October 20, 2003
Hanson: This is an interview with Mr. Carl Clemons at his home in San Bernardino. This is Joyce Hanson. This is October 20th, 2003. Let's talk about your family.
Clemons: My father was born in Macon [Georgia]. And my mother was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina. That was back in the 1800's. And they were married in Akron, Ohio. That's where I was born on October the 15th, 1923. Just 2 days ago was my 80th birthday.
Hanson: Oh. Happy Birthday.
Clemons: Thank you. So we lived in Akron for about a year and a half or two years. My mother had asthma and that climate back in Ohio was cold and humid and it was not conducive to good health. So then we moved to Los Angeles, but was still damp in Los Angeles. We just stayed there a short period of time. And then we moved to San Bernardino because it was dryer in San Bernardino. That was about 1926. So I've been living here ever since. I kind of think San Bernardino as my home, not knowing too much about Ohio, the Buckeye state.
Hanson: You've been here a long time. Tell me more about some of the earliest things you remembered about San Bernardino and growing up here?
Clemons: San Bernardino to me was a nice little town. You knew everybody. We first lived on 6th and Harris Street. That's one block west of I Street and that's where the Santa Fe railroad came down. Everybody that lived west of I Street, to Mt. Vernon and from 5th Street to 9th Street, you knew them. The churches were located in this area, and we lived across the street from St. Paul AME Church, on the corner of 6th and Harris. And on the corner of 7th and Harris was New Hope Baptist Church. All were in walking distance. Those were the only two minority or Black churches in San Bernardino in that time. I first went to school at Harding Elementary School. And then in 1930, when my folks bought property out here on 1940 West Baseline, we moved here and I went to Mt. Vernon School. Back in those days, and I've always told people that the school system has never been segregated in San Bernardino. You went to school in what district you lived. When we moved out here I lived on the north side of Baseline, therefore I was supposed to go to a school that was located on the north side. But my folks had a restaurant downtown and also my father worked downtown. So we had a special dispensation from the Board of Education that I could go to Mt. Vernon School. I went to Mt. Vernon Elementary School and Sturges Junior High School. There were only three junior high schools in those days: Richardson, Sturges, and Arrowview. From Sturges I went to San Bernardino High School, which was only one high school in those days. [laughing] So there was a close relationship to your neighborhood and even people around in San Bernardino because they all essentially went to one school. But, the problems that arose in San Bernardino was, I think the most serious one was employment. The opportunity for good employment for everybody was not here, it wasn't equal. My mother had graduated from Clafin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She taught school in South Carolina. When we moved to San Bernardino, California, she couldn't get a job in the Unified School District. They wouldn't hire any minorities. And then my father was a mechanic and he couldn't get a job as a mechanic. So he worked as a janitor at three banks. And my mother had to do domestic work. She worked for Senator Ralph Swing and some of the others.
And those were the things that really affected you; that the educational process allowed you to go to school, and I'll just bring that in when talking about education. In high school the counselors encouraged minorities to take terminal courses. The terminal courses were courses of home economics and marriage and family. And the boys took wood shop and auto shop because they said that when you graduated those were the only type of jobs you could get. They never expressed and told you if you're mobile, get your education, if you're mobile you may have to go to New York or any of the other places. But their thinking about getting jobs in this community. So those who had a dream and the parents really were concerned, they said, "No, my child is going to take a college preparatory course!" You know taking Algebra and Chemistry and those types of courses in high school. The time would come some time down the road where you would be able to get a job. But the educational environment was there for you but there were stumbling blocks in the way. And I guess that was just part of life back in those days.
Job opportunities, when I graduated from high school 1941, I applied for a position at Santa Fe railroad. They were hiring. But they were labor positions. My mother and father had passed and my Aunt that I was living with, she said, " I'm going to give you instructions now when you go to apply for this position." When you go in to see the Superintendent. You walk in and you stand. You don't sit down. You wait till your offered a seat and sit right up in front. Sit up straight and answer the questions," you know. But she was doing that to provide me with a good opportunity to be hired. So I started there in 1941. Then I went into the service in 1943 and came back out of the service in 1946 and went back to the Santa Fe shops and I received a machinist apprenticeship. I was the first African American to become a machinist apprentice at Santa Fe railroad in San Bernardino. So then there's been firsts like that as far as.... But it was funny but back then you would get 52 and one half cents an hour. Can you imagine that? You multiply that by eight hours, that's just what, four dollars and something a day? I think the highest wages paid as a machinist were around 65 or 70 cents per hour. You survived by compulsion.
