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Eugene Ballard

At the Café Copoule in Paris in the spring of 1916, three American soldiers of the French Foreign Legion were commiserating with a fourth who was convalescing from a shrapnel wound. Jeff Dickson, a white Mississippian, asked Eugene Bullard, his injured black comrade in arms from Georgia, “Gene, suppose they find you’re too lame for the infantry?” Bullard’s answer raised eyebrows around the table: “I’ll go into the Air Service.”

“Air Force?” Dickson exclaimed. “You know damn well, Gene, there aren’t any Negroes in aviation.” “Sure do,” Bullard said. “That’s why I want to get into it. There must be a first to everything, and I’m going to be the first Negro military pilot.” That friendly argument swiftly evolved into a $2,000 wager. Bullard, who would emerge as history’s first certified black American aviator, won the bet.

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