The Black Eagle of Harlem

The truth behind the tall tales of Hubert Fauntleroy Julian.

In the 1930s, Julian’s rival, John Robinson (at far right), founded a pilots’ association to promote aviation among African-Americans. (NASM)
Air & Space Magazine

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The Congo adventure slowed the Black Eagle, but his FBI files reveal that he was connected with various African states, representing himself as a munitions buyer as late as 1974. After that the Black Eagle lost his rudder. In early 1976 Julian was investigated for threatening to hire “mercenaries utilizing seaplanes with 20 millimeter cannons and incendiary bombs” to sink the oceanliner Queen Elizabeth II; he alleged that Cunard employees had mistreated him. The investigation was dropped after Julian said he made the threat in a time of despair, shortly after the death of his wife Essie. The FBI’s report on the incident, however, revealed that Julian had also been recently investigated for the intended purchase of 66 F-104 fighters from the West German government, again in violation of neutrality acts, and by the U.S. Customs department for the smuggling of gold and diamonds. After these misadventures, Julian stopped courting the press and gave away most of his worldly treasures to the visitors and friends who still called on him.

The Black Eagle of Harlem died of natural causes at age 86 on February 19, 1983. His death went unnoticed in the press until eight months later, when the New York Amsterdam News printed an item in its gossip column that read: “The reason that Colonel Hubert Julian’s death was unknown…boils down to this: His young wife didn’t like his Black Eagle reputation and when he died…she reportedly phoned the…funeral home and told them to pick up the body and bury him, but fast.”

When I showed her the newspaper clipping, which she had never before seen, Doreen Julian, now 70, was incredulous. “I had nothing to do with this,” she said, at the home she once shared with Julian. “He didn’t want any reporters swarming the house. He just told me to keep it peaceful, he’d had enough of it all.” Julian met Doreen in a hotel in her native Grenada on one of his frequent trips to his beloved West Indies, where he was impressed with her prowess ironing his custom-made shirts. Within a week he had brought her back to the United States. They were married in 1977, and she recalls caring for Julian “like a baby” until the end.

“He didn’t leave the house for the last five years,” she says. “There was nothing left to do, nowhere left to go. But he felt very comfortable with his life, and always talked all the time about the things he had done, the people that he had met, and all the money he used to make. He gave you so many stories you didn’t know how to keep up with it all. His life was like a fairy tale.” 

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