Folks are still talking about last week’s presentation by the living legend Harry Belafonte at the Carnegie Museum of Art. His 90-minute lecture was full of references of his music and acting careers careening into civil rights and advocacy. A contemporary of Martin and Malcolm, Belafonte was often alongside them in front of the protests.
Pittsburgh had its own activist/soldier in the trenches of the struggle—literally. As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Wendell G. Freeland openly ignored the segregation of the officers’ club and risked court-martial for his defiance. The charges were later dropped.
Freeland continued the civil rights movement in his civilian life. As a lawyer, he worked with or represented the major organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. While not a high-profile figure nationally as Belafonte, Freeland left an indelible mark in the civic life in Pittsburgh, working with other communities to advocate for equal employment and better housing.
Because of his leadership and accomplishment (and his low-key persona), Freeland earned many accolades and tributes before his death in 2014 at the age of 88. Respected filmmaker Billy Jackson has another one, this in the form of a documentary—“Wendell G. Freeland: A Quiet Soldier.”
Jackson, who produced the documentary that chronicled the case of local officers who murdered Jonny Gammage, says this piece was a labor of love. The film includes interviews with friends, family and colleagues of Freeland as well of the fruit of extensive research in the form of archival newspapers, photographs and footage.