(CNN)Roscoe C. Brown Jr., a Tuskegee airman and advocate for racial equality and education, has died.
Roscoe C. Brown Jr., Tuskegee airman, dies at 94
He was 94.
Brown, whose health has declined over the past year, died surrounded by his family Saturday at a hospital in New York, according to his daughter, Doris "Bunnie" Bodine.
As a Tuskegee airman, Brown was commander of the elite African-American fighter aircraft squadron, and is credited as the first U.S. pilot to shoot down a German military jet.
His experience fighting in World War II is chronicled in the 2012 film, "Red Tails."
"I like to say that the message of this is excellence overcomes prejudice, excellence overcomes obstacles," Brown told CNN in 2012 about his feat as a Tuskegee airman.
In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, Brown was among the Tuskegee airmen collectively honored with the Congressional Gold Medal by former President George W. Bush in 2007.
New York City Mayor de Blasio ordered flags to fly at half-staff for five days in his honor.
For years, Brown has championed for civil rights, and dedicated his life to improving education. He received a doctorate in education from New York University and served as president of the CUNY Bronx Community College.
City University of New York Chancellor James B. Milliken expressed his condolences on behalf of the university system.
"During his 17 years of exemplary service as president, Dr. Brown intensified the college's outreach to New York City's economic and educational institutions through partnerships with business and industry," City University of New York Chancellor James B. Milliken said.
"With his leadership, new programs were developed in high growth professions in the fields of health, technology and human services."
The NAACP Freedom Award and the Congressional Award for Service to the African-American Community are among the honors Brown collected during his lifetime of advocacy, service and education.
"In my generation, in the generation of segregation, there were many African-Americans who knew that we could do anything that whites could do, all we wanted was the opportunity," Brown told CNN in 2012.
His family said he was always supportive and full of energy.
"We learned that we had to be twice as good to get half as far but we learned not to give up and we could persevere," Bodine said.
Brown's granddaughter fondly remembers attending Yankees games with him.
"I didn't know how important he was until I was older," Lisa Bodine said. "When I was younger he was just my grandfather and we hung out and that's just what we did."
Brown does not want a "sad, dead body funeral," his daughter said. He wanted a jazz concert held in his memory, and the family plans to honor his wish.