On November 8, 1942, Sara Gomez was born in the Guanabacoa neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. I do not have any information about her parents, but I do know Sara was raised by her paternal grandmother and four aunts. Sara’s grandmother and aunts prioritized education and exposed her to Afro-Cuban culture, music, art, and literature. She learned to play the piano and was introduced to ethnography after learning about her Afro-Cuban culture. Her neighborhood of Guanabacoa was an Afro-Cuban cultural hub for scholars, musicians, business professionals, artists, dancers, and writers. A few of her family members were professional musicians who performed with the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra. As a young woman, Sara would attend dances held at a location called The Progressive Club. Dancers, musicians, and other young people who attended The Progressive Club inspired Sara to study music at the Havana Conservatory of Music. Sara’s interest and community could not keep her from experiencing racism and gender inequality as an Afro-Cuban woman. As she grew older, she would use her voice and talents to combat the racism and gender inequality in Cuba.
Sara gained experience as a writer working for a youth magazine called Mella, she would follow that by becoming a writer for the Communist Party newspaper News of Today. These experiences would lead her to accept a position directing films for the Instituto Cubano Del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, or the ICAIC. Becoming a film director catapulted Sara Gomez into the Cuban history books, she became the first woman to direct films in Cuban history. An Afro-Cuban woman became a filmmaking pioneer. She began her directing career making documentary films, which helped her to focus more on creating a realistic depiction of the Cuban people and culture. When Sara began working at the ICAIC it was a new organization and she was one of two Afro-Cuban filmmakers in the organization. Until her death, Sara Gomez was the only woman to direct films for the ICAIC. She used her films to highlight the plight Afro-Cuban people faced daily. The messages in her films exposed the racism of Cuba, which was the root cause of all of the disparities the Afro-Cuban people faced. She not only highlighted the issues, but she included ideas to solve their problems. Her films held a mirror to the Government while holding a magnifying glass to the Cuban people's eyes so they could see the root of their issues.
Sara was a celebrated filmmaker. She directed 13 short films and 1 feature-length film. She was also the assistant director for 3 films. Her feature-length film One Way Or Another received critical acclaim because it explored racism and gender inequality in Cuba, issues that Sara experienced as a young woman. She married a man named Hector Veitia, the couple produced a daughter. Years later, Sara married a man named Germinal Hernandez and they produced two children. Sara Gomez died on June 2, 1974. She is remembered as a Cuban filmmaking pioneer, who was brave and creative enough to put a lens on the Cuban issues that led to the existence of the revolution. To Cuba’s first woman film director, Sara Gomez, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On October 9, 1895, Eugene Jacques Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia as the 7th of 10 children born to his parents. William Bullard was the name of his father who was also called Octave, a black man born in Stewart County, Georgia. Josephine Thomas, who was called Joyakee was Eugene Bullard’s mother. Joyakee was of black and Muscogee Creek indigenous American origins. She died when Eugene was 6 years old. Eugene would attend the 28th Street School in Columbus, Georgia until the fifth grade. During these years, Eugene witnessed acts of racial terrorism against blacks. A mob of angry white men attempted to lynch Octave Bullard over a work dispute. The racism in Columbus, Georgia was becoming too much for Eugene to deal with and he wanted to escape it. His father would often tell him stories about France abolishing slavery and black men being treated as humans and not animals. These stories resonated with a young Eugene and sparked a flame that would lead him to France. At the age of 11, Eugene decided to run away from home in hopes of eventually making it to France. He traveled to Atlanta, Georgia where he became acquainted with the Stanley's, a group of British Gypses who allowed him to work as a care taker to their horses, and they also taught him how to ride and race horses. The Stanley’s told him stories about black people in Brittan being free of the racial discrimination blacks faced in America. The stories increased Eugene's desire to reach Europe.
Around 1911, Eugene was in Dawson, Georgia working as a stable-boy and aspiring jockey for the Turner family. Because of his hard work and dedication, the Turner family allowed Eugene to be their jockey at the 1911 County Fair in Dawson, Georgia. The following year, Eugene made his way to Norfolk, Virginia, where he snook onto a German Merchant Freight Ship. He was eventually discovered and kicked off the ship in Aberdeen, Scotland. During his stay in Aberdeen he found odd jobs to survive. He traveled to Glasgow, Scotland where he worked more odd jobs. He then arrived in London and eventually Liverpool where he became a prize-fighter and comedian within the Freedman Pickaninnies. Eugene’s boxing trainer was Aaron Lister Brown, or better known as the boxer the Dixie Kid. The Dixie Kid arranged for Eugene to fight in Paris, France, which was a dream come true for Eugene, because he would finally make it to France. After the fight, Eugene decided to live in France for a while and continue boxing. He also found work in a music hall. Germany declared war on France on August 3, 1914, World War 1 had began on July 28, of 1914. In October of 1914, Eugene Bullard enlisted in the French Army’s Foreign Legion. Eugene was involved in active combat against the Germans, first as a machine gunner, then involved in the Second Battle of Champagne. He served with the 3rd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment, the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment, 170th French Infantry Regiment, and the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Regiment in the 1st Moroccan Division.
