Eugene Bullard. Do you recognize that name? Better yet, have you ever heard of him? I’ll be honest and say that I never heard of him until yesterday. I had an awesome reader introduce him to me yesterday and when I did a little research on him I was amazed.
Eugene Bullard was the first African American military pilot. He was one of the few Black combat pilots of WWI. Born to a Haitian father and an indigenous Creek mother, he escaped to Scotland as a stowaway to get away from the racism that plagued many African Americans. As a child, he witnessed his father’s narrow escape from a lynching which made him even more determined to leave the South.
When he arrived in Scotland, he worked as a boxer and in a music hall. When he enlisted in WWI and became seriously injured, he volunteered to become an airgunner. He would eventually make a name for himself as an airgunner and soon a pilot. Nicknamed the Black Swallow of Death, Eugene would go on to receive many awards and widespread recognition for his service.
After his discharge, he found work as a drummer and as a nightclub manager. Soon, he became the owner of his own nightclub L’Escadrille where famous people like Louis Armstrong, famed actress Josephine Baker and acclaimed poet Langston Hughes would often attend.
Upon returning to the United States in his later years, he worked as an elevator operator where he was relatively unknown. In December 1959, he was interviewed by the Today Show and found new fame again. Almost two years later he died from stomach cancer at the age of 66, but still to this day he is widely regarded and recognized as the first decorated African American military pilot in the world.
Until next time…