Oscar Lawton Wilkerson Jr., the last known surviving Tuskegee airman in Chicago area, dies

He delighted in introducing children to aviation by meeting them at Gary/Chicago Airport

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Friday, March 3, 2023
Last known surviving member of Tuskegee Airmen in Chicago area dies
Oscar Lawton Wilkerson Jr., the last known surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen in the Chicago area, has died.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The last known Tuskegee Airman in the Chicago area has died. Oscar Lawton Wilkerson Jr. passed away last month, but his friends and educators say his legacy -- and that of the Tuskegee Airmen -- will always live on in spirit.

Wilkerson loved sharing his passion for planes, flying and the spirit of soaring through the air with a new generation.

"If you get a chance to fly early on, this might be your time, something you want to accomplish," Wilkerson once said.

We met Wilkerson as he introduced young aviators to the joys of flying. He was a member of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen military aviators in World War II and passed away last month at the age of 96.

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"Everyone who met Wilk loved him," said Ken Rapier, president of Chicago Dodo Chapter Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

Rapier spent years with Wilkerson, as head of the Chicago chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Together, they spread that adoration of flight and aviation excellence.

But with Wilkerson's passing came a stark reality.

"There were 50 original Tuskegee airmen in our chapter in the year 2000. So we have gone from 50 to zero. So it's a little hard to take, but our objective is to continue the legacy," Rapier said.

As time has passed, so have many of the airmen who were fierce pilots and bombers -- like Wilkerson -- which is why DuSable Museum VP of education, Kim Delaney, says we all must continue to share in the spirit of Tuskegee today.

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"He was born into this fantastic legacy of aviators in Chicago that had fought to be able to fly," Dulaney, said.

Wilkerson and other Tuskegee aviators had their wings, but faced racism and prejudice during World War II and when they returned home. Wilkerson couldn't get a job flying commercial planes, but instead became a bus driver, while persevering through it all.

"To keep that resolve in spite of what you're going through is pretty powerful and should be commended," Dulaney said.

That legacy of excellence is living on in the next generation, thanks to Wilkerson and Rapier. The Chicago chapter of Tuskegee airmen not only hosts events exposing young people to flight for the first time, but also has scholarships available to enrich the next generation in higher education as well.