Hanson: When you came in did you have opportunities to move up in grade? Or ...
Clemons: At the Santa Fe?
Clemons: Yes, but this is where the difference came. On one side of the shop area there would be Hispanic and Black workers. That's when the engines came in and you had to strip them down. (The first day you were there you would get through and you go home and you'd take a knife and you would scrape off all the grease.) And you would put all the parts in a big lye vat. Once the parts came back and were clean then they went on the other side of the track for the whites to work on. They work a week without dirt on them. So those were some of the things that were holding you back. Then finally after the war the opportunity to progress and go through and getting higher positions were available. You weren't called machinists. You were called differential machinists. There was a difference. The pay was different, the position were you worked was different. Those were some of the things you had to endure being a minority.
Hanson: You said that after the war things changed. You had more opportunities. Why you do think that happened? Is that something that just the war changed it or do you think there was a push among the people here to change things?
Clemons: Well I think it was a push among the people that were affected because they said, "Well, I am not going to this." You don't want to bring in discrimination you know all the time. But in some of the restrooms they had signs for white only. So when we came back we tore those down. No, I went in the service. I am not going to take this. And nobody put them back up. And so applying for the, for example I applied for the apprenticeship. Well, during that period of time, I went to Valley College. Came back and had my service experience, had my Associate of Arts Degree. So I applied for the position. It was hard for them to deny me. I had military service, I had an Associate of Arts Degree, graduated high school and so why? What can you do now to keep from...? And so I was accepted into it. Before there was always some excuse. You have to have this, you have to have that and you don't really have that. So those had brought about some of the changes.
And going back, when I was growing up again a lot of my friends were white. And we'd go down to the Sun Company to get a job delivering paper on our bicycles. Well they would hire my friends, but they would not hire me. I couldn't deliver papers. Okay. When they wanted to go to the YMCA. I couldn't go to the Y. When you wanted to go to Perris Hill Park and go swimming, you could only go swimming on Monday because they was changing the water on Monday and then you couldn't go during the week. You had to wait until Monday came around again. Now can you imagine living in the conditions like that? There was one of our legislators had an article in the paper about, how going to Perris Hill Park in the summer months and how it affected he and his brothers and his friends, that there was an outlet for them. They didn't have to get into street gangs and crime because they could go up there swim and participate in the sports that were available. Now compare that with those who didn't have that opportunity and then they turned out all right. So what would have happened if they had the same opportunity? And that was even up until the...I guess that was until the 40's. '44, '45 you know until the change came about. So those were a lot of the subtle problems that were had here.
Housing. You weren't discriminated against but, the opportunity to buy property was poor because, you didn't have the good jobs, so you didn't have the money to buy property. Then you lived in a certain area with your friends and so nobody said you have to live there. Well you lived there because of your own free will and opportunities. Now when my folks bought the property out here there were only three Black families that lived west of Mt. Vernon. The Joe Green's, the Inghram, and the Jackson's. And then there was the Clemons and then it was far enough out here that there wasn't any gas that ran down the street. No bus or anything like that. My mother got a petition and presented it to the gas company for them to install a gas line down Baseline as far as California [Street]. So we used to call it out in the country. Baseline is a busy highway now. When you were kids you could play out in the middle of the street. Wouldn't get run over. But those were some of the things that you faced then. And then now, and I'm kind of jumping around....
Hanson: That's fine.
Clemons: Just applying to what I was speaking about. I was on the Advisory Committee for the Sun. Okay. Before I couldn't deliver the paper but I'm helping to advise what articles should be in our newspaper. And then I've been on the Advising Committee for the YMCA, Executive Board for the YMCA, and the Community Scholarship Association. I was Chairman of the Planning Commission. Now I'm on the Police Commission and Human Relations Commission. I am saying all these organizations, where you were denied being a part of, now your right up into the administrative part of it. So you can see the change.
