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Eugene Bullard, the first African American combat pilot. Born in Georgia, Bullard left for Europe in his teens (he later claimed to have seen his father narrowly escape lynching). He worked as a boxer in Paris, then joined the French Army during World War I. Bullard was severely wounded at Verdun, and after he recovered he joined the French Air Service. Once the United States joined the war, Americans fighting for France were mostly absorbed into the American forces, but because the Army Air Corps was whites only, Bullard remained in the French army. After the war, Bullard remained in France until the German invasion in the Second World War, when he and his daughters fled Paris. Bullard took part in the defense of Orleans but was wounded and escaped over the border into Spain, and from there to New York.
In 1949, Bullard was attending a concert in Harlem that was organized by entertainer and activist Paul Robeson to benefit the Civil Rights Congress. In what was later known as the Peekskill Riots, performers and attendees of the concert, Bullard among them, were savagely beaten by a mob that included members of the local and state police. Bullard’s beating was captured on film, but none of his attackers were ever prosecuted.
Bullard died in 1961 of stomach cancer in relative anonymity, and was buried with full military honors in the French War Veteran’s section of Flushing Cemetery. He had been a recipient of 15 decorations from the government of France, including being made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award.
"This is my first cabbage! You know, a lot of times they’re kind of soft, but this one is solid! It’s going to be good eatin’!"
"What are you going to make with it?"
"Well, this one I’m giving to my parents. You have to give the first one away or you just spoil the whole spirit of gardening."