Man’s pursuit of the dream of aviation has been proud and far-reaching above the horizon. And it hasn’t lacked for color. Especially when one examines the story of Hubert Julian, the most heralded Black aviator prior to World War II.
Julian’s story begins with his birth on September 21st, 1897 in Trinidad, West Indies. An airplane crash that took place in the capital of Port of Spain in 1913 caught his attention as he studied abroad in England. Taken up with aviation, he got his chance to study flight in Canada at the outset of World War I. He then emigrated to Harlem, New York in 1921 and became famous as part of an aerial circus, becoming the first African American to parachute from a plane over New York City. He caught the eye of Marcus Garvey after an exhibition, and soon captured greater fame by announcing his intent to cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane two years before Charles Lindbergh in 1924. He crashed early in the attempt, but the Black Eagle was undaunted, eventually going to join in Ethiopia’s struggle against the Italian invasion in 1935. Julian became the darling of Emperor Haile Selassie until he damaged a prized plane. Soon afterwards, he sailed back to the United States.
World War II saw Julian attempt to fly in combat to no avail save for a captain’s appointment with the Finnish Air Corpsin 1939. He established Black Eagle Associates, a military surplus company that quickly became an arms dealership. This new phase of Julian’s life saw him reconnect not only with Ethiopia but other African nations during their fight for independence in the decades after World War II. In addition, Julian even got into movie-making with Oscar Michaux and invented an air-safety device and ran a gold-mining company. Passing away quietly in 1983, the Black Eagle Hubert Julian proved by his life just how high one can soar with skill and confidence.
Written by Christopher Smith