CHICAGO — A Chicago area Tuskegee Airman whose contributions and success altered the course of history has died.

Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, Jr., better known as “Wilk,” died Feb. 8, just one day shy of his 97th birthday. He is the last known surviving Tuskegee Airman from the area.

Wilk grew up in Chicago Heights adoring planes and went on to become one of the first African American pilots in the United States Armed Forces. 


“The Tuskegee Airmen was his heart because that’s who he was. He was an original Tuskegee Airman,” said Ken Rapier, who is dedicated to preserving Wilk’s and the group’s legacy as president of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen

Until Wilk’s last moments, he served as the second vice president for the “DODO” chapter. Rapier said Wilk took pride in visiting schools and attending community events to introduce the young generation to aviation. 

“Wilk would have the kids reciting the Tuskegee Airmen slogan with him: ‘With courage and determination, I can come adversity,'” Rapier said.

While Wilkerson is best known for being a bomber pilot during World War II, he couldn’t get a job as an airline pilot right after the service as Black airmen faced discrimination. 

But he still broke barriers when he returned home. 

“He was the first African American to be hired as a bus driver for Safeway bus company,” Rapier said.

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Afterward, Wilkerson gravitated to his love for radio and jazz music and was behind a program called “Weekend Wilkie.”

While Wilk was a man of many talents and interests, Rapier told WGN News that the Tuskegee Airman will always be remembered as someone who served his country and helped pave the way for others. 

“He was a very intelligent man and the constant gentleman,” Rapier said. “Everyone who knew Wilk loved him. He was just a wonderful person.”