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Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Dad Decides to Become A Marine"

Clifford Primus had earned a great salary at his position at a defense factory. He sent money home to his mother in Florida on a monthly basis. He enjoyed the less overt racist atmosphere in his newly adopted state of Connecticut, which in the 1940s was a predominately white state that had small concentrations of people of color. As a teenager, he was able to buy a nice wardrobe, party, listen to jazz and the blues, and make trips to New York City. He was what you considered a handsome man, and by his accounts, "had to beat the ladies off with a stick." At six feet tall he was the shortest of four boys. Clifford had abundant energy, and still is very smart, personable and popular.
During these times, some young, able-bodied males were doing everything in their power to avoid being drafted into World War II. Some went as far as even shooting themselves in the foot with a gun. The movie, "A League of Their Own" depicts one of the main character's husband doing this.Others would pretend that they had a mental illness or moral issues to avoid being drafted. Certain religions cannot participate in war, and their adherents would be considered "conscientious objectors". Two decades later Heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, a member of the Nation of Islam, was banned from boxing for several years because he refused to register with the Selective Service* during the Vietnam War. His famous words were, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong!"


Chuck D, of the seminal hip hop group Public Enemy, rapped famously in the song, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos":

I got a letter from the government the other day
I opened and read it it said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me given a damn I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like me and myself
Because they never did.

And also......

"They could not understand that I'm a Black man and I could never be a veteran."  Writers: Carlton Ridenhour,William Drayton, Hank Shocklee, Eric "Vietnam" Sadler.  (Def Jam Recordings, 1988)



However..... Blacks in the 1940s were trying to boldly enter institutions and seek admittance to organizations that did not want them. Negros wanted to prove to the world that they were just as capable of integrating major league baseball, staying at hotels, owning property, attending colleges, etc. The US Marines were the last branch of the Armed Forces that held out in accepting African Americans. So a test was instituted in seeking recruits, just like the army's use of Negro pilots with the Tuskegee Airmen, as portrayed in the movie "Red Tails" in 2012.


Little did Clifford know that a trip back home to Daytona Beach, Florida for a brief visit would forever change his life. He met an impressive man by the name of James Huger, who informed him that the US Marines were looking for bright African American college graduates. They could not find enough college grads so they then sought  intelligent high school graduates. James Huger, now 97, was a commissioned officer during WWII and later became a Daytona Beach City Commissioner and Volusia County Councilman.

Particularly in the south during these times racism was blatant.  Grown African American men were called "Boy" to their faces and never a respectful title such as" Mister" or "Sir". Dad made the conscious decision to sign up for the Marines.  He also made it clear that he wanted to serve in the combat division because he wanted to make history.

*Selective Service-Per Selective Service Government Guide:  All male US citizens and male aliens living in the US who are 18 through 25 are required to register. In times of military crisis, a random lottery and or year of birth determines who is drafted.

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