EUGENE JACQUES BULLARD Biography - Famous Sports men and women


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Name: Eugene Bullard                                                                     
Born: 9 October 1894                                                                     
Died: 12 October 1961                                                                   
Eugene Bullard (9 October 1894 – 12 October 1961) was the first African-American       
military pilot.                                                                         
He was born Eugene Jacques Bullard in Columbus, Georgia, in the United States of         
America. His father was known as "Big Chief Ox" and his mother was a Creek               
Indian; together, they had ten children. Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for         
Scotland to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have had witnessed         
his father's narrow escape from lynching as a child).                                   
While in the United Kingdom he worked as a boxer and also worked in a music hall.       
On a trip to Paris he decided to stay and joined the French Foreign Legion upon         
the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Wounded in the 1916 battles around Verdun           
and awarded the Croix de Guerre, Bullard transferred to the Lafayette Flying             
Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire and was eventually assigned to SPA 93       
on 27 August 1917, where he flew some 20 missions and shot down two enemy               
aircraft (one of them unconfirmed).                                                     
With the entry of the United States into the war the US Army Air Service                 
convened a medical board in August 1917 for the purpose of recruiting Americans         
serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps. Although he passed the medical                   
examination, Bullard was not accepted into American service because blacks were         
barred from flying in U.S. service at that time. Bullard was discharged from the         
French Air Force after fighting with another officer while off-duty and was             
transferred to the 170th (French) Infantry Regiment on January 11, 1918, where           
he served until the Armistice.                                                           
Following the end of the war, Bullard remained in Paris. He began working in             
nightclubs and eventually owned his own establishment. He married the daughter           
of a French countess, but the marriage soon ended in divorce, with Bullard               
taking custody of their two daughters. His work in nightclubs brought him many           
famous friends, among them Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes.         
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, readily             
agreed to a request from the French to spy on German agents frequenting his club         
in Paris.                                                                               
After the German invasion of the French Third Republic in 1940, Bullard took his         
daughters and fled south from Paris. In Orléans he joined a group of soldiers           
defending the city and suffered a spinal wound in the fighting. He was helped to         
flee to Spain by a French spy, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.       
Bullard spent some time in a hospital in New York for his spinal injury, but he         
never fully recovered. During and after World War II, when seeking work in the           
United States, he found that the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him         
to New York. He worked in a variety of occupations, as a perfume salesman, a             
security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury           
severely restricted his activities. For a time he attempted to regain his               
nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the Nazi                 
occupation, and he received a financial settlement from the French government           
which allowed him to purchase an apartment in New York’s Harlem district.             
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 the famous people he had known, and with a framed case containing           
his 15 French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at the               
Rockefeller Center, where his fame as the “Black Swallow of Death” was unknown.     
In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to rekindle (together           
with two Frenchmen) the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier             
under the Arc de Triomphe, and in 1959 he was made a chevalier (knight) of the           
Légion d'honneur. Even so, he spent the last years of his life in relative             
obscurity and poverty in New York City where he died of stomach cancer on               
October 12, 1961. He was buried with military honors by French officers in the           
French War Veterans' section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough           
of Queens.                                                                               
In 1972, his exploits as a pilot were published in the book The Black Swallow of         
Death: The Incredible Story of Eugene Jacques Bullard, The World's First Black           
Combat Aviator by P.J. Carisella, James W. Ryan and Edward W. Brooke (Marlborough       
House, 1972). This book, with jacket art by famed WWI aviation illustrator               
George Evans, is part of the Bullard display at the National Museum of the               
United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.                                               
On 23 August 1994, 33 years after his death, and 77 years to the day after his           
rejection for U.S. military service in 1917, Eugene Bullard was posthumously             
commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.                     
In 2006, the movie Flyboys loosely portrayed Bullard and his comrades from the           
Lafayette Flying Corps. Abdul Salis portrays Eugene Skinner, the character based         
on Bullard.