“Wendell Grimkie Freeland – A Quiet Soldier in the Fight for Civil Rights” is a 43 minute documentary on an important but little known African American leader, attorney, activist, and Tuskegee Airman who worked quietly, but effectively, on all of the significant civil rights battles of his time. His inspirational story is a significant piece of American history.
Even as a child, Wendell Freeland knew he was in a civil rights fight. Before leaving the Colored School System of Baltimore to attend Howard University, he had never seen a white student or teacher, and he soon learned that the white world would value neither his worth nor his future. He left Howard for WW II, and as a bombardier with the Tuskegee Airmen, fought for his civil rights and faced a court-martial for the “Freeman Field Mutiny” when African American officers tested an illegal regulation excluding them from the officers’ club. Pardoned by President Truman with an honorable discharge, he was reluctantly accepted at the University of Maryland Law School, which just a dozen years earlier had been forced to open its doors to blacks by none other than Thurgood Marshall, who later rose to become the first African American on the U.S. Supreme Court. Both the Law School and Wendell rose to distinction when he graduated with honors.
He continued to fight. Freeland relocated to Pittsburgh in 1951 and fought for the right of blacks to swim with whites in the city swimming pools; the right of a black doctor to build his home in a white neighborhood; the right, after a precedent-setting victory that was referenced later the same year in a U.S. Supreme Court decision on civil rights, to sue a city government for the brutality of its police; and the right of George Vashon, a black lawyer, to be admitted posthumously to the Pennsylvania Bar. The list of Freeland’s victories is long. Attorney Freeland was an anchor and an agent of change throughout his private practice and civil rights career. As chair of both the Pittsburgh and National Urban League and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., Freeland was a quiet but tenacious soldier, yet throughout these fights he never lost sight of the importance of family, of love, and of the cultural continuum.
Ultimately, A Quiet Soldier informs its audience of the importance of the integrity, activism and unselfish commitment to change of Wendell G. Freeland, and the need for all of us, and especially youth as they choose professions and personal goals, to be involved as agents for change.
As part of the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival being held Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 24 at Ryan Arts and Cultural Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks (15136). A Quiet Soldier will be featured during the Made in PA portion of the festival and is scheduled to be shown at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday.