Wendell Freeland was a member of the famed group of African American WWII flyers we now call the Tuskegee Airmen. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 as a student at Howard University. A bright and ambitious student who grew up in a poor, segregated neighborhood in Baltimore, Wendell entered military service not so much to fight for his country but to advance himself and stop the fascist takeover of Europe.
Contemplative and intellectual, Wendell didn’t take to Army life, especially the racism that pervaded it. Wendell was a lieutenant, a bombardier on a B-25 with the 477th Bomb Group. But, despite his rank, he remained a second-class citizen in Army. “I never spoke with a white officer. They never spoke to us, unless to bark an order.” He was arrested twice for defying the Army’s strict segregation policies.
The second arrest occurred at Freeman Field, Indiana, when Wendell and other black officers entered the all-white officers’ club and waited to be served. When Wendell refused to sign, read, or even acknowledge the regulation strictly separating white and black officers, he was charged with mutiny, a crime punishable by execution. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall eventually ordered the charges to be dropped for most of the men, including Wendell. The Freeman Field Mutiny was an early blow against official segregation in the armed forces, an important step in the Civil Rights Movement.
This interview was recorded March 5, 2012 at the Wendell Freeland law office, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club.