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Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Legend in Black History: Eugene Jacques Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard is the first Black-American fighter pilot in history and a national hero.

As an expat living in France he joined the French Infantry at the start of World War I. France awarded Bullard the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire after being seriously wounded.

In 1916, Bullard joined the French Air Service where he trained as a gunner and a pilot. 

When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the Lafayette Escadrille, Bullard asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot the infamous volunteer group were no longer accepting new recruits. As an alternative, he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. He served the French flying units and completed 20 combat missions.

When the United States joined World War I, Bullard was the only member of the French Flying Corps who was not invited to join the US Air Service. Why? The USAS only accepted White men.

After WWI Bullard became a jazz musician in Paris and owned a nightclub which he named L’Escadrille. When the Germans invaded and conquered during World War II, L'Escadrille and Bullard became hugely popular with German officers. However, the Germans didn't know that Bullard, who spoke fluent German, was working for the Free French as a spy. He then joined a French infantry unit, but was discharged after being severely wounded.

By the end of WW2, Bullard had become a national hero in France. In 1959, the French government named him a national Chevalier. After returning to the United States his accolades went unnoticed.

In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the U.S. and one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, never heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as an elevator operator.

Shortly after Bullard met with the President DeGaulle, he passed away.

Very few Americans knew of Eugene Bullard. This is just one more legend whose story should be in the Black history books. 

Do you have a story to share about a legend in Black history person who paved the way for Black Americans? E-mail your submission to or leave your views in the comment box below.

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