HAM Radio 101

Julius T. Freeman, KB2OFY, SK: Ham Hero Committed to the Pursuit of Equality

Julius Freeman, KB2OFY, SK, was part of the Red Tails, or Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African-American Aviators (plus navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks, and other personnel) to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1944. Born in Kentucky in 1927, he served as a medic in the 332nd Fighter Group and 477 Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished contributions—in 2007 with his fellow Red Tails for wartime service.

(See him tell his own story in this video interview with DPTV Network)

But this recognition came after years of racial inequality. During WWII, the military was racially segregated as were much of the federal government and public. Discrimination existed within and outside of the military, and African-Americans faced condemnable mandates like Jim Crow segregation laws regardless of military service, societal contribution, or human worth—all while fighting to better protect our freedom.

Upon his return from his wartime service, Freeman met with such discrimination and found it so upsetting that he discarded his military uniform and memorabilia in protest. Freeman would not acknowledge his military service in any capacity until many years later.

But Freeman’s heroic wartime efforts still had a karmic effect as he reestablished himself into civilian life. He began a career as a car salesman in Columbus, Ohio, working at the Hudson Motorcar dealership. The new role was no fluke, however. Freeman had saved the life of the owner’s son during the war, and the role was offered in gratitude, although the owner would soon be grateful again, as Freeman quickly achieved massive success both for himself and the company.

And Freeman didn’t stop there. He soon became the first African-American spokesperson to appear in a television commercial in Ohio. He then moved to New York in 1954 to pursue much of the same, but again found discrimination and no jobs for African-American salesmen. So, for a few years, he worked the graveyard shift at the Empire State Building emptying trash cans.

But groundbreaking achievements and success in sales were in Freeman’s blood, and he broke back into automotive sales only a few short years later with a grand-slam year in 1977 where he earned over one-million dollars in Lincoln car sales. Soon he was the go-to car guy for African-American celebrities, selling cars to names with clout like Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Dick Gregory, Joe Louis, and Wilson Pickett. Even when he retired from his sales career in 2008, Freeman still made his way into a commercial for a Long Island car dealership in 2015.

In 2007, Freeman would again connect with his military past accepting the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Freeman was too ill to attend the ceremony at the time, but the recognition prompted him to start once again visiting schools, giving speeches, and serving as a spokesperson for the achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was quoted in 2013 as saying, “As long as there is breath in my body, I’m going to continue to tell the Tuskegee story.”

A member of the ARRL in the 1990s with a Technician’s License, Freeman passed away on July 22, 2016, after a heart attack at age 89. He was inducted  into the CQ Amateur Radio Hall of Fame in 2017.

Check out OnAllBands later this month for part two of our series honoring Tuskegee Airmen who were hams, featuring George Mitchell, K6ZE, SK.

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