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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Jim Crow segregation and the military

Gordon describes what it was like to be in the military during World War II, stationed on the home front in McDill Field, Florida. Because the military was still a segregated institution, Gordon explains that African Americans lived in separate camps. In this anecdote, he describes a scenario in which the bus driver transporting troops from the base to town refused to pick up the black soldiers. In response, Colonel Wright, the white southern commander of the black soldiers, confronted the bus driver in support of his troops. In describing the situation thusly, Gordon reveals interesting tensions regarding Jim Crow customs and individual resolve between a southern community and the military.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
Did you ever hear during those years of any incident in the military where a large number of blacks were killed in a fracas at an Army base and it was hushed up?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I didn't hear of any killing but there were fights and skirmishes.
JOHN EGERTON:
This particular one was in south Mississippi around Centerville, Mississippi, Camp Van Dorn.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Vaguely I did hear something about that.
JOHN EGERTON:
I was just curious to know.
WILLIAM GORDON:
But, I did cover where they did have conflicts. At McDill Field every weekend, Saturday in particular, the Army camp had a private organization trucking firm that picked up the soldiers and took them into town. It was a big bus. The blacks were stationed in separate camps in those days. The main gate and the headquarters base was about a mile up the way. They had to come through that gate to go and pick up people to take them into town. Well, on one occasion which I saw and I was involved in, the truck kept coming in that gate picking up the white soldiers and coming back. By the time it got to the back gate it was already filled and there was no room for the blacks to get on. This happened almost half of the morning. One of the soldiers said, "go and get a hold of Colonel Wright. I didn't know at that time but Colonel Wright was the head of the black troops there. He was white from South Carolina. He was a full-time Army Colonel and he probably had more experience than most generals they had out there. They went and got him and he wanted to know what the problem was. The soldier said, "this bus keeps going up on the base picking up all the whites coming back. By the time it gets back here there is no room for blacks at all." When the next bus came he was there, the guard on duty at the time, the MP, and he said, "this bus doesn't go any further in this gate until you pick up these soldiers. You take these soldiers into town from here." The driver refused to do it. He said, "either you pick up these black soldiers and take them into town or this bus doesn't go any further." The guy said, "you can't talk to me like that, I'm a civilian." So, he reached up and grabbed this guy by the collar and gave him a couple of kicks. I saw this, I was there. He threw him off the bus and he pulled that bus over to the side and sent to the motor pool and got about a dozen of these carry-all trucks and came back and picked up all the black soldiers. He personally assisted some of them getting into these trucks to go into town. I was one of them. Nobody touched that man when it came to his soldiers. I often think about that. He wasn't a northerner, he was a southerner but very firm in his convictions about that.