the American racial paradigm overseas, they couldn’t control everything. African American soldiers returned to America after the war with a wholly different sense of themselves and their place in the world. That newfound consciousness would influence the struggle for equal rights in the decades to come.

Eugene Bullard, whose wounds entitled him to French citizenship, would remain in Paris after the war. There he became a successful nightclub impresario and gym owner. He lived at the starry center of a Parisian post-war society Josephine Baker babysat for him Langston Hughes washed dishes at his cabaret Ernest Hemingway based a character on him.

Bullard’s life in France came to an end with World War II. Volunteering once again to fight for France, he was wounded. Forced to flee to neutral Spain, Bullard would escape embattled Europe for America aboard a steamship, crossing the Atlantic for the second time, in the opposite direction, almost three decades after his original voyage. He would live out the rest of his days in New York, where he enthusiastically took part in the French cultural life of the city. Two years before his death in 1961, the French made him a Knight of the Legion of Honor thirty-three years after his death, the United States Air Force appointed him a second lieutenant.

In 1959, Bullard appeared in his elevator operator’s uniform on the Today Show. Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

America was and is a country to which people from all over the world come for the opportunity to realize their full potential. But Eugene Bullard and countless other African Americans had to leave it to realize theirs, and many who stayed never had the chance. In that, Bullard’s story is a testament to what prejudice has cost all Americans. “Bullard’s two lives,” writes Lloyd in his epilogue, “the one in America and the other in France, illustrate the colossal spiritual, social, and economic waste to this nation caused by the tenacious denial to black people of their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


Life in Paris

Following his discharge, Bullard returned to Paris. He found employment as a drummer and a nightclub manager in "Le Grand Duc" and eventually owned his own nightclub, "L’Escadrille". He married Marcelle Straumann from a wealthy family in Paris in 1923, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1935, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving daughters Jacqueline and Lolita. A popular jazz venue "Le Grand Duc" gained him many famous friends, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and French flying ace Charles Nungesser. When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to a request to spy on German agents thought to frequent his nightclub.

With the German invasion of France in May 1940, Bullard took his daughters and fled from Paris. He volunteered with the 51st Infantry defending Orléans when he met an officer whom he knew from fighting at Verdun. He was wounded again but was able to escape to neutral Spain, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.

Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. Moreover, he found the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States. He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the war. He received a financial settlement from the French government, which he used to buy an apartment in New York’s Harlem.


EUGENE JACQUES BULLARD - The first Black military pilot

In August of 1917 Eugene Jacques Bullard, an American volunteer in the French army, became the first black military pilot in history and the only black pilot in World War I. Born in Columbus, Ga., on Oct. 9, 1894, Bullard left home at the age of 11 to travel the world, and by 1913 he had settled in France as a prizefighter. When WWI started in 1914, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and rose to the rank of corporal. For his bravery as an infantryman in combat, Bullard received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations.

During the Battle of Verdun in 1916, France suffered 460,000 casualties and Bullard was seriously wounded. While recuperating, he accepted an offer to join the French air force as a gunner/observer, but when he reported to gunnery school, he obtained permission to become a pilot. After completing flight training, Bullard joined the 200 other Americans in the Lafayette Flying Corps, and he flew combat missions from Aug. 27 to Nov. 11, 1917. He distinguished himself in aerial combat, as he had on the ground, and was officially credited with shooting down one German aircraft. Unfortunately, Bullard -- an enlisted pilot -- got into a disagreement with a French officer, which led to his removal from the French air force. He returned to his infantry regiment, and he performed non-combatant duties for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Bullard remained in France as an expatriate. When the Germans invaded France in May 1940, the 46-year-old Bullard rejoined the French army. Again seriously wounded by an exploding shell, he escaped the Germans and made his way to the United States. For the rest of World War II, despite his lingering injuries, he worked as a longshoreman in New York and supported the war effort by participating in war bond drives.

Bullard stayed in New York after the war and lived in relative obscurity, but in France he remained a hero. In 1954 he was one of the veterans chosen to light the "Everlasting Flame" at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, and in 1959 the French honored him with the Knight of the Legion of Honor.

On Oct. 13, 1961, Eugene Bullard died and was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire's uniform in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, New York. On Sept. 14, 1994, the secretary of the Air Force posthumously appointed him a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.

Additional Reading
Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris by Craig Lloyd, 2000.


Enlightened Free Thinking Nubian Kings And Queens

Bullard was born on October 9, 1895, in Columbus, Georgia, one of 10 children of William O. Bullard, and his wife, Josephine Thomas, a Creek Indian. He was a student at Twenty-eighth Street School in 1901-1906, where he learned to read and write. As a teenager, Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, seeking to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen, Scotland before making his way south to Glasgow. He finally arrived in Paris, France where worked as a boxer and did odd jobs in a music hall.

In 1914 at the age of 20, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion but was pulled out of action after being injured. On leave, he bragged that he could fly a fighter plane and on a bet wrangled a spot in a French flight training school. Bullard learned to fly, joined the then small French air corps and quickly became known for flying into dangerous situations often with a pet monkey. Bullard received many awards and was highly decorated by the French government. When the United States formally entered World War I, many American expatriates applied for transfers to U.S. forces. Despite his three years of flight experience, Bullard’s application was denied, and the United States military further pressured France to permanently ground Bullard in order to uphold the U.S. policy against Negros serving as pilots. France succumbed, and Bullard was taken off of aviation duty.

After the war, Bullard discovered jazz, learning to play drums in Paris nightclubs and eventually owning two nightclubs of his own. He married Marcelle Straumann and had two daughters, but the marriage ended in divorce. After Germany invaded France in 1940, Bullard began working as a spy for the French Resistance and then escaped to the United States with his daughters. He established a new life in New York City, again working odd jobs that included selling perfume, security guard and operating the elevator of the Rockefeller Center, home of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In 1954 Ballard's story came to the attention of The Today Show , prompting a live on air interview by then host, Dave Garroway.

Eugene Jacques Bullard died in Harlem, New York on October 12, 1961. In 1994, Bullard was honored posthumously by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.