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Eugene Bullard (1895-1961)

  • Born in Columbus, Georgia, but ran away as a teen in hopes to escape racial discrimination after witnessing his father’s near-lynching

  • Settled in France as a boxer and enlisted in the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion in WWI

  • Became the first African-American combat pilot after being wounded in action in 1916, receiving his training at various locations in France and completing his flight training in 1917

  • Also served France in WWII and over the course of his military career received 15 French war medals

  • He was famous and highly esteemed in France, but was relatively unknown in the US until an appearance on the Today Show in 1959

  • After his death, Bullard was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame (1989), and commissioned as a second lieutenant in US Air Force (1994), exactly 77 years to the day after trying to enlist in the US Air Force but denied because of the color of his skin

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Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

  • First female African-American and Native-American to receiver her international pilot’s license

  • Born in Atlanta, Texas and moved to Chicago at age 23 to attend beauty school

  • Interested in aviation, she applied to many US flight schools, but was denied by all of them because she was black and a woman

  • Determined to become a pilot, she learned French and moved to France to attend the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation

  • Specialized in stunt flying and parachuting

  • Performed the first public flight by an African American woman in 1922

  • Became famous in Europe and the US for her airshow performances, touring, and giving flight lessons

  • Was also famous for standing up for her beliefs, and would not speak to or perform for segregated audiences

  • Tragically died in a rehearsal for an airshow, the plane spiraling out of control and throwing her from the plane at 2000 feet

  • In 1931, the Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago began the tradition of flying over Coleman’s grave each year

  • She was commemorated on a stamp in 1955

  • In 1977, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club

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