On Saturday February 24, 2018 the African American Museum and Library hosted Ricki Stevenson, a descendant of one of the members of Little Rock Nine and a radio personality, to speak about the 100th anniversary of African American military personnel arriving in France to assist with the Allied effort to win World War I and of the great racial disparities during and after the war. Ricki spoke in regards to the great disparity between the French government’s and civilian treatment of African American veterans and that of the American Government, different American states and that of American civilians living in different states.
Ricki spoke at length in regards to the French WWI Veteran Eugene Jacques Bullard who was the first African American, in the world, to fly a military plane. Eugene, who left America and volunteered to join the Air Force, was referred to as “The Black Swallow of Death” for shooting down multiple German planes. The French government gave Eugene military honors and compensation for his war injuries.
After the conclusion of World War One:
Bullard worked as a jazz drummer in a popular Parisian nightclub. Later he opened his own tavern. He named it L’Escadrille in reference to his wartime flying. Jazz legends and celebrities alike frequented the club. In the 1920s, Bullard married into a wealthy French family and had two children. The marriage ended in 1935.
In 1939, Eugene offered his services to France again, this time recording the comings and goings of his nightclub’s German patrons. When Hitler’s Panzers rolled into France in May of 1940, the middle-aged Bullard again answered the call. He joined the French Army in time to see action, but was grievously wounded in the defense of Orleans. As the country fell to the Nazis, Bullard was evacuated to Spain and was eventually repatriated to the United States.
(Military History Now 2014).
However when he moved back to America he was regarded with disdain and in 1949 was even attacked by a mob, and by police, after being accused of being a communist sympathizer. He has difficulty finding work in the United States, and ended up being an elevator operator. In 1954, he came back to France, and was given honors for service at a military parade commemorating the forty year anniversary of the war. Bullard returned to the US and died a poor man years later.
It indeed was a very unfortunate way for a war hero to be treated by so many other Americans during his time in America. Of course, there were many other African American veterans, who suffered even worse fates after their service. In the south some were lynched for merely walking around in their military uniforms in a proud manner, because Caucasians supporting the legacy of Jim Crow, did not want proud black men in their mist.
Here are some references to how African American Veterans were treated, by Caucasian Americans, after the Civil War until the 1960s:
The Black Swallow of Death – History’s First African American Pilot Fought Racism (and the Enemy) in WW1. (February 18, 2014). Military History Now.