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|Hubert Fauntleroy Julian|
20 September 1897|
Port of Spain, Trinidad
19 February 1983 (aged 85)|
New York City, US
Hubert Fauntleroy Julian was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1897. His father, Henry, was a cocoa plantation manager in Taco. Julian caught his first glimpse of an airplane on 3 January 1913, when Frank Boland performed an exhibition flight, ultimately crashing and dying. The shock of the crash stayed with Julian who, after World War I, left his island home for Canada. There, in November 1920, he flew for the first time during a joyride with Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop. Shortly after this he designed and patented what was labeled an "Aeroplane Safety Appliance."
In 1921, Julian left Montreal for good and moved to Harlem. Once there he came under the influence of the charismatic Marcus Garvey and joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This new "Garveyvite" soon adopted a new persona, rechristening himself "Lieutenant Hubert Julian" of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Julian had a tailor fashion for him a fake military uniform in order to push his new narrative. On 3 September 1922, Julian performed his first parachute jump at Curtiss Field on Long Island; the event was headlined with a flight by Bessie Coleman. Julian would make one more jump that year before teaming up with aviator Clarence Chamberlin who, in addition to teaching his new business partner how to truly handle an airplane, flew him up above Harlem where the Trinidadian parachuted several times, the most famous moment coming when he wore a crimson jumpsuit while playing "Runnin' Wild" on a saxophone. This would be the stunt which caused H. Allen Smith to dub Julian, "The Black Eagle of Harlem".
In 1924, Julian, along with Chamberlin, began toying with the idea of performing a transatlantic flight, with stops, from New York City to Liberia. An old seaplane was purchased and refitted for the proposed flight; Julian dubbed it the Ethiopia. On 4 July, with a crowd of thousands gathered at the banks of the Harlem River to witness his takeoff, Julian boarded his plane, after having UNIA members help raise some last-minute funds to pay off his investors, and soared into the sky. A few minutes would pass before Julian realized that one of his plane's pontoons had filled up with water, throwing the aircraft's weight off balance. Unable to regain control, Julian crashed into Flushing Bay.
Julian would try twice more to pilot a transatlantic flight before the 1920s came to end. The first of these two attempts ended when his plane's wings were vandalized by unknown assailants while they were being stored in Happyland Park. The second, and final, attempt saw New York State Senator A. Spencer Feld take the helm of the endeavor, but after Amelia Earhart crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Julian felt dismayed at the prospect of performing something that had now been done by more than a handful of others and canceled the project.
During the first half of the 1930s, Julian made three trips to the Ethiopian Empire. It was during his second visit when he crashed Haile Selassie's favorite plane, causing the emperor to ask Julian to leave his kingdom. But the Black Eagle would return on the eve of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, gaining a military commission to help defend the African kingdom. It was during this third trip when he would come to blows with John C. Robinson, the Brown Condor of Chicago, over jabs in the press which Julian attributed to Robinson. Once it became clear that the forces of Fascist Italy would prevail, Julian left the country, never to return.
Julian spent his time stateside traveling with William Powell's Five Blackbirds, an all African-American flying troupe who performed in the Midwest and California as well as performing piloting services for paying customers like Father Divine. He also embarked in a short-lived film producing career with the director Oscar Micheaux, helping to fund the distribution for two of Micheaux's films: Lying Lips and The Notorious Eleanor Lee.
During the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, Julian, along with many other American volunteers, left for Finland in order to help provide assistance. He was there for several months without seeing action, before departing back for the United States.
When Julian learned, from Giuseppe Bellanca, what Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goring had been saying about peoples of color, the Black Eagle issued a challenge to the latter, offering the Nazi leader the chance to duel him in an aerial battle above the English Channel. Goring never gave an official response to the challenge, but Julian gained widespread praise for his bold verbal attacks.
Once the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, Julian, now in his 40s, enlisted into the military. He would serve less than a year, becoming an American citizen in the process, and earning an honorable discharge with the final rank of private first class.
1950s and 1960s
After the end of World War II Julian become a licensed arms dealer. His first contract was with the Arbenz government of Guatemala. He defied the FBI when, after being asked to cease his dealings with the now communist-leaning regime, Julian continued selling to them. His second contract was with the Bautista government of Cuba as it tried, and ultimately failed, to combat Fidel Castro's revolutionaries. His third, and final, contract was with Moise Tshombe, leader of Katanga during the Congo Secession Crisis of the early 1960s. Julian was detained by United Nations forces for questioning and was in the end jailed for four months before being released. He retired upon his return to the United States.
Later years and death
Julian spent his retirement meeting the likes of Muhammad Ali and appearing on The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show. He died in 1983 and was buried at Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York.
Hubert Julian was married three times. His first marriage, which lasted only a few years, was to Edna Powell. His second marriage, his longest, was to Essie Gittens, who he had known while growing up in Trinidad. They raised a young orphaned cousin of Essie's, a girl named Olga, as their own. His third marriage, after Essie died, was to a woman named Doreen, who gave birth to Julian's only biological child, Mark Anthony Bernard Julian, in July 1971.
The Black Eagle of Harlem is a documentary by independent filmmaker Billy Tooma. It covers Julian's life from his birth in Trinidad to his adventures in Harlem, Ethiopia, and everywhere between. It saw its world premiere on 24 June 2017, at the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey.
- "The Intrepid 'Black Eagle,' Hubert Julian".
- "The Black Eagle of Harlem". Air & Space Magazine.
- "Harlem's Hubert (Black Eagle) Julian". New York Daily News.
- "Hubert Fauntleroy Julian "The Black Eagle of Harlem"". Harlem World Mag.
- "The Black Eagle Reflects". New York Times.
- "Julian, Hubert F.". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Othen, Christopher. Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion (Amberley Publishing, 2017)
- Shaftel, David. "The Black Eagle of Harlem: The truth behind the tall tales of Hubert Fauntleroy Julian", Air & Space Magazine, 1 January 2009
- Snider, Jill. "Great Shadow in the Sky: The Airplane in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the Development of African American Visions of Aviation, 1921-1926," in The Airplane in American Culture, ed Dominick Pisano (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 2003), 105-146
- White, Shane, Stephen Garton, Stephen Robertson and Graham White. "The Black Eagle of Harlem". In Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930, ed. Fitzhugh Brundage (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011)