Hanson: Yes, it's been a tremendous change. About what proportion of those Boards are minority and white?
Clemons: There are...the members or commissioners that are appointed by the counsel person. So we have seven wards, so there are seven appointed by counsel. And then you have two appointed by the Mayor. And that's about nine, so, in the 6th ward it is predominantly Black so you normally have a Black. Then in the 5th ward or 3rd you have Hispanic but it's pretty well diverse, you know by the ward you live in.
Hanson: Okay. I wasn't sure how these people got on the boards. So it's appointed?
Clemons: On the boards yes. You're appointed by your counsel person and most of the boards you can advise the mayor and common counsel on... Then I was on the County Grand Jury. I've just about ... all that you would... and during that time when we were growing up the Blacks that worked at the county were running the elevators and janitors. That's the way it was in those days but you see now there all in the....The District Attorney is Hispanic. Mike Ramos is Spanish. Just about every department.
And also going back to employment on the woman's side they could work at Harris' polishing silver, polishing jewelry, taking the clothes you try on to get them tailored, but then couldn't be a sales person. What was the reason why? Well they felt that if a person of the other persuasion comes in, they would not let you to sell to them they want you to show the item to them. And so I was on the Labor and Industry Committee of the NAACP. That was in the 40's. We tried to get them to change their manner of thinking and hiring practices. They said, " Well now, if Harris' will do it", Harris' was the leading department store, "we'll do it." And we'll hire clerks and secretaries in the civil service over the city or with the county, if you will bring some that are qualified. So we got together and got young ladies who had typing experience and clerical experience and those who had worked at Norton Air Force Base. And they passed tests and they reluctantly began to hire one here and however. And those were some of the problems you had to overcome. The way to do it is to present yourself as qualified. You hate to go down there and they ask how many words a minute can you type, they say my hunt and peck system isn't there....
Hanson: I still use that hunt and peck system.
Clemons: Yes right. Over the years, and during those depression years, it was hard because jobs weren't available too much for any body. Santa Fe Railroad was the primary place of employment. The war came along and that is what made the change. There was a need for people who could work. The young men were going into the service. Industry needed workers. Kaiser Steel opened in Fontana and Hanford Foundry in San Bernardino, then Norton Air Force Base and equal employment opportunity changed. Once the employment changed then you can't go back, you have to go forward. I can't remember any serious racial issues that happened in San Bernardino. One faction against another, big serious you know. They had problems between everybody but not because of. Segregation was de facto segregation. You were segregated because of the fact of you live over here. So it was something, so it was my hometown.
So I got married in 1949 and we were married 52 years. My wife just passed two years ago. It's funny but you can't find too many of them but I've lived in this house for seventy-three years. Very few people you can go to and they've lived in one area, one house all their life. So I've seen the transition, the change. And I was kind of mad they built Arroyo Valley High School because I said I had to walk all the way up 18th and E Street. [phone rings] Living here it has been quite an experience, I've seen the change.
Hanson: This used to be very rural out here. And now while were sitting here you can hear all the traffic going by.
Clemons: Right. Just continuous. We have the new Arroyo Valley High School that was just built. We have Martin Luther King Junior High down the street. We have Rio Vista Elementary School that was just north of here. It's grown, the general plan for the city was supposed to go west but then it changed. It went south down by Central City Mall area and Hospitality Lane and that area. I've seen Norton come up from nothing into what it is and back to nothing almost again. It started at the Orange Show, located on 3rd and Mill Street. That's where the Army Depot was and then it changed and then it took on the name Norton, after Norton who was from San Bernardino, died in the service. They named it after him.
Last Friday I had the opportunity and pleasure to be at the ground-breaking service of Juanita Blakely Jones Elementary School. They asked me to do a little tribute to her. Again I reiterated about not being able to follow your dream in the school system here and how long it took for her, being a minority, to have the opportunity to teach. She was the first Black teacher in the San Bernardino Unified School district. And we also have Dorothy Inghram. She was the first Black teacher in the county. It really showed where now the teachers could instill in the young people that once you set your dream, you can complete it, you can fulfill all of your desires. And here are the good results, here are the end results. The school is named after a person that had the heartaches and problems and look now we are honoring her for her achievements, Juanita Blakely Jones.
