The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, along with the nation’s legal community, mourns the death of Mr. Wendell G. Freeland – a legendary civil right leader, Tuskegee Airman, political activist, prominent Pittsburgh defense attorney and the longest-serving member of the Joint Center Board of Governors in our 43-year history. Mr. Freeland served as Board Chairman from 1981 to 1992, and characteristically, his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that he continued to practice law into his 80s.
“Mr. Freeland’s life epitomizes the sacrifice and service by what Tom Brokaw describes as ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Although I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Freeland, I, like countless other Americans, have reaped the benefit of his sacrifices. We are grateful for Mr. Freeland’s tremendous contributions to the Joint Center and the legacy he leaves us,” said Joint Center Acting Chair Barbara L. Johnson.
“Mr. Freeland was one of the most creative Board members I had the pleasure of working with during my tenure,” recalled former Joint Center President Eddie N. Williams. “He had a strong personality and provided a tremendous amount of support to the organization as a member of the finance committee. He also possessed a great sense of humor that was extremely useful to us during the good times, and the bad.”
Freeland’s civil rights legacy extends well beyond his Joint Center legacy. He was also a former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Pittsburgh and served as the organization’s senior vice president for the national organization.
A giant in several other arenas, Mr. Freeland is frequently recalled for his service as a bombardier with the 477th Bombardment Group, a component of Tuskegee Airmen who, during World War II, became the military’s first black pilots. Until his passing, Mr. Freeland was recognized as one of the three remaining Tuskegee Airman residing in and around his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, having moved there in the early 1950s.
In legal circles, he is lauded as having been the first African American elected to the Order of the Coif, an honorary legal fraternity, while earning his law degree at the University of Maryland Law School. He was also a part of what is now called “The Freeman Field Mutiny,” a precursor to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. He was twice arrested for asserting African-American officers’ right to enter a “whites only” officers club. Three years following the last incident, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order to racially integrate the military.
“Mr. Freeland served his nation, his community and his fellow man with dignity and dedication. His impact on the Joint Center was considerable,” added Williams. “He will be fondly remembered, and greatly missed.”
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation’s leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. To learn more, please visit www.jointcenter.org.