Thursday, February 12, 2015

Black History Month Celebrated at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence

The U. S. State Department in Paris has hosted several events in celebration of Black History Month in Paris over the years. This year, Ambassador Jane D. Hartley opened the Ambassador's residence for a screening of the Claude Ribbe documentary on the first African-American military pilot, Eugene Bullard.

Bullard (1895-1961) was an American expatriate whose life in Paris spanned World War I, the interwar years, and the early part of World War II. He was a boxer, vaudeville performer, drummer, and entrepreneur. He owned and operated night clubs, and even owned an athletic club. As a member of the Foreign Legion, he was wounded in battle at Verdun during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a bronze star for heroism. He then became the first ever African-American fighter pilot—training with the French and joining the Lafayette Escadrille, an American flying corps under French command. Despite valorous service, Dr. Edmund Gros of the American Hospital arranged to have him permanently grounded because of Gros’ own race prejudice.

Eugene Bullard and his monkey, Jimmy

The screening was attended largely by U. S. and French military personnel—including the Military Governor of Paris, Hervé Charpentier—as the State Department wanted to make Bullard's story known to the men and women in American and French uniform who are stationed in and around Paris.

Screening attendees at the Ambassador's residence
© Discover Paris!

Commander John Q. Quartey, USN and Chief Warrant Officer Four David Smeigh, USA
© Discover Paris!

Colonel Brendan B. McAloon, the attaché de defense for the U.S. Army, was responsible for organizing the evening. He worked closely with Ambassador Hartley and her team.

Ambassador Jane D. Hartley and Colonel Brendan B. McAloon
© Discover Paris!

Eugene Bullard is a 52-minute TV documentary directed by Claude Ribbe. It was produced by Ortheal, a film and television production studio in Paris, with the participation of the French National Public Television (France 3). Prior to the screening, Ribbe gave a brief introduction of the documentary and his motivation for creating it.

Claude Ribbe, director of Eugene Bullard
© Discover Paris!

Afterward, the Ambassador’s residence resounded with conversations about how touched the attendees were by Bullard's story. Bullard's history was particularly compelling for Michelle M. McAloon, a military pilot who retired from the U.S. Army as a captain and went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Lieutenant Colonel Michelle M. McAloon, USAR, ret. and
Colonel Brendan B. McAloon, USA
© Discover Paris!

Eugene Bullard was released for French television in 2013. An English-language version will be released this year and a feature film is currently in production. Ribbe's hope is that the full-length film will be ready for release in time for the 2017 commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I and the creation of the Lafayette Escadrille flying corps.

Watch a trailer for the English-language documentary here: Eugene Bullard


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1 comment:

Robbia said...

Wow! I have studied and read quite a bit of African American history and never came across this information. I am so glad to find out about it. I think it should definitely be made into an English speaking movie. I hope it will gain distribution in the US - I would definitely go to see it. Thank you for continuing to be a wonderful conduit of information regarding African Americans in Paris.