Hanson: It's a good way to show kids that there is room for progress.
Clemons. Dorothy Inghram has a library named for her. And her brother has a school named for him, Howard Inghram. When he went to school and got his Doctorates Degree, he had to practice down in El Centro. We didn't have any Black doctors here. When he practiced he could not be apart of the, what is the, on the board of what is...the board of the hospital. He couldn't perform operations. He couldn't, wasn't on the staff. If he had a patient, he could take his patient and use the facilities but he wouldn't be on the staff for any one that came in and needed an operation, say a woman that was giving birth to a baby, he couldn't do that.
Hanson: So he didn't have those privileges?
Clemons: He didn't have those privileges. It was back in the 40's, I think where becoming a lawyer, you were a lawyer. You could practice but your practice was limited. You were limited to practicing just in the minority community because the other races wouldn't come to you. So then therefore you had to go someplace where you business could build. Those were the hardships that you had to endure. They survived.
The property that I live on now is kind of historical because the original Spanish land grant came through here. The Rivera's and Alvarado's who owned property got their property through that process. It was way in the country. Their family used to live just next to our property. When I was kid I would go over there, and their grandmother would tell me stories of when she was young. That if they wanted to go to Los Angeles, they went in a horse and buggy. Luckily, they could get to Ontario, stay all night and get up and go further on down towards L.A. This area was historical. The family that she was from, they owned the property. I think his name was White, he was from Ireland. Came over and got the property from the Spanish Land Grant. It came from Cajon pass, down this area to Colton. During the period of time it was sold and Colton gave up a lot of property for the water rights and we gained. Traded, because San Bernardino always had enough water. So there was history. The reason I know, when I took California History at Valley College, it had that in there and I was like "Oh, my goodness." You know.
Hanson: Interesting to find out what was here.
Clemons: Right what was here. And then I would go back and talk to her and verify it and confirm. She would tell me about when they would go to San Pedro and down in those areas. Up on the hill, you know the hills. They would call it...oh I forgot the name of that fast....Point Fermin. The smog would come in and it was not fog but it would be smog. The same things we're having now but they didn't have automobiles. So it was really strange that the same conditions, air pollution, come in like we have now. And it wasn't contributed to all the automobiles and the industrial plants. I think it was called the Devil Wind or something like that. And she would stand there, one time they could hardly see hardly the ocean. And the next day they could see all the way out to Catalina. And it wasn't fog it was the smog. Where it came from they didn't know but they thought it was part of Indian folklore or maybe the gods or something.
Hanson: That's interesting.
Clemons: Right. Right. It was. It was a part of the...
Hanson: Let me stop this and we are going to flip the tape over.
Tape 1, Side 2
Hanson: How active was the NAACP here after the war?
Clemons: It was active, really active, trying to bring about a change, a progress. They had a big hill to climb. Finances were one of the biggest problems because they needed legal support, legal aid. And you had to pay a lawyer. Most of the money that comes into the NAACP comes in through membership drives, contributions. You needed legal assistance because any time you have an allegation of whatever, discrimination, you have to have somebody to take it to the court system. There is no such thing hardly as mediation. And then we didn't have strikes during those days. You tried to do every thing through mediation and through the legal system. So that was one of the big stumbling blocks, that was, you know, getting lawyers. But they would work in conjunction with the Fair Employment Practices Bureau.
Hanson: So they would link into the Federal agencies?
Clemons: Right, right, right. That has established some recourse.
You know during those times you had to have a job. You had to work. So you accepted things because you had to have income coming in, you know. And, I don't know its... maybe the word acceptance is a good word because you had to accept. But now you don't have to, we don't have to. There are other recourses and we have support. We've got physical support. You got members and people like the March on Washington and things like that, that will support us. And then bring it about awareness worldwide. The news medias helped, but you didn't have that support always from the news media. Maybe because the story wasn't worth it, you know, because, you know it's the dollar that controls. There wasn't any financial effect. Now again economics, if you're really protesting something, it's going to affect you economically. Now if I was protesting the signs in the Santa Fe railroad, that says," For White Only", you know. The next thing they say is well you don't want to work here well...
