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Eugene Jacques Bullard
Eugene Jacques Bullard
Eugene Jacques Bullard was the first black American fighter pilot and the only black pilot in World War I.

Eugene Jacques Bullard, also known as the Black Swallow of Death, was the first black American fighter pilot and the only black pilot in World War I.

A Columbus, Georgia native, Bullard was born to a black father from Martinique who was nicknamed Big Chief Ox and a Creek Indian mother called Yokolee. He and his nine siblings were predominantly raised by his widowed father after his mother died at age 33. At only eight years old, Bullard left home after seeing his father escape a lynching attempt. His father had often told him that in France, a man was a man no matter his color, so Bullard sought out for France. After earning money from horse racing as an unofficial jockey, he stowed away on a ship headed for Scotland in hopes of reaching France. He was 12.

As a nomad, Bullard worked as a lookout for gamblers, a longshoreman and at the amusement park as a dodgeball target for money. His next stop would be as a trained boxer in Glasgow. Bullard fought as a lightweight at 16 years old. He fought against the famous Dixie Kid and would eventually box his way to France. With hopes of making it to Paris, Bullard joined the Freedmans Pickaninnies traveling show. Once he made it there, he let the show keep traveling without him, and he took more jobs boxing and as a French translator for other American boxers.

In 1914, during WWI, Bullard, then 19, had expatriated himself from America and joined the French Foreign Legion. After fighting by bayonet alongside 54 nationalities of comrades, Bullard fought in units that had 94-percent casualty rates. In 1916, he was wounded badly enough to be taken out of ground battle. So, after betting a friend that he could become a pilot, Bullard earned his wings and went on his first mission. Now a corporal, he painted on the side of his plane "All Blood Runs Red" in French. There he earned his nickname, the Black Swallow of Death.

In 1917, Bullard wanted to serve in the U.S. Army, but was ignored. After fighting with a fellow officer off duty, he was discharged. He worked in nightclubs and became a German spy. After fleeing to Paris, Bullard suffered a spinal injury as a civilian soldier and eventually landed back in the U.S. After a political concert in 1949, he was severely beaten by angry mob radicals in New York. He worked odd jobs until his life ended in Harlem, where he was an elevator operator.

In 1994, Bullard was posthumously commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force

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