Eugene Bullard was the only black combat pilot on the Allies side in World War One. Born in Georgia, he fled to Scotland as a boy to escape racial discrimination, before eventually settling in Paris, France where he worked as a boxer. He served in the First Regiment Foreign Legion. He transferred to the Aviation department and served in the Lafayette Flying Corps, a designation of pilots made up of American volunteers. When the United States official joined the War Eugene was unable to serve in their number due to a whites only policy on combat pilots. He continued to serve under the French flag instead.
After the war he became a drummer and manager at a night club called ‘Le Grand Duc’ in Paris. At the request of the French government he used his night club as a cover to spy on Germans who visited, as Bullard was a German-speaker.
During the German invasion of France Bullard again volunteered and served in the defense of Orleans before being wounded in combat. He fled the country with his daughters to Spain, eventually booking passage to New York.
During his time in France he was awarded fifteen military decorations, he was made a chevalier of the Legion d'honneur, and was nicknamed 'The Black Swallow of Death’ for his skills as a combat pilot.
In the US he puttered through obscurity, spending the rest of his life operating an elevator at Rockefeller Center. He was famously beaten by police and rioters during the Peekskill Riot which left him with chronic back injuries for the rest of his life.
He passed away of stomach cancer at 66 years of age.