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Bullard as a corporal in his early years
|Nickname||Black Swallow of Death|
October 9, 1895|
Columbia, Georgia, United States
|Died||October 12, 1961
New York City, United States
|Buried at||Flushing Cemetery (Coordinates: )|
|Service/branch||French Foreign Legion
French Air Force
|Years of service||1914–1918, 1940|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
Croix de Guerre
Croix de Guerre
Croix du combattant volontaire 1914-1918
Insigne des blessés militaires
Médaille Interalliée 1914–1918
Médaille commémorative de la guerre 1914-1918
Médaille commémorative de la guerre 1939–1945
Insignia for the Military Wounded
Early life 
Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, one of the 10 children of William O. Bullard, nicknamed "Big Chief Ox", and his wife Josephine Thomas, a Creek Indian. As a teenager, Eugene Bullard stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland, seeking to escape racial discrimination (he later claimed to have witnessed his father's narrow escape from lynching). Bullard arrived at Aberdeen before making his way south to Glasgow. He became a boxer in England and also worked in a music hall.
Military career 
On a visit to Paris, Bullard decided to settle in France. At the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He was wounded in 1916 in the Battle of Verdun, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He then became a pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire, and on August 17, 1917 was assigned to the 93d Spad Squadron. He took part in about twenty combat missions and was credited with shooting down two German aircraft.
When the United States entered the war, the US Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps. Although Bullard passed the medical examination, he was not accepted, since only White people were allowed to fly. Late in 1917, Bullard engaged in a fight with a French officer and was transferred back to the infantry in January 1918. He served as a foot soldier until the Armistice in November 1918.
Life in Paris 
Following his discharge, Bullard returned to Paris. He worked in nightclubs and eventually owned his own. He married the daughter of a French countess, but the marriage ended in divorce, with Bullard gaining custody of their two daughters. His nightclub work gained him many famous friends, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and French flying ace Charles Nungesser. When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to a request to spy on German agents thought to frequent his nightclub.
With the German invasion of France in May 1940, Bullard took his daughters and fled from Paris. He joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a spinal wound. He was able to flee to neutral Spain, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States.
Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. Moreover, he found the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States. He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris, but his property had been destroyed during the war. He received a financial settlement from the French government, which he used to buy an apartment in New York's Harlem.
Peekskill Riots 
In 1949, a concert held by black entertainer and activist Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York to benefit the Civil Rights Congress resulted in the Peekskill Riots. These were caused in part by members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters, who considered Robeson a communist sympathizer. The concert was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concert-goers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured before police put an end to it. The concert was then postponed until September 4.
The re-scheduled concert took place without incident, but as they drove away, concert-goers passed through long lines of hostile locals, who threw rocks through their windshields.
Eugene Bullard was among those attacked after the concert. He was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. None of the assailants was ever prosecuted. Graphic photographs of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policeman, a state trooper and concert goer were published in Susan Robeson's pictorial biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.
Later life 
In the 1950s, Bullard was a relative stranger in his own homeland. His daughters had married, and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where his fame as the “Black Swallow of Death” was unknown.
In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959 he was made a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d'honneur. While this gained him some recognition, his last years were spent in relative obscurity and poverty in New York City.
He died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961 at age 66. Eugene Bullard was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans' section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens.
In 1972, Bullard's exploits as a pilot were retold in a biography, The Black Swallow of Death.
On 23 August 1994, thirty-three years after his death, and seventy-seven years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Eugene Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
The 2006 movie Flyboys loosely portrayed Bullard and his comrades in the World War I Lafayette Flying Corps.
Decorations and awards 
United States Award 
- Voluntary Enlistment Medal (World War I)
- American Volunteer Medal
- World War I Commemorative Medal
- World War I Victory medal
- Voluntary Enlistment Medal (World War II)
- World War II commemorative medal
- "Eugene Bullard, Ex-Pilot, Dead. American Flew for French in '18". New York Times. October 14, 1961. Retrieved 2012-11-17. "Eugene Jacques Bullard of 10 East 116th Street, a Negro flier who was honored in France for ..."
- Robeson, Susan. Paul Robeson:The whole World in His HandsChapter 5,The Politics of Persecution, p. 181
- Ford, Carin T. Paul Robeson:I Want to Make Freedom Ring, pp. 97–98 Chapter 9, 2008.
- Robeson, Susan. Paul Robeson:The whole World in His HandsChapter 5,The Politics of Persecution, pp. 182–183
Further reading 
- Herbert Molloy Mason Jr., High Flew the Falcons: The French Aces of World War I, New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965.
- Lloyd, Craig. Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz Age Paris. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
- Cockfield, Jamie. Eugene Bullard, America's First Black Military Aviator, Flew for France During World War I. Military History 12:10+ February 1996
- Claude Ribbe Eugene Bullard, récit, Paris, Le Cherche Midi, 2012
- "Bullard, Eugène Jacques". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. Subscription needed.
- Eugene Jacques Bullard on the US Air Force museum site
- Short biography by Master Sergeant Anthony Pendleton[dead link]
- About the book "Black Expatriate in Jazz Age Paris"[dead link]
- American Volunteers in the French Foreign Legion – Eugene Bullard
- Air & Space Power Journal by William I. Chivalette
- All Blood Runs Red by Jamie H. Cockfield
- Eugene Jacques Bullard at Find A Grave