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Biographies

Eugene Jacques Bullard
(1894-1961)


Born the grandson of a slave in Columbus, Georgia, Eugene Bullard was denied entry into the U.S. military during World War I because of his race. Bullard therefore joined the French Foreign Legion as an infantryman in 1914 and three years later earned his wings as a pilot for the French Flying Corps — the first black American to receive a pilot's license and the only black pilot in World War I. When the United States entered the war in 1917 and offered Air Service pilot commissions to all Americans flying for the French, Bullard's application was ignored, so he continued to serve in the French military for the rest of the war. Among the many medals he received for service was the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration.

After the war, Bullard continued to live in France, eventually marrying a French countess. He worked first as a bandleader, then became the operator of an athletic club, and later owned a nightclub. When Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940 Bullard joined the French Resistance, but was forced to return to the United States when his work as a spy put his life in danger. Bullard lived in Harlem until his death in 1961 and is buried in the French War Veterans Cemetery in Flushing, New York.