Eugene Bullard: The first Black fighter pilot

Flying each mission with his pet Capuchin monkey, Eugene J. Bullard never had an easy life, but would become the first Black fighter pilot. 

Born October 9, 1895 in Columbus, Georgia, Bullard was the youngest of 10, three of which died in childbirth. Bullard was the child of William Bullard, a former slave, and Jospehine Bullard. 

When Bullard was eight he watched a mob try to lynch his father. After that he swore to leave America, because he could not find equality there. At the age of 10 he stowed away on a freighter bound for Europe, but was caught and left in Scotland. 

Bullard worked for Belle Davis’s Freedman Pickaninnies as a boxer. In 1913, Bullard found himself in Paris for a boxing match, and he decided to settle down in the city. 

World War I began in 1914 and Bullard was quick to english in the French army. He fought in the Battle of Verdun and was wounded. While on leave to heal, he bet a friend $2,000 that he could enlist in the French flying services, despite his race. 

He enlisted in the Aéronautique Militaire in November 1916. 

Bullard began flight training and earned his wings in May 2017. He flew with Escadrille Spa 93 and then Escadrille Spa 85. It is believed he had two victories in November 1917, but neither could be confirmed. He had an insignia on his plane that depicted a heart with a dagger through it and the slogan “all blood runs red.” He flew with his pet monkey, “Jimmy.” 

Bullard attempted to enlist in the United States air forces, but was rejected due to his race. He returned to the French flying services. He stayed in France after the war, and in the 1930s he began spying on French fifth columnists who supported the Nazis. He enlisted as a machine gunner in WWII, but was severely wounded by an artillery shell. He left France to avoid Nazi capture, first going to Spain, than Portugal, and finally the United States. 

Bullard was involved in an altercation with police and a racist mob in 1949 at a Paul Robeson concert in New York. He was beaten badly by a police officer. Later he was forced to sit in the back of a bus by a bus driver. Bullard returned to France following these events. The French gave him many awards for his service during both World Wars. Bullard is still celebrated as the first Black fighter pilot, and the only Black fighter pilot to fly in World War I.

Published by camryncutinello

She/her/hers. Journalism major at Columbia College Chicago. Co-editor-in-chief of the Columbia Chronicle.

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