Theodore Lumpkin Jr., second from left, one of the Tuskegee Airmen. Photo credit: Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation,

Congressional Gold Medal recipient Theodore Lumpkin Jr., who made history when he joined the Tuskegee Airmen, died days before his 101st birthday of complications from COVID-19, it was announced Friday.

Lumpkin died Dec. 26, according to Los Angeles City College, where he attended classes from 1938 to 1940 and earned an associate degree.

He was a 21-year-old junior majoring in mathematics at UCLA when he was drafted into the military.

In the U.S. Army Air Corps, he was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron – one of the famous all-Black squadrons of the 332d Fighter Group – in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The Army Air Forces program in Tuskegee was established to train Black military pilots and recruits. They would become some of the most recognized and decorated pilots serving in World War II.

In January 1946, Lumpkin received an honorable separation from active-duty service and used education funds from the GI Bill to earn his undergraduate degree in sociology at USC.

He was hired by the county of Los Angeles as a social worker and furthered his education by earning a master’s degree in social work from USC in 1953.

He worked in the county’s Bureau of Adoptions and urban affairs, community development and model cities departments. He continued his military service with the inactive Air Force Reserves.

When he retired from social work in 1979 and launched a second career as a real estate agent.

In March 2007, Lumpkin was recognized for his role in the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian.

Lumpkin said he was proud to have been among the Tuskegee Airmen invited to attend former President Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony in 2009.

A 2007 statement by then-Sen. Obama underscored the impact of the airmen, saying, “My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail blazed.”

Lumpkin is survived by his 99-year-old wife.

– City News Service