Son Didn't Know His Dad Was One of the Tuskegee Airmen

Theodore Lumpkin Jr. helped change the military's culture
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 9, 2021 4:00 PM CST
Son Didn't Know His Dad Was One of the Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen Theodore Lumpkin Jr., center, and Dabney Montgomery, right, tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington in 2011.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

One of the famed Tuskegee Airmen—the first Black pilots in the segregated US military and among the most respected fighter pilots of World War II—has died of complications from the coronavirus. Theodore Lumpkin Jr., 100, died Dec. 26, the AP reports. Lumpkin was drafted in 1942 and assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen escorted bombers in Europe. Lumpkin wasn't a pilot because his eyesight wasn't good enough, but he served as an intelligence officer who briefed pilots on missions. In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He also was among the surviving airmen invited to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Just eight original Tuskegee combat pilots and a few support personnel remain.

After the war, he earned an undergraduate sociology degree at the University of Southern California, became a social worker with Los Angeles County, then began a second career in real estate. Lumpkin's wife, Georgia, said he didn't talk much about his experiences with the airmen, per the Los Angeles Times. "We were married for a number of years until I heard about them," she said. "When I realized who these guys were and what they'd done, I was just overcome at how much they persevered. They did not bow down. They achieved things that detractors said they couldn't, weren’t capable of doing." Lumpkin’s son Ted Lumpkin III said that when he was young he was watching a TV show when members of the Tuskegee Airmen were introduced. "Who the heck are these guys?" he thought. "Then, there's my dad walking onstage. He never talked about it."

(Read more obituary stories.)

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