The French Army’s 1st Moroccan Division was one of the army’s most highly decorated divisions. The Foreign Legion suffered casualties that caused them to be reassigned as a reinforcement unit. In addition to Eugene participating in the 2nd Battle of Champaign, he participated in the battles of Somme and Verdun. He was severely injured in the battle of Verdun. While recovering from his injuries, Eugene decided to join the 170th French Infantry Regiment, who were nicknamed the “Swallows of Death”. Injuries didn’t keep Eugene from being awarded the Croix de guerre medal for his valor and service. While recovering from their injuries, a white soldier named Jeff Dickson bet Eugene $2,000 that he would not become a military pilot. His injuries prevented him from serving in the infantry so his next choice was volunteering for the French Air Service in 1916. He started as a gunner before receiving flight training at Châteauroux and Avord, then receiving his pilots license in 1917. In November of 1916, Eugene joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. They would accompany French pilots on missions to bomb their enemies and perform reconnaissance. Eugene received a promotion to Corporal in June of 1917 and was involved in 20 combat missions as a member of Squadron N.85. He is credited with shooting down German planes, but the number of planes shot down are disputed. After World War 1, Eugene worked as a Jazz drummer in French nightclubs. He eventually opened a night club and athletic club. Legendary performers such a Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker would perform in Eugene’s club.
Eugene would marry a woman named Marcelle Straumann in 1923, they were married for 12 years before Marcelle left Eugene and their two daughters. As World War II began, the French need Eugene's help and skills to spy on the Germans who would frequent his nightclubs. He served in Frances 51st Infantry Regiment during the German Invasion of 1940. Eugene was wounded during the invasion but managed to escape to Spain and eventually made his way to the United States. He would be admitted to a hospital in New York to seek treatment for his injuries. Now further injured from World War II, Eugene was living in New York seeking to make a living as he did in France but found that the U.S. was still racist. He found odd jobs to support himself and often worked as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong in Europe. The nightclubs he owned in France were destroyed during the war but the French government gave him a settlement check, he used the money to purchase an apartment in New York. Bullard was severely beaten by police officers during a Paul Robeson concert. The incident was captured on film but noting was done to the police officers. Later in life, Bullard worked as an elevator operator in New York before he died in 1961 of stomach cancer. During his life Eugene Bullard was awarded 14 medals by the French Army and Government. He was Knighted by the French General Charles de Gaulle in 1959. He was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1989, posthumously appointed to second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and a statue of him was placed into the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia in 2019. He became the first African-American to become a military pilot, but he had to join the French Army to do so because of American racism. To Mr. Eugene Bullard, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In the year 1883, the Nigerian-Turkish couple Zenciye Emine Hanım and Ali Bey were living in the city of Izmir, in the Aidin Valley of the Ottoman Empire. The couple produced a baby boy named Ahmet Ali Celikten. Stories exist stating that Ahmet’s grandmother was a Nigerian slave serving as a concubine to the Ottoman ruler, which also serves as the story of the origins of Ahmet’s family living in Turkey. Zenciye Emine Hamin is said to be a Yoruba woman and Ali Bey was said to possibly be of Arab and Nigerian or Somalian and Turkish origins. As a young boy, Ahmet dreamed of becoming a sailor. In 1904, Ahmet enrolled in the Haddehane Mektebi Naval Technical School, four years later he graduated as a First Lieutenant. As the world was nearing its first world war, Turkey needed an Air Force to compete against its enemies, the Yeşilköy Naval Aircraft School was founded in 1914, and Ahmet was among the first class of cadets to enroll in the school. Ahmet was able to continue his military education and Turkey was able to build its air force. Ahmet graduated from the aircraft school on November 11, 1916, making him the first black person to become a military pilot. Other men given credit are Eugene Bullard and Pierre Réjon. I will cover these two men at a later time.
Izmirli Alioğlu Ahmed is the birth name of Ahmet Ali Celikten, he changed his name during the time he graduated from aircraft school. Ahmet graduated a month before the start of World War I, becoming the first black military piolet, and one of less than 10 black pilots fighting in the war. During the War, Ahmet married a Greek woman named Hatice Hanim, the couple produced five children, and two of their sons became pilots. I do not have information about Ahmet’s battles during World War I, but I do know he received advanced-level flight training in France and Germany, and he was also promoted to Captain. Following his promotion, he was appointed to serve for the Izmir Naval Aircraft Company. World War I ended in 1918, but the war in Turkey was not over.
The Turkish War of Independence began in the 1920s and Ahmet chose to participate in the war. He volunteered to help steal airplanes from the Konya Military Air Base, in Konya, Turkey, he also volunteered to use the stolen planes to monitor any aircraft activity over the Black Sea. Ahmet was rewarded for his skills and ability to carry out his missions. He was appointed as the undersecretary of the Konya Military Air Base and was awarded the Bahri Aircraft Medal. Ahmet Ali Celikten not only became the first black military pilot in the world, but he was able to work with the 2nd and 3rd black men to become military pilots. He retired from the military in 1949, inspiring many more black people around the world to become pilots. He also greatly influenced his family to become pilots. In addition to his two sons becoming pilots, his wife his sister, two daughters, a niece, nephew, and sister-in-law, all became pilots. Ahmet died in 1969, but his influence on black pilots will never be forgotten. He was able to overcome barriers to literally fly high. Ahmet Ali Celikten, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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