African-American Oral Histories
Clip 3: Transcript
Integration And The Army
Running Time: 6 min 31 sec
CU: The military units were integrated, and, as far as anybody could tell, they were pretty much integrated. There was, for the most part, that is, your military duty, [coughs] there were all kind of guys in every unit, you lived in the same barracks, you eat in the same dining hall, you marched together, you did all this together as a military unit..
It’s not like it is now. It was, the army was, women were separate from men. So you had all of these men. They gathered, what did they do? They played ball, did this kind of thing, and all lived in the same barracks. There was no, then when people were off then everybody went their own separate ways because everybody outside the post things was not the same. This was in Alabama where I was, you know (laughs). On the post, we had, our teams were integrated. And there was no problems with, with our activities as soldiers. I never had any, any direct problems. I think there were some cases you know, I heard about. I never, I never actually experienced, I’m sure it happened. A number of times, people got into fights, and people using derogatory words or whatever, that kind of thing happened. But for the most part, what we did as soldiers, you had lights out at ten o clock, and you got up early in the morning and you went to breakfast as fast as you could so you could get back on time. Then you shipped off to your duties whatever it was. Then you started that all over again. So it was not much of a problem and most of the social interaction was just sitting around, like a group of men sitting around kind of a deal, talking about football or playing softball or something. You know, it was that kind of a deal.
In Fort McClellen, Alabama where I was, though, you had service clubs, the NCO clubs called them, noncommissioned officers, service clubs where, you could go play games, whatever, that kind of thing, play music, have dances, that sort of thing. Those service clubs were during the day also and pretty much during most of the week, were completely integrated. Everybody just went in and you could buy beer, or whatever, soda, you could play music, they had ping-pong, whatever, kind of games you had. So, and there were no problems with that.
Now where the, where the problem that remained there at Fort McClellen was that they would periodically, and I don’t remember how often that was and I don’t remember whether it was always—seemed like it was always like on a Saturday night, a weekend. They would have dances and they would, it was like an NCO, not NCO what do you call those things, American Legion kind of a deal. They would bring busloads of women from the towns, onto the camp and they would have a dance. Well what they did, was they segregated those. There were two, well, where I was the WAC training post as well so you had a WAC service club and the men’s service club. So what they would do they would have Anglos at one of them on that weekend and at the other they’d have Blacks. They didn’t want the intermingling [laughs] of the women civilians who came from off post onto the base.
I think the problems always came in where there were male-female interactions. You had that, integration of folks where--in fact we virtually had a riot there one time early on when I was in Alabama. This was not, this was in one of the service clubs over a guy and a girl who were both from California, just had known each other in high school and they ran into that and here they were away down in Alabama, she was in the WAC and he was in the army. He was Black and she was white. And they ran into each other. They were just in high school together. I don’t know if they were even that, great a friend, they knew each other, you know? But here you from California and now all of a sudden you’re way down in Alabama and you run into someone you know, so you talk to them, you know? And they were not at this time, they were not dating or anything, they were just talking. So they were just sitting at the same table, at this little beer, “X” it was called at that time and boy it was something. Some guys just couldn’t take it, got hot under the collar, we almost had a riot, in fact did have a fight. You know. So you had that and that, I, I was in the middle of that [laughs]. I was there. I wasn’t in the middle of starting it, but I was in the middle of the fight because everybody that was there was in it. It was like a riot. But you had, you had that and that’s the only open incident that I know of that happened then and that was fairly early on as I recall. I don’t know if that was ’54 or ’55.
So anyway, it was our group that pretty much, I say our group, one of my friends actually was the ring leader and pretty much the one who caused the big commotion over that. A number of us were supporters of that, there was no active part in it but anyway, that was the thing that was broken up, during that time that I was there. And what happened of course was like what happened in many other cases. They just eliminated the dances for a while. And that went on for, I don’t know how long, some months, maybe a year. I don’t know how long it went on, but anyway, they just dropped that whole activity. And then they started gradually sort of having smaller functions that were integrated. And then by that time I was gone. But that was the one remaining thing that I know, know of, that was, that was obviously a separate, quote, separate but equal situation in the army in 1954.
“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”
Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.
Date of Interview:
February 23, March 9, 2004
Lower Colorado River Authority, City Council Room, Lake Austin Blvd., Austin, Texas
Sony Mini Disc MZ-R50 with stereo microphones; 80-minute minidiscs