Ted Lumpkin Jr., Tuskegee aviator, dies at 100


This obituary is part of a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.

Ted Lumpkin Jr. had a story about his time as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black flying unit in US military history. His group of fighters flew missions from Ramitelli Airfield in Italy during World War II, escorting bombers based elsewhere.

One day in December 1944, he says, bad weather forced the bombers to land at Ramitelli. Prior to that, he said, the white bomber crews had had no face-to-face contact with the men in the escort planes – Red Tails, as they were called, because of their markings. They didn’t know their escorts were black.

“They were stunned,” Lumpkin said on the website for the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, one of his alma maters.

“That’s when they really found out that it was a black base and the Red Tails were flown by black pilots,” he said in a recorded oral history. in 2011 for the Veterans History Project. After that, bomber crews often requested the Red Tails as escorts, he said.

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Mr. Lumpkin, one of Tuskegee’s longest-serving aviators, died Dec. 26 in a Los Angeles hospital, days before his 101st birthday.

Another alma mater, Los Angeles City College, said in an ad the cause was complications from Covid-19.

Theodore George Lumpkin Jr. was born December 30, 1919 in Los Angeles, the eldest of six children to Theodore and Winnie Mae (Long) Lumpkin. While studying at Jefferson High School, he worked part-time in the shoe store where his father had long worked. A first understanding of racism, he said, came when he realized that his father would never be allowed to do more than run the elevator or do housekeeping duties because of his race; the more coveted position of salesman of shoes was prohibited to him.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Lumpkin received an associate’s degree in mathematics from Los Angeles City College in 1940. He was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he enlisted in the military in 1942.

He remembers sitting in a room with dozens of other recruits, passing various aptitude tests. Various groups were withdrawn and given their assignments, until only he and two or three others were left, all black. They were told they were to report to Tuskegee Air Force Base in Alabama, where the “Tuskegee Experiment,” as it was sometimes called, was underway: the military was trying to see if black men could be trained to be combat pilots. Or maybe he was trying to prove that they couldn’t.

“The so-called Tuskegee experiment was set up to demonstrate to the world, or at least the country, that black people lacked the capacity to be combat pilots,” Mr. Lumpkin said in the story. oral, a point of view shared by many. .

Mr Lumpkin said his myopia made him out of consideration for the pilot. Instead, he worked in intelligence; his roles included briefing pilots before their missions and debriefing them afterwards.

He completed his active military service in 1946 with the rank of captain, then served in the Air Force reserves until 1979.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1947, followed by a master’s degree in social work there in 1953. He lived in Los Angeles and worked for Los Angeles County for many years in several departments. , whose Bureau of Adoptions, then in 1979 began a career in real estate. He married Georgia Kelly in 1948. She survives him, with two sons, Kelly and Theodore III; one daughter, Ellen Lumpkin-Brown; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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Mr Lumpkin said that while the Tuskegee Airmen gained the respect of some members of the White Service, there was also a lot of fighting.

“We really felt that our success in fighting overseas was going to make a big difference in the United States when it comes to race relations,” he said in the oral history. “We found out that was not the case. In fact, you’ve gotten to the point where you just haven’t told people what your experiences are because they won’t believe you.

But gradually the story of the Tuskegee aviators emerged. In 2007, the Airmen collectively received the Congressional Gold Medal. During the ceremony, President George W. Bush said, “I would like to offer a gesture to help atone for all salutes not returned and unforgivable indignities.” Then he greeted the assembled airmen, who rose and bowed back.


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