When Louis “Lou” Freeman takes to the skies on Thursday June 8, it will be his last time doing so as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. The sendoff marks the end of 36 years as a commercial airline pilot and as the first Black chief pilot for any major U.S. carrier.
Freeman was born June 12, 1952 in Austin, Texas, where he also achieved a couple of firsts. He and his brother were among a small handful of students to first integrate Austin’s Woodrow Wilson High School and he went on to become the school’s first Black ROTC cadet commander. Freeman repeated the ROTC first as a student at East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University–Commerce) en route to joining the Air Force.
After leaving the Air Force in 1980, Freeman was hired as Southwest’s first Black pilot in the fall of that year. Over two years later, he became the airline’s first Black captain and in 1992, he made his historic mark as the first Black Chief Pilot.
In the role, Freeman cites a particular moment that he speaks of pride. He and his crew were chosen to fly the remains of Rosa Parks from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington, D.C. and to her final resting place of Detroit.
Freeman’s final leg takes off from Dallas to Chicago at 12:50 p.m.