Hanson: Yes, there was always that.
Clemons: There was always that. You know going back to part of San Bernardino history. You know in the theatres, when you go to the theatre there was a certain section that the ushers would guide you to, you know. If you didn't want to do it and contested it they wouldn't bother you. But again you accept, you know it wasn't that bad. When go to the Ritz you'd sit on the right hand side of the theatre. When you'd go to the West Coast Theatre, they'd want to steer you to the balcony or on one side. And it wasn't force, it was traditional, you know this is the way it was. And then the war came along and the kids and the young people said, " I'm not going to sit on this side. I don't have to." If you didn't sit on that side before, you'd have a verbal confrontation, " I'm not goin' to do it," and then disturbance. And then after a while then they would want to put you out because you caused some problems. But after the war you'd come and sit there and they wouldn't say anything. They wouldn't say anything to you. But those are the things, can you imagine, people had to live with and then try to survive and try to be good citizens.
Hanson: Well it's degrading. Psychologically it hurts.
Clemons: Yes, yes. It does. It really does. It affects you. It affects your children. And how can you instill values in your children when they're running up against those who don't have those values of "Love thy neighbor as thy self."
Of course when I came along there weren't a lot of minorities here. When I graduated from high school in 1941, there were only three African Americans that graduated, at that time in my graduating class because there weren't that many here. But there was a difference in the school because students kind of divide themselves economically and socially. If you were a doctor or lawyers kids you were always better. They had at San Bernardino High School a group that called themselves Ad-Steppers. Those were in the elite, they all gathered socially in front of the high school. And I went to school with Bob Holcomb, the former mayor, and then Cathleen Gentry whose father owned the Sun paper. Just naming those to show you the class distinction. And then there was a distinction between them because I guess that's just part of human nature.
Hanson: Yes, I think the class distinctions are everywhere, you know. Even in minority communities you still have class distinctions.
Clemons: Yes. That's what I was saying, they had it. Even in the school system now they think, "Why are all the Black over there?" Well, you're more comfortable. I know Susie, or I want to date her, or I know Jim, we play football together. But if have things in common, you associate with them. I don't know, I never did feel that because I had things in common with so many different races. The mayor, Mayor Valles, I went to school with her brothers and they used to have the home supply down on 5th and Mt. Vernon. They supplied groceries and so forth to those who worked the Santa Fe around there. It was almost like the old country store in the Mid-West.
Hanson: Oh, yes. Kind of a general store?
Clemons: General store, where you go and you get what ever you need and at the end of the month you pay for it, or pay on it. (laughter)
Clemons: Her family and then there was the Zanone families. And then there was a mixture, San Bernardino was a good mix. But there weren't that many Blacks living on the other side of I Street. But that was because they bought a house and their neighbor said, " Oh you live over there, well find me a house," you know. But after a while division spread.
Hanson: Yes, kind of naturally divides.
Clemons: Right, right. But it wasn't like, "You can't cross the tracks, you can't live over here, you're not going to live over here."
Hanson: Right. So if you had enough money you could buy over there? No one would stop you legally?
Clemons: Yes, Yes. No legally they wouldn't stop you if the realtors would sell the area. It was what do they call it, red line and things like that. Economics again! For an example, if you bought land and built a home in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and I'm speaking about Caucasians, and then you wanted to sell it, who could you sell it to? You could only sell it to Blacks because the Caucasian's are not going to buy a house in the Black area. You know that's economics. Money. Money is the whole control... and the way the area was here in those days. Or even now I guess.
Hanson: Yes, it's still happening. I live up in the North end and we have a very racially mixed neighborhood, so maybe it's changing a little bit. I think your right. I think the majority of people. It's not changing for the mass of people. It's just a few people.
Clemons: Right, right. It's just a few people. What they are trying to do is better themselves. If it were a nice neighborhood they would like their house in the same area. And if it was in a poor neighborhood you wouldn't want to build a two hundred thousand dollar home next door to a house that is fifty-thousand dollars. You're just not, because of the depreciation of your property. But I always say if your not going to sell it what difference does it make what they say on paper.
