The Miami Herald on Mr. Jefferson Friday

Jefferson Thomas Friday | Ex-Tuskegee Airman lived in South Florida: THE MIAMI HERALD
 BY ELINOR J. BRECHER

Jefferson Thomas Friday, among a handful of World War II-era Tuskegee Airmen remaining in South Florida, died Aug. 2 at Miami’s Veterans Administration Medical Center — one day after turning 91.

An Eastern Airlines employee from 1972-1984, Friday spent decades traveling the world, and his final years at Miami’s Bay Oaks Home for the Aged.

A doctor’s son, Friday was a multi-instrumental musician who spoke French and Danish. He also mastered Latin, according to his daughter, Gail Friday of Vallejo, Calif.

Friday joined the Airmen — the all-black 332nd Fighter Group — in 1942. That year’s Tuskegee Army Flying School yearbook shows him as an Aviation Cadet with the 66th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment at Tuskegee, Ala., class of 1943.

Until 1941, the segregated army forbade blacks to fly, believing they lacked the skills and intellect to do so. Sustained pressure by the NAACP led to the squadron’s creation.

Airmen ultimately flew 15,000 combat sorties in Europe and North Africa, and earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

They shot down 260 German fighter planes, sank a destroyer and blew up hundreds of enemy tanks, trucks and railroad cars — and lost 66 men.

“Those who possessed the physical and mental qualifications were accepted as aviation cadets to be trained initially as single-engine pilots and later to be either twin-engine pilots, navigators or bombardiers,” the Airmen website says.

“Most were college graduates or undergraduates. Others demonstrated their academic qualifications through comprehensive entrance examinations.”

Friday had completed two years at Talladega College in Alabama when he applied, said his brother, Archie Woods, who added that Friday unsuccessfully sought an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“We went to high school in Cleveland,” said Woods, of Gadsden, Ala. “He played trumpet and trombone in the school band” and piano. “He was an honor student. He stayed in the library, and we thought he was a nerd, but it paid off because he won an academic scholarship to Talladega.”

A biography for the Miami chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. says Friday “worked for a period of time in an Alabama Officers Club, and was recognized for being able to speak French fluently. . .This may have assisted him being accepted into the Tuskegee Cadet pilot training program.”

But his brother said he “had a couple of bad landings,” and never flew. He did, however, see combat in the Pacific.

“He arrived in Miami around 1959 and worked at the Burdines Department Store,” says his bio, assembled by Miami chapter member Arlander “Duff” Barker.

He also played piano: with a combo at the Rockland Palace Club in Overtown, according to his bio, and on a cruise ship, according to his brother.

His daughter said he learned French in college, and Danish from “a girlfriend from Denmark.”

He was married once, in the early 1940s, to the former Articia Easley. They had two daughters and were separated for decades, though never divorced.

Both his wife and older daughter predeceased him.

Friday made full use of his Eastern Airlines employee flying pass, and “went around the world three, four times,” his brother said.

Friday entered the hospital for neck pain several days before his death, said Bay Oaks administrator Kathryn Kassner said, and died after aspirating.

He was buried at South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth.

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