All Blood Runs Red author Henry Harris of Fairview discusses the extraordinary life of Eugene Bullard, the first African-American aviator to serve in a war.
Through exhaustive research, Harris uncovered a treasure trove of long-forgotten documents about this American hero denied the opportunity to serve in the US military. Bullard’s motto was “Do not accept defeat if you are doing the right thing.”
Harris’ quest to learn more about Eugene Bullard began in 2004 while visiting a museum in Gunther, Alabama. Here, he recognized the valuable, yet overlooked, contributions of Bullard and realized that more information was needed. After six years of diligent research, Harris composed an extensive biography that is presented as an interview with Bullard.
Eugene Jacques Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894, to William and Josephine Bullard. As a teenager, Eugene emigrated to the United Kingdom and worked as a boxer and in a music hall. Later, he traveled to France and joined the elite French Foreign Legion. After being wounded in battles around the area of Verdun, Bullard was awarded the distinguished Croix de Guerre. After recovering from dreadful wounds, he flew in the Lafayette Flying Corps, participating in at least 20 missions.
With the entry of the United States into World War One in 1917, the United States Air Service recruited Americans serving the Lafayette Flying Corps. Although Bullard passed all examinations, black pilots were not permitted in the U.S. Air Service. As a result, he continued to serve in the French military until the armistice.
After the War, Bullard remained in Paris and eventually operated a restaurant frequented by notables such as Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. After the outbreak of World War II, Nazi officers dined at the restaurant and discussed military strategy, unaware that the black owner was fluent in German. Bullard secretly relayed valuable intelligence to Allied forces.
After this war, Bullard returned to the United States. He worked in New York’s Rockefeller Center as an elevator operator and lived meagerly. At his funeral in 1961, no representative from the U.S. military attended the service, but Bullard was buried with military honors by French officers in the French war veterans section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City. Before his death, he uttered to a retired French officer who was assisting him, “This is beautiful on the other side.”