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Tuskegee Airman represented best of Detroit, United Methodism

Alex Jefferson, American hero

Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a true American hero, passed away last month at 100 years of age, leaving a legacy of faith and service as one of the last Tuskegee Airmen.

Michigan Conference Communications

“We’ve lost a legend,” said one of those offering tributes, “but his story will not die.”

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a World War II prisoner of war and lifelong United Methodist, lived to see his 100th birthday before his death last month. On his birthday, the city of Detroit awarded him a key to the city and announced plans to construct the Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson Plaza in Rouge Park, where he played as a child.

During World War II he joined the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first group of African American military pilots, and was among the first to escort bombers from their base in England on bombing raids in Europe.  He graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field’s pilot training in 1944, then flew 18 missions before being shot down and held as a prisoner in Poland for eight months. He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1947, and retired from the reserves in 1969.

Jefferson was awarded the Purple Heart, Air Force Achievement Medal, POW medal, American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Reserve Medal, Armed Forced Reserve Medal, and the Bronze Star. The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Jefferson and the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 by President George W. Bush.

Dr. Jefferson with one of his students.
Dr. Jefferson became a science teacher after serving in the military during WWII. “Mr. Jefferson was my Science teacher at Pattengill Elementary, and he had the greatest impact on my life. I’ll miss getting to see him every August at Rouge Park,” said Kenneth Sharp. ~photo courtesy Kenneth Sharp via funeral home tribute page

After graduating from Clark College in Atlanta, he did graduate work in chemistry at Howard University and received a master’s degree in education from Wayne State University. He became a science teacher in the Detroit public schools and retired as an assistant principal in 1979.

Beyond his honors and recognitions, he was a man of deep faith and a long-time member of Conant Ave. UMC in Detroit. A family member said, “He knew his Savior, and he knew what his Savior wanted him to do.”

At Conant Avenue Church he was Lay Leader, Trustee, member of the choir, and director of the youth choir. He was on the committee which designed the current Conant Avenue church building with a vision for growth.

His former pastor and cousin-in-law Rev. Carter Grimmett says, “We’ve heard much about his history, the account of a hero, however many people don’t know about him as a man, as an African American Christian. He always lived his faith and knew who he was in Christ Jesus.”

Like other African American soldiers, Jefferson came home from the war and faced the inherent racism of the nation, but he fought for the principles he believed in even when he did not experience them. Rev. Grimmett said, “He never gave up hope.”

“Col. Jefferson not only represented the best of Detroit and our nation,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, “he represented the very best of humanity. Our city and our world are better places because of Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson.”

Jefferson was honored by the public during a time of laying in state in the Charles. H. Wright Museum in Detroit before his funeral at Hope United Methodist Church, Southfield, Michigan, on July 8, 2022.

His legacy of faith and service will be carried on in the lives of the students he taught, the youth he inspired, and the United Methodist congregation he served.

Last Updated on October 21, 2022

The Michigan Conference