PEACHTREE CITY, USA – For Black History Month, Aventure honors Eugene Jacques Bullard, considered to be the first African-American pilot to fly in combat, and the only African-American pilot in World War I. Ironically, he flew for France instead of the United States.
Bullard was born October 9, 1895, in Columbus, Georgia, about 80 miles from Aventure Aviation’s Atlanta headquarters. He ran away from an unhappy home at the age of 11. After wandering the American South for six years, he found his way to France—a place his father told him had racial equally.
After World War I begun in 1914, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. After recuperating from a battle wound, he enlisted in the French flying service. Earning his wings in 1917, he claimed two aerial victories that year.
Bullard attempted to join the U.S. Air Service after America entered the war, but he was rejected due to racial prejudice. He was discharged from French service in 1919.
He remained in France after the war, where he would eventually own a nightclub, marry, and rub elbows with notables like Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker.
Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Bullard served with the French infantry. Wounded, he escaped to neutral Spain, and returned to America.
Bullard never fully recovered from his wounds. He took up the cause of civil rights in the post war years. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center, where his fame in France was unknown.
Bullard died in New York City on October 12, 1961, at age 66. A recipient of 14 French war medals, he was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery.
In 1989 he was posthumously inducted into the inaugural class of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1994 he was posthumously commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. The Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia erected a statue in Bullard’s honor in 2019.