April 27, 1927 – July 22, 2016
Freeman, a Kentucky native, became a fixture at schools and civic organizations in Queens and Nassau County, where he discussed his days as a medical technician attached to the segregated group of fighter and bomber pilots who had to fight their own government for their right to fight against Germany in the skies over Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1940s.
The unit’s struggles and triumphs were depicted in the 2012 movie “Red Tails.”
Army brass found that the men they believed could not fight were among the most skilled and lethal pilots of the war.
“As long as there is breath in my body, I will work to keep the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen alive,” Freeman said back in May when he was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the 113th Precinct Community Council.
It hadn’t always been that way.
Getting off a troop ship in 1945, Freeman received a slap in the face from his country that friends had died serving.
“There were two signs telling men where to go,” he said in May. “‘White’ and ‘Colored.’ I took off my uniform and threw it away.”
It was not until 2007 that friends convinced him to speak of his time in the service, and of the men with whom he carved out a place in military and civil rights history.
Freeman also spoke in May of his lifelong love of cars, and his decades in the automobile industry as a salesman and innovator.
An obituary obtained through Freeman’s family said he was the first African-American car salesman in the state of Ohio, and once demonstrated the old Hudson Hornet on local television.
Moving to Brooklyn in 1954, Freeman visited numerous auto dealerships only to find that no black salesmen were wanted.
He was forced to take a custodial job on the overnight shift at the Empire State Building. But, “being a determined Tuskegee Airman,” he persevered and finally did land a position at another Hudson dealership. One day, he so impressed a Hudson dealer with his encyclopedic knowledge of the make that he hired him.
He drove Brooklyn’s streets with a placard that read: “Get tomorrow’s car today! Drive the Freeman way!” and billed himself as an “automologist” — a specialty, he says, that exists “only in a Freeman dictionary.” Later, a Chevrolet dealer offered him a job, saying, “You’re the most aggressive salesman I’ve ever seen.”
He would go on to work 63 years in the auto industry.
Clients over the years included entertainers Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown and Wilson Pickett, humorist Dick Gregory and several members of the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association.
His Tuskegee experience, though buried, was behind his success, he said: “I was accustomed to fight for everything that we got.”
In 2007 he and other Tuskegee Airmen received bronze replicas of the Congressional gold medals from President George W. Bush. In 2009 they attended the presidential inauguration ceremony as guests of President Obama.