Hanson: Exactly. [laughing]Clemons: A hundred thousand dollar difference, I'm not going to sell, what difference does it make. But again, the opportunity is available to buy property now, where as before it wasn't really available. And they would always find some excuse not to sell to you, or rent to you. You go to the realtor and they would say, "I just rented it." And actually they didn't, but they felt that if they rented it to you, then pretty soon your friends would move here. Then they would find out after a while that it didn't make any difference, you know. I'm going to cut my lawn at my house to look as good as anybody else's, you know. And just because I am a minority, doesn't mean I am going to park my car on the lawn and all of that. You can see it, you can go down to the corner and you can see well-kept housing.
But I think San Bernardino was in a way a good small town to grow up in. The opportunities came later. But I did think San Bernardino had quite a bit to offer. It was always a blue-collar community, as I said Santa Fe railroad and Norton Air Force base employed most people. And now we are trying to change by bringing high tech in here. You've seen what happened in San Bernardino when the industry went down. You know it's almost embarrassing to go downtown, and to look downtown now. And when you bring somebody in and they say, "Where's the city?" And then you say, "We'll we have to go down to Hospitality Lane or out at Inland Center". And to me, putting a lake in the middle of San Bernardino is not going to bring people in. It's really not going to, to me it's not. When I was in San Antonio at the River Walk. I said "Wow, why don't they put a river right out here from the wash that come out from the pass?" Rialto could use one side of it and put motels and housing. San Bernardino could use the other side. You wouldn't displace anybody, you'd have control the water and be in a rural setting. You're going down town, you're going to displace people. You got to have housing for them. Then what are you going to put around the lake. You know, then your going to have more morticians to take the dead bodies out of the river or something in the water. [laughing] You know the theatre, I don't see how that has brought about a change. And San Bernardino parking, now parking diagonally. This was in the paper. The rational. Well you go down the street, if a car is parked diagonal you have to slow down. Then you will want to stop and go shopping in the mall.
Hanson: Didn't work.
Clemons: No. when we were young, our parents on Sundays would drive down town, and we would park parallel to the street. And you'd sit in the car and would watch the people go by and in the stores. You know it was like entertainment for you. It was busy.
One more going back to how we had to live, for an example, bowling. We had one bowling alley that was south of Harris' Department store on E Street, between 2nd and 3rd. We could go and bowl on Sunday morning only and we'd have to set our own pins. And at 12 o'clock we were not allowed to bowl anymore. And we couldn't bowl again till next Sunday. So a friend of mine and I went to a lawyer, his name was Mr. Knoff. And he said, "You have a good case but I can't take it." (He was running to be a judge for the county.) He said but if you can get you a lawyer out of Los Angeles who would handle discrimination complaints, you probably could win it. For us, and we were young kids, we didn't know any thing about getting a lawyer and all of that. We thought maybe we could get support from a lawyer's telling the bowling company, the alley, that you can't do this, it's discrimination and there could be a lawsuit. But he wouldn't get involved because of his position and the position he was trying to get. And that was John Knoff. He became a judge, you know. And these things I'm telling you, not because somebody told me but because I've experienced it.
Clemons: I know first hand. Those were some of the ... you have to bring in some of the negative with the positive.
Hanson: Of course, of course.
Clemons: Because that's the way life is. But as again San Bernardino has the history, had the history of this was the county seat for all outlying cities that would come into San Bernardino and the courthouse. It was called mingled. Now on the corner of 3rd and D Street, that's where the city hall and the police station were. Two blocks down on D Street was all prostitution.
Hanson: The Red Light District.
Clemons: The Red Light District. As you go down, east on 3rd, to where the courthouse located, that's were the Chinese lived. And they had Chinese lottery right there where the parking lot is between the courthouse and the hall of records. People come from Los Angeles to play the Chinese Lottery. Five cents for tickets or whatever the price was. And so it was the good and the bad. And during the war, why it changed. The mothers of San Bernardino said they were not going to allow the young men in the service to come to San Bernardino and be subjected to you know. But it was controlled by city officials, there was a law that said the prostitutes had to go and see the doctor and get a physical exam every Monday and come back with their certificate. During the war the houses of prostitution were closed.
