Passion for activism: Wendell Freeland was true to every mission

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Wendell Freeland was a quick study — Tuskegee airman, Pittsburgh lawyer, civil rights activist. He embraced every phase of life and every mission sent his way with passion and intelligence.

He died last week at 88, but not before completing a long career of public service.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Freeland flew combat runs in World War II as a member of the legendary Tuskegee airmen. He was one of the black officers in the 477th Bombardment Group who later tried to enter an all-white officers’ club and was arrested — one of the events that pushed the military toward integration.

Mr. Freeland brought the same conviction to his law practice in Pittsburgh, where he fought to desegregate the Highland Park swimming pool, worked for the integration of public schools and campaigned for the hiring of black teachers and other professionals. He was a co-founder of the Hill House Association, a major community services agency based in the Hill District; chairman of the board of the Urban League of Pittsburgh; and a proud Republican at a time when many in the party held moderate views.

As recently as 2010, Mr. Freeland was still fighting injustice. He and others helped persuade the state Supreme Court to posthumously admit George Vashon, a 19th century lawyer from Pittsburgh, to the Pennsylvania bar. Vashon had been turned down twice because he was black.

As one of three surviving Tuskegee airmen in the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Freeland was noted for his bravery. But the deeds he performed later in civilian life were just as much a service to his country.

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