Who Was the Black Swallow of Death?

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: Before the Tuskegee Airmen, there was Eugene Jacques Bullard.

And what occupation did this war hero find in the United States? He worked as an elevator operator in Rockefeller Center for the rest of his working life.

After the war, he remained active in New York’s French community, until he returned to France briefly in 1950. And in 1954, he received one of the greatest honors that any veteran could receive: “The French government requested his presence to help relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris,” writes Chivalette. In 1959, at the age of 64, though Bullard was still unheralded by the American government, the French government honored his heroism by naming him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, “in a lavish ceremony in New York City.” Dave Garroway even interviewed him, Chivalette tells us, on The Today Show. Two years later, Bullard died in New York City.  

Bullard is buried in the French War Veterans section of the Flushing cemetery in Queens, N.Y. According to Fannin, Bullard received a total of 15 medals for his military service from the French government. After years of official neglect, he was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1989, and in 1991, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum installed his bust. At long last, in 1994, the United States Air Force posthumously commissioned him as a second lieutenant

I hope that either Spike or George Lucas or a young black filmmaker is listening; what an action film Eugene Jacques Bullard’s life would be! And we have to wonder, with Du Bois, how many other stories such as Bullard’s are hidden in the archives of African-American history.

As always, you can find more “Amazing Facts About the Negro” on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.