Clyde Freeman was thirteen when the War started. As an African American, he enlisted in a segregated military in 1946 and was stationed in post-War Japan. Clyde worked as a Military Policeman and faced many obstacles due to the racism and segregation of the time. He also played in the military band, following the love of music he’d had since childhood.
Being a Military Police Officer During Segregation
Tell you one thing, it was so bad then. You had to have a white MP (military police) and a black MP travel together. Now, I couldn’t arrest a white soldier, I could arrest a black soldier, and vice versa. It was crazy! In a bar one time, this white soldier was beating up, two of them got to fighting, and they brought the fight outside the bar, and they both was white. So I wanted to help the guys, and [my partner] said, “Clyde, you can’t help these guys, I’ll take care of it.” Yeah, so he arrested them, both of them. I’m standing here looking. It was something else.
Before I went in the service, we had some German prisoners down in a place called Worton, like, going towards Lynch. Ever heard of Lynch? It’s Coopers Lane, there’s a big farm back there, Wayne Johnson’s. Well I used to work there to cut the grass when I was younger about fifteen years old. And I had about ten German prisoners, used to take them back in a truck and take them to the fields in the morning, and I’d buy cigarettes for them, you know. And they were nice guys, you know. And they had some down past Church Hill, on 213, on the left. They had a cafe for them too, yeah. These guys down on Coopers Lane, about ten of them I think it was, in the morning, I’d pick up the truck, go pick them up. They’d live on the farm anyway, came around the fields you know, then I’d get them cigarettes for them, carton of cigarettes. Nice guys, you know it was one of those things. One or two them did [speak English]. I remember one of them named Fritz, I forget the other names. Tthey were good, yeah. But, they never went in town, they stayed on the farm the whole time. ‘Cause if they go in town, they afraid they might escape. To tell you the truth I never really gave a thought about it too much.
No African Americans Allowed
I remember one time, I went to get a gasoline cap in an Army camp, Fort McClellan in Anderson, Alabama. Me and my buddy went to get a cap– they wouldn’t let us in the store!
“Go back! We don’t allow no niggers in here.” Right to your face! I don’t understand what he was saying. He said “I told you to get out of here, we don’t like you!” We in uniform, too, you know. He was something else, believe me. Yeah. Then you get on the bus. After you left Fort Mead going South, you’re together first to get to DC, then you were separated — all whites on one side, blacks on the other in those cars, you know, going down. That was something else, yeah.
The Man From Worton
I spent all of my time in Japan until I got a broken leg. And then they shipped me back to the states, but before that I played in a band overseas. They had an audition: about six different guys were playing the drums. I won a contest beating drums so I played in the band. A nd the night I was supposed to play we went out before I was an MP. After we went overseas, they made some of the guys MP’s from the company; I was one of the MPs. And then we went out one night to a club. We were supposed to play the next night, and we were drinking Japanese sake, and the Jeep turned over. I got a broken leg; it’s true, a broken leg. We were stationed up at a place called Sendai, Japan. You’ve heard of Sendai?
So they ship them back from Sendai to Tokyo. And I was in the bed about 3 days, the doctor came around. So the Doc saw I was from Worton, Maryland and said, “You’re Clyde Freeman!” I said “Yeah,” And he said, “You’re from Worton, Maryland? You know a lady named Lily Dickerson?” Now, I’m overseas in Japan. I said, “Yeah, I know her well, used to mow her grass.”
He said, “Well, I’m her son-in-law.” It was very fortunate. My doctor was her son-in-law; I knew his mother-in-law. I had it made. I smoked cigarettes, a pack of cigarettes every day. I had a good thing going, you know. So, [the doctor] said “I’m gonna get you back to the States on the next plane.” They had prop planes then. They was crowded. [I] couldn’t take it back, so then I came back by a ship to the States. So, then the ship was in San Francisco, California, Letterman General Hospital. I came to Letterman General. They sent me to Augusta, Georgia to the hospital. I came by train five days from San Francisco to Augusta. So, I was there for about 12 months in the army hospital with a broken leg. The leg would heal but it would heal like this (gestures at an angle). It would heal so we’d have to break it over. Break it over twice. So, then after I got discharged from there, that’s when I came home.
The 1954 Munitions Plant Explosion
We could lay brick with no problem, you know. Lot of people gave us jobs. Rescue Squad in Chestertown. We built that. The banks, all that. [The] Church going out of town on 213 that has the cross on it, I did that. I was on one side on the scaffold, and a white bricklayer was on the other side. I was on the left, he was on the right, building the cross on the church.
And that was when we had a terrible explosion in Chestertown. We used to have a Powder Plant here, blew up on a Friday morning about 10:30, 1954. Yeah, it was something else. Oh God, they left town. Everybody left town because they were afraid of nitroglycerin. And the Vita Food Plant, it was cleaned out. Everybody left. Oh, that day I was putting half of the cross in, up on the scaffolding. And a plane flew over first. A jet plane made a loud explosion first. We thought it was a plane crash. Then a second explosion was when the Powder Plant blew up. And after that, I jumped down. Everybody left town. I gave my aunt a ride. She was working at the [Vita Foods] Plant up there, and she was so nervous she couldn’t call my name. She said, “I knew his face, but just can’t call his name.” She was nervous, and she was peeling onions. She was a lady peeling onions with an apron on. She ran down the highway with a paring knife in her hand. [laughs] It was something else! Yeah, I’ll never forget that.
Segregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee
I couldn’t go into a lot of places. I couldn’t go in. It was my first real experience with that, when I left Fort Meade going south. From Fort Meade to D.C. We were all together. Whites and Blacks together. So when we left Washington, then we separated. Blacks in one car and whites over here in another car. And then we got into Chattanooga, Tennessee. We were supposed to get meals from the government. You know, the government had meal tickets. The whites go inside. We had to go out to a side window, all the black soldiers to a side window. Had a window on the side to get coffee or something.
Conducted July 7, 2017
Interviewers: Cherie Ciaudella, Cullen Joyce, and Maria Betancur
Conducted October 4, 2017
Interviewers: Alannah Carter and Dayla Williams