Hanson: Yes, it was a way of controlling vice.
Clemons: Right and controlling disease to. You know venereal disease. So San Bernardino had a diverse culture.
Hanson: I've had people tell me about the Red Light District. At the same time they tell me San Bernardino was so safe, there was no crime. It always surprised me that you could have this vice district and the Chinese. And one woman told me there were opium dens in that area and yet every one felt so safe. (laughing)
Clemons: Right, right. I guess they would catch the streetcar and go back the other way.
Clemons: We used to have streetcars that came down D Street. San Bernardino in the general plan has made changes. At one time the general plan said that development will go west on Baseline, and then it was changed to go in the opposite direction. It was going north on E Street. Then it changed, finally it changed and went south. The part down there in the southern portion is strange because that was the area where all the water came through from Lytle Creek and Warm Creek when we had the big flood in '38. That's when all the water congregated down by the Orange Show and we had a big flood in that area. And when Inland Center started developing we said, "Why are you going to put it down here. My goodness you're going to get flooded out when we have a big flood." But you know they have controlled that area.
Hanson: I am fairly new to the area but I still hear that if there is a big earthquake, that's the part of San Bernardino that will go away because the water table is too high.
Clemons: Right and they've had problems with the water coming up in to the county buildings and the city buildings. This is one thing like I was telling you before, we had a trading issue, we traded water for property and rights you know, because we've always had water. We've never had a problem of water, thermal water, too.
Hanson: That surprised me when we moved here. I was told that we would never have to worry about a water shortage.
Clemons: Shortage. Because you know when we had that big flood in the '50's or '60's, I can't remember the exact year, it came down through the wash across Baseline and I have movie pictures of trucks and the cars tumbling you know as the water came down through the area. It came up all around our property here. About one foot, two foot high. We started to pack up and leave. We put everything on top of the beds and stuff and then it dissipated. We didn't have to leave, but it was quite a scare.
Hanson: Let me ask you a question. I've heard a story that during the Watts riots in '65, that some of the grocery stores and things would put kids up on the roof with rifles and things. Do you know any thing about that?
Clemons: No. I don't know any thing about kids on the roof. I'd imagine maybe a few of them had their own protection because they were anticipating some big problem. There was only, there were only about one or two areas where they had a little problem down on Mt. Vernon and Baseline and Medical Center Drive. (That was Muscot.) That was when, quote, unquote, they were saying they gave the firemen rifles and shotguns. But I think it was for their own protection, not to go in there and shoot people. And it didn't last very long. They were expecting it to spill over you know, here. And it didn't, it really didn't.
Hanson: It seems like a long way to spill from L.A. to San Bernardino.
Clemons: Yes. But, when something happens then you don't distance yourself. Because it was a race issue but you would think of L.A. and then where's the next largest city would be San Bernardino. You follow what I am saying? If it is happening in LA it may spill over here.
Hanson: Yes. So you're looking at it as a city phenomenon?
Clemons: Right, right. And then you'd try to associate different things that have happened here with LA. The 1402nd combat engineers were called up and that was a reserve unit. They were predominantly Hispanic and Black. They were called up and went down to the Watts area in Los Angeles, in South Central Los Angeles, and patrolled. So there was a relationship between what's happening in Los Angeles and San Bernardino. And then you are always going to have some that are going to try to start problems wherever. But as far as having kids up on stores roofs. There was only three or for little isolated incidents that happened, you know especially on this side. I didn't hear of any kids on roofs with guns.
Hanson: Okay. I was just curious. Tell me about some of the awards you've gotten.
Clemons: Oh. I received, I just got a Humanitarian Award in September. Which I thought I was honored for all my commitments and affiliations and associations over the years with the different organizations and committees you know in San Bernardino and my church. But then you get all types of awards from all your council people and then you get them from the senators and you get them from congressmen.
