Theodore Lumpkin Jr., one of the last surviving members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who served during World War II, has died at age 100.
Lumpkin passed away on December 26, just a few days shy of his 101st birthday, from complications due to Covid-19, his alma mater Los Angeles City College said Friday.
“Ted Lumpkin represents the best of our distinguished alumni in his service to our country as a member of the groundbreaking Tuskegee Airmen and his other accomplishments during a long and highly productive life; he will be missed by all of us,” Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Los Angeles City College Foundation, said in a statement.
Lumpkin’s legacy extended from fighting for his country in the decorated 100th Fighter Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen to his work as a social worker and later a real estate agent. The Tuskegee Airmen were a pioneering group of all-Black fighter pilots and service personnel who served in World War II.
“We’re carrying on his [legacy], but it’s an end of an era,” his son Ted Lumpkin III told the Los Angeles Times.
In 2009, Lumpkin and a group of Tuskegee Airmen attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama to see the first Black US president sworn in.
Obama spoke of the importance of the aviators when he was a US senator in 2007. “My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trailblazed.”
Lumpkin was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he attended Los Angeles City College from 1938 to 1940 and received an associate’s degree, the college said.
He was studying mathematics at UCLA when he was drafted in July 1942 at age 21.
After basic training, he was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron as a second lieutenant with the US Army Air Corps. He was shipped to Italy in February 1944 with the 332nd Fighter Group.
Lumpkin became an intelligence officer with the squadron, where he briefed pilots for their combat missions. He also wrote intelligence reports and presented briefings about the overall progress of the war.
Lumpkin used the money he received from the GI Bill to pursue an undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Southern California. He met his future wife, Georgia, while he was a student, according to the LA Times.
In 1947, he became a social worker with Los Angeles County. He also volunteered for the Air Force Reserves, serving as an air intelligence officer from 1947 to 1968.
Lumpkin never forgot his roots. He served as a national board member, western regional representative and the Los Angeles chapter president for Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., a national nonprofit.
Lumpkin also became a member of the board of directors of the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation in 2007, according to the organization. He raised money and donated thousands of dollars for scholarships for “financially and academically deserving underserved students,” according to a TASF campaign set up in his name.
“The Tuskegee Airmen were not recognized after the war,” Lumpkin said in 2000, according to USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s website. “People didn’t believe us when we told them what we did, and our work wasn’t documented anywhere.”
It wasn’t until 60 years after World War II that the bravery of Lumpkin and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen was officially recognized by the US government. In 2007, the group received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Lumpkin is survived by his wife, 99-year-old Georgia. They had four children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.