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Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, Jr.

Tuskegee Airman and radio programming executive Oscar Lawton Wilkerson Jr. was born on February 9, 1926 in Chicago Heights, Illinois to Oscar L. and Elizabeth Wilkerson. After his graduation from Bloomfield Township High School in 1944, Wilkerson entered the U.S. Army Air Force’s Aviation Cadet training program in Tuskegee, Alabama. He was assigned to the 617th Bombardment Squadron, where he was trained to fly the B-25 “Billy Mitchell” bomber.

Wilkerson received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant and his “wings” as a B-25 pilot in 1946. In 1947, he graduated from the New York Institute of Photography. Wilkerson also graduated from the Midwest Broadcasting School in 1960. Wilkerson became a weekend disc jockey and community relations director at WBEE-AM in Harvey, Illinois in 1962. As an on-air personality, he was known as “Weekend Wilkie.” As community relations director, he launched a weekly radio show hosted by Chicago Alderman Charles Chew, as well as publicity campaigns for the NAACP, the Chicago Urban League, the Committee of 100 and other organizations. Wilkerson was promoted to the position of program director at WBEE in 1965. Under Wilkerson’s supervision, WBEE launched the radio career of Merri Dee, who became known as “Merri Dee, the Honey Bee.” In 1969, he oversaw the station’s switch to a more jazz-oriented format, and took on the additional responsibilities of operations manager. Wilkerson also hosted his own program, Wilk’s World, on weekday mornings. Wilkerson left WBEE in 1971 to become the public affairs director at WMAQ Radio. In that role, he was responsible for all public service material aired on the station. Wilkerson was named program director at WMAQ in 1973, and served there until his retirement in 1988. Following his retirement, Wilkerson served as president of the Multi Media Ministry at New Faith Baptist Church in Matteson, Illinois. He is one of the “Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen” (DOTAs), and is active in the Chicago “Dodo” chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Wilkerson regularly visits schools around the United States to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. He lives in Markham, Illinois.

Oscar Lawton Wilkerson Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 22, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.202

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/22/2013

Last Name

Wilkerson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Lawton

Schools

Tuskegee University

Midwest Broadcasting School

Bloom High School

New York Institute of Photography

Washington Junior High School

Lincoln Elementry School

Dr. Charles Gavin School

First Name

Oscar

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago Heights

HM ID

WIL66

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/9/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Tuskegee airman and radio program director Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, Jr. (1926 - ) received his commission as 2nd lieutenant with the 617th Bombardment Squadron in 1946. After his service with the U.S. Army Air Force, he had a long career in radio as a programming executive.

Employment

WMAQ Radio

WBEE Radio

South Suburban Bus Lines

Golden State Mutual Insurance Company

Hammond & Powell Funeral Home

United States Army Air Force

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:46294,555:70240,867:102181,1249:109640,1357:122100,1525:137480,1741:142998,1970:167775,2447:200545,2871:213769,3062:214164,3102:257440,3708$0,0:6624,143:6912,148:11088,239:50514,761:56969,878:73888,1141:74364,1149:80348,1258:80756,1264:122080,1891:183510,2851
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Oscar Wilkerson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his parents' occupations and their move to Chicago

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson mentions his older brother and describes the neighborhood he grew up in

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses his elementary school experience

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses his junior high school and high school experience

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his interest in aviation and in joining the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Oscar Wilkerson remembers his basic training experience in Biloxi, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about attending church as a child as well as his father's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses his mother's personality and his interest in photography

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson describes how his family celebrated the holidays

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about going on family vacations

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his older brother

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses his basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his primary training in Tuskegee, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his primary training in Tuskegee, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his first flight experience

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his first solo flight

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his experience as a cadet at the Tuskegee Army Air Force Base, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his experience as a cadet at the Tuskegee Army Air Force Base, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson describes Tuskegee's civilian environment

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses the first phase of his advanced training at Tuskegee Army Airfield

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses the additional phases of his training at Tuskegee Army Airfield

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about leaving military service

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his various civilian jobs and becoming a radio broadcaster

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about Tuskegee Airmen

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson recalls his flight training and the flying accidents that occurred

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson describes those officers in charge during his flight training and his various jobs after leaving the military

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about going into radio broadcasting and his interest in music

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about the first radio station he worked for

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his colleagues and responsibilities at WBEE Radio

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about the entertainers and radio personalities he knew at WBEE Radio

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses competing radio station, WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses going to work for WMAQ Radio

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about former State Senator, Charles Chew, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his colleagues at the radio station, WBEE

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about becoming Manager of Community Affairs at WMAQ

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his experience as Manager of Community Affairs at WMAQ

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about other blacks in Chicago broadcasting

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson compares his jobs at radio stations, WMAQ and WBEE

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about WMAQ Radio's shift into country music

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Oscar Wilkerson describes WMAQ under Charlie Warner's leadership

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Oscar Wilkerson explains what radio taught him and why he was successful

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about the community leaders he met during his radio career and his work with NBACA

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Oscar Wilkerson discusses positive highlights from his career in radio

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about his participation in local organizations and his retirement

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about pilot, Jim Tillman and the differences between Chicago Heights and Chicago in Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Oscar Wilkerson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Oscar Wilkerson describes his military emblems

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Oscar Wilkerson describes what it feels like to fly a plane

