Eugene Bullard: a snapshot biography.

Biography of Eugene Bullard

Eugene Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1895, the seventh child of a Black father and a Native American mother. By his teens, tired of racial discrimination and having witnessed his father’s near lynching, he stowed away on a ship bound for Europe, where he settled in Paris.

Black and white historical photograph of Eugene Bullard. He is pictured in a military uniform with medals on his chest, his arms folded across his chest, and a determined expression on his face.

Eugene’s journey across the Atlantic marked the start of an extraordinary new chapter. He found himself in a city that was full of culture, arts, and a level of racial tolerance that was unimaginable in the U.S. Embracing the vibrant life of the Parisian streets, Eugene began to carve out a new identity for himself. He turned to boxing, a sport that not only allowed him to channel his physical prowess but also offered a platform where his talent and determination, rather than the color of his skin, defined his worth, and where he began to build a reputation.

When World War I began, shortly after in 1914, Eugene volunteered for the French Army. He became a machine gunner, fighting in battles for nearly two years until he was seriously wounded in 1916. After recovering, Eugene earned a pilot’s license and became a pilot. He joined the French Air Service, making him the first African-American military pilot and one of the few Black combat pilots during World War I.

After the war, Eugene played in a jazz band, owned a nightclub, owned a sports club, married, and had children in France. But as tensions arose in the 1930s, he was recruited to spy on German patrons at his nightclub, as he was also fluent in German. And when the battles of World War II began, Eugene once again served in combat as a machine gunner until he was wounded.

In 1940, he moved back to the U.S., where he lived until he passed away in 1961.

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Click here to read a snapshot biography of another pilot, Bessie Coleman

Sources:

Eugene Jacques Bullard, first African American combat pilot in uniform, First World War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Bullard (photograph) / Pisano, Dominick. “Eugene J. Bullard.” National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Magazine, https://airandspace.si.edu/sto…/editorial/eugene-j-bullard