He was a fierce, devoted civil rights lawyer. But he was much more.
Those in the documentary called Wendell G. Freeland a role model, a mentor, a true community leader, a wonderful teacher, enigmatic, the ultimate chameleon.
“Wendell stands at the top. He was that kind of guy, with a deep-seeded sense of commitment,” said civil rights advocate and New Pittsburgh Courier columnist Louis “Hop” Kendrick. “It has to be something that you’re born with.”
Local film director Billy Jackson spent years working on “Wendell G. Freeland—A Quiet Soldier,” and released it to the public in late 2017. There have been a number of screenings of the documentary for the public to view, but Jackson is looking to increase its distribution—not for the money, but for Freeland’s impact on Pittsburgh’s Black community to be more known to a younger audience.
“Wendell Freeland left a legacy and a model to follow that’s becoming increasingly difficult to follow now for us as a people,” Jackson said. “The model is, first and foremost, integrity. And secondly, selfless devotion to the progress of our people. And that’s what Wendell Freeland was about.”
Across the country, Jackson said, Freeland is recognized primarily as a Tuskegee Airman who was arrested twice in the Freeman Field Mutiny at the Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana (1945). There, the young Freeland went into an all-White officers club against orders, and was subsequently arrested. Charges were later dropped, and in 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman ordered an integration of the U.S. military.
But “he was working the streets” in Pittsburgh “in the early ‘50s, not only the court cases he won, but also the legislation he was behind created change. And that’s why he’s important, and I think if enough of our young Black males see him, then he’s a benchmark for people to follow,” Jackson said.
“I think it would be great to show in law schools,” said Freeland’s daughter, Lisa, during a May screening at the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley. She also told audience members that the documentary should be seen by students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and other districts. “I think that we’ve got to make a connection with the superintendent of the schools and get this at least into the high schools, if not into the junior high schools and below.”
Freeland graduated cum laude from Howard University in 1947 and earned his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law three years later.
A Baltimore native, Freeland came to Pittsburgh and immediately made an impact. He challenged the city on improving the safety of African Americans who desired to swim in the Highland Park Swimming Pool in 1951. Freeland later became an assistant district attorney and board chairman of the local Urban League.
Cyril Wecht, former Allegheny County Coroner who said he was very good friends with Freeland, called the documentary “heartwarming. He was indeed everything the people have said, without any hyperbole. Young African Americans have to be constantly reminded of what it was like (during the civil rights movement). The battle is not over yet.”
Jackson told the New Pittsburgh Courier he’s looking to partner with distributors to get the documentary into more hands, including obtaining corporate sponsors or foundations to hold more public screenings at theaters. For now, Jackson said the Freeland documentary is available for purchase at nommoproductions.com.
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