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Oscar Wilkerson talks about performing a prohibited plane maneuver in his hometown of Chicago Heights

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$4

DATitle
Oscar Wilkerson recalls his flight training and the flying accidents that occurred
Oscar Wilkerson describes his experience as Manager of Community Affairs at WMAQ
Transcript
Now you said 9,000 were trained to fly?$$Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety two.$$Were flo--were trained to fly.$$Yeah.$$Okay. And so how many people were on the ground then?$$Ten times that, plus.$$Ten, okay. So you're saying the whole, whole contention of, of Tuskegee Airmen is about--that would be almost 50,000.$$Yeah, whatever the math comes to be, yes.$$Okay.$$This, this is support people that keep that plane in the air.$$And for each--so what, what did it take one to fly and how often were you flying when you were flying? Even the, the practice drills. How--what, what was that regiment like?$$Flew virtually every day. And when you're early in training, your instructor every day. Then you'd go out after you've soloed and you'd fly and practice those things that you were taught by the instructor. So you flew every day. And for most of the time you also had ground school courses to take every day. Learning flight, learning about the aircraft you were flying, and the many facets of keeping you in the air so that emergencies come along, you'll be able to take care of 'em and all of that is bound together to make one pilot.$$And so during the time that--were there any accidents that happened?$$Yeah.$$Okay and do you remember like the worse accident that happened?$$I remember there were in--not in my advanced class, but in some advanced class the cadets were flying T6's, the aircraft that I mentioned that was the first one with the retractable gear. Flying formation and somebody got too close and they clipped wings. The--one of the pilots was able to get out and ejected and I don't, I don't mean eject like in the jet when you pull a handle and you get shot out. You had to put the canopy back, get your harness off and get out of the plane. He didn't manage to do so and he went down with the aircraft. I don't recall who that was or what class it was, but that did happen, may have happened more than once. I, I know about that one. There have been other lesser accidents and people weren't killed. I was involved in one myself, but obviously I was not killed.$$You mean when you say you were involved in one, you were involved an accident and you came, and you came down with the plane.$$We were flying in advanced training and I was, we were doing night landings. Part of the training involved flying at night and they put you in the air and they would give you a segment to fly in until it was your time to come back to the field and land. So you'd circle in that quadrant and they would call you in to land. Well there was somebody--when they finally called me in to land, there was somebody ahead of me as there always is. You land and you do what they call touch and goes. You make a--what would be a perfect landing except you don't stop. You just pull the coat on and you take off and you go around again in order to save time; you're not taxiing on the ground. The guy ahead of me landed and was supposed to have taken off to go ahead and he didn't. And then the--I believe the tower told him to clear the runway, but he also didn't do that. And in the meantime they had cleared me to land and I didn't know that he was still on the runway. And when I landed, I see this guy ahead of me and I attempted to pull up to get a--away from hitting him. My landing gear clipped his--part of his canopy and both planes went over upside down. But I--both of us survived that. He got a big bump on his head and they had to shave part of his hair off, which was his major injury. And nothing happened to me. That was the crash I was involved in. But I'm sure there were others. I was about to say many, but probably not many; there were others.$What was your, what were--what did they say they wanted you to do and what did they want you to accomplish?$$Well I was responsible for making sure that we met all the federal requirements for a broadcasting station to stay on. You don't just come on the air and stay on the air cause you want to, you got to fulfill certain obligations so far as responding to community needs, determining what they are, programming toward response to those needs, and prove that you did. And the percentage has to be whatever is required at the time, eighteen percent or whatever it was, of programming that responded to those needs. And my responsibility was to make sure we're doing that; keep record of it so that when it came time to apply for license, you could prove that in paper and you did so, in sheaves of paper. That was my primary responsibility at that point.$$Well that's a good job for a black person to have at network station.$$Yeah, it was a good job.$$I mean, I mean a, a very good job. And so the question I have: Were they under any heat at that point that they hired you? Was [W]MAQ--were there any challenges about not doing certain things for the community or not?$$Not--I don't think so, no.$$Okay, so what you then do with the--with your, your, your job then? What are, what are the programs you put on, and--$$Well we did a number of discussion types of programs, specific ones I can't remember. And we were involved in the various community activities. I was like the face for the station at various banquets and stuff. I ate royally and attended a lot of things I would not have gotten a chance to see on my own. Went a lot of places that I would not have been able to go to on my own because I was in D.C. [District of Columbia].$$What were some of those places?$$Oh well New York City, the home headquarters, went there a number of times and we were located and still are as far as I know, located in the Rockefeller Center Building there. Had lunch in the Rainbow Room like the big dogs did and things such as that. I became the Treasurer for the National Association of Broadcast--$$National Association of Broadcasters?$$No, no, no.$$NABJ [National Association of Black Journalists]?$$NABA [North American Broadcasters Association] I think it was. Anyway the org--national organization of those who were in my kind of job and across the nation. And we had a couple of--$$You became what?$$The Treasurer.$$You were the Treasurer.$$Yeah, and NBACA [National Broadcast Association for Community Affairs] maybe, National Broadcast Association of--I've forgotten the rest of that title, but it was people who were in, in public affairs at stations across the nation. And we had several meetings in, in Vail, Colorado and that was nice. And all kinds of stuff like that, that I would not have been able to do on my own.