Wendell G. Freeland: A Silent Soldier | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Wendell G. Freeland: A Silent Soldier

A new documentary short film profiles the Pittsburgh-based civil-rights lawyer

Wendell G. Freeland
Wendell G. Freeland

If you haven’t heard of its subject, the title of the new short documentary “Wendell G. Freeland: A Silent Soldier,” explains: Though Pittsburgh attorney Freeland was prominent in most aspects of the civil-rights struggle from the 1940s until his death, in 2014, he was more concerned with results than with headlines.

In 1945, as a bombardier with the Tuskegee Airmen, the Baltimore native took part in the Freeman Field mutiny, a protest over a segregated officers’ club that an historian in this film calls “the first act of the modern civil-rights movement.” (Participants risked court-martial and execution.) In 1950, law degree in hand, Freeland moved to Pittsburgh and over the decades amassed a résumé that included integrating the Highland Park swimming pool; fighting for fair housing; battling police brutality; getting city schools to hire black teachers; and helping to establish Neighborhood Legal Services. While Freeland was known locally for representing clients who couldn’t afford to pay, he also served on the boards of the Urban League of Pittsburgh and the national Urban League. His national renown is testified to here by eminent interviewees including Vernon Jordan, former Gov. Dick Thornburgh and philanthropist Elsie Hillman. 

Pittsburgh-based filmmaker Billy Jackson builds his appropriately edifying 45-minute film around a sit-down interview with Freeland himself. There are also archival photos and footage, and lots of talking heads, from historians to Freeland’s family and colleagues, recalling his skill in the courtroom and love of a good time. Threaded throughout the soundtrack are various renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — the black national anthem that Freeland took as a key inspiration of his own.

The film’s world-premiere screening takes place Nov. 2 at the Heinz History Center.

6:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 2. (5:30 p.m. reception). 1212 Smallman St., Strip District. $50. Register at www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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