When Capt. Lou Freeman first interviewed for a job with Southwest Airlines in November 1980, he didn’t realize there were no other black pilots at the company.
“I didn’t think about it at all … in my interview it wasn’t a big deal,” said Freeman, who grew up in Dallas. “It didn’t take long to figure out. We only had 187 pilots.”
On Thursday, Freeman wheeled his suitcase down a jet bridge at Love Field for the last time as a Southwest pilot, capping off a 36-year career that included being the first black chief pilot of any major U.S. airline, leading the crew that flew Rosa Parks’ remains around the country before her interment and serving as a lasting ambassador to future pilots of all races.
Wearing a white shirt, blue slacks and an American flag tie, Freeman seemed at ease in the hours before his 12:40 flight from Dallas to Chicago on Thursday, joking that he’d been “practicing his landings” in preparation for his final ride. He’ll turn 65 on Monday, the federally mandated retirement age for U.S. pilots.
“As long as I get us to the gate with no dings and no dents, I’ve done my job,” Freeman said. “I haven’t dinged an airplane yet and I don’t plan to start today.”
Captain Louis Freeman
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