Julius T. Freeman, a decorated Tuskegee Airman and auto enthusiast, was a regular visitor to Nassau County, often going to schools and other venues where he talked about serving in the military and his battle for national civil rights.
Freeman, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, died Friday of a heart attack at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream. He was 89.
Born in 1927, Freeman trained at Tuskegee, served in Europe as a medical technician and later was posted to the 332nd Medical Group at Lockbourne Air Base outside Columbus, Ohio.
After being discharged in 1948, he said he became the first African-American car salesman in Ohio, selling the Hudson Hornet.
“He visited his home in Lexington, Kentucky, for a bit and then went to Brooklyn in 1954,” said his friend Joe Martin of Lakeview. “He went to numerous car dealerships and found no black salesmen were being hired. He ended up working at the Empire State Building from midnight to 7 a.m., emptying garbage pails.’’
Eventually, Martin said, Freeman got into sales at a Hudson dealership.
“His sales motto was: “Get Tomorrow’s Car Today, Drive the Freeman Way.” Then, Martin said, he became an “Automologist,” selling and redesigning cars for Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Jackson, Rose Morgan, Hector Lopez, Dick Gregory, Clyde Otis and Pee Wee Reese.
He spent about 63 years working at various dealerships. In 2015 he was in a TV commercial for Honda of Valley Stream.
He was grand marshal for the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Long Beach in 2012 and led the parade for the county’s renaming of part of Oak Street in Uniondale to Tuskegee Airmen Way in 2012.
In March 2007, he was among the Tuskegee Airmen who, as a group, received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.
Martin, who was almost like a son, he said, attended the event as Freeman’s guest because the airman’s wife was not feeling well.
On Jan. 20, 2009, he and the other Tuskegee Airmen attended President’s Barack Obama’s inauguration as his special guests.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Julius Freeman, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black aviation combat unit in World War II [and] . . . a trailblazer,” Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos said.
“He was one of our true national heroes . . . he helped preserve the legend of the Tuskegee Airmen by serving as an example of living history,’’ said Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who visited Freeman in the hospital last week. ‘‘He selflessly gave of himself by teaching students and helping senior citizens . . . We are grateful.”
Freeman is survived by his wife of 53 years, Dorothy, two daughters and a son.
Freeman’s body was cremated. A memorial service will be held Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at Springfield Gardens United Methodist Church.
At a later date, his ashes will be placed above ground at Calverton National Cemetery.
CORRECTION: The location of the hospital was incorrect in previous versions of this story.