And then I received numerous awards when I worked at Norton Air Force Base. I started at Norton as a warehouse man, because when I was at the Santa Fe, they had a transition from steam engines going out and the diesel engines coming in. When that transition took place, employment was cut in half because you didn't need boilermakers, you didn't need painters, you didn't need those who had worked on the steam engines. It was mostly the mechanical and electrical. And I had just received my apprenticeship, four years and graduated. Then they were laying off according to seniority. I had to give up all of my other seniority to take an apprenticeship. And I said, yes I'll give it up. But when your seniority, when the layoff comes those who have the oldest in seniority they stay around. So I wanted my apprenticeship to become a machinist, so I gave that up all my other seniority. So then when they started laying off, I was laid off. But I had applied out at, put in an application in out at Norton. They had a warehouse position open and I went out there and applied for it. All I wanted to do was get on. From there I went into the welding shop. And from then I became a, ended up becoming apart of the Equal Opportunities Counselor, for the base commander. I handled all the discrimination complaints for Norton Air Force Base. So I stayed there and retired, you know, from Norton. But the opportunity was there any time it came along I would, you know, take it and try to progress and go up. So I was trying to tie that in with, there was a question you had asked.
Hanson: (laughing) The awards.
Clemons: Oh, yes. And I received numerous awards from Norton for reducing the discrimination complaints and processing them in a short manner of time. And before that, awards for outstanding performance in Civil Service when I was working for the warehouse or working in base supply. And, pictures so after a while you think my goodness where can I put all this? All my drawers are full you know.
Hanson: Well you've been really active in the community.
Clemons: Yes. Over the years I could see the need to be active. I guess I've been lucky to be right there where you can see how to get around the stumbling blocks. You know, don't move the mountain, show me how to go around it. Cause sometimes they put them so high that you can't climb over, so you have to go around them on the other side.
Tape 2, side 1
Hanson: Lots of awards. You've been really active in the community and church things. Let me ask you this, do you know of a group called the West Side Action Group? Have you ever worked with them?
Clemons: Yes. Not really been involved in them in it. Their purpose is a good valid one. Those who lived on the West Side, kind of hit a stone wall because most of the members in it don't live on the west side. That was one of the, "Wait a Minute, how are you going to tell what it needed in the West Side when you don't [live here]?" But here is a group that is for promoting good relationships, promoting the community, you know. But I can't say anything negative about someone that's trying to do something that's positive. It originated by residents that lived on the West Side but its membership is citywide.
Hanson: Oh, okay, I see. It's group I've heard of, so I was just curious.
Clemons: Right. And it has more of an advisory capacity. They have no authority, no power. And a lot of time you have organizations that don't have any power you try to say well, "You know, really what good are you?" You need power, you need to act. You take NAACP, they have power because they're nationally known, recognized, they have the backing of the United States government and the people. And the Urban League you know. And this is a local organization, but being local doesn't matter as long as you have power and do something. Produce, you know. The West Side Action group is a recommending body. And a lot of the organizations that are here are only advisory or to advise the mayor and common council. So, I've never been a part of that, I've been a part of just about all the rest of the... American Legion, Post 710, I was a charter member of Post 710. I've belonged to NAACP, been a member of that. The North West Project Area Committee Pac, Neighborhood Housing Service, just about any of them. It's funny when you get involved with one, there's always seem like they want you to be a part of something else, you know. Community Against Drugs, Youth Advisory Board for the mayor, I.C.U.C.
Hanson: So when do you sleep? (laughing)
Clemons: Yes, between the football games. Being involved it seemed like the time avails itself to you sometime, but you can't belong to an organization just to have your name on the roll. You know, you have to be...
Hanson: You have to be active.
Clemons: To be active. Be apart of it, otherwise there.... And that's what some of the committee that's.... You know I don't want to be on a committee just to come to a committee meeting and listen to the minutes and roll call and approve it. You know and then you go home. Unless were going to do something there's no purpose of being a member of it. It kind of helps after my wife passed, she was supportive of my involvement you know, whether it was because I wasn't home as much I don't know. But now there's another difference, there's nobody to talk to when you come back, what happened at the meeting, what is going on. You know and you're here talking to four walls or whatever. That makes a lot of difference. But if a person wants to do something positive there are opportunities. Again organizations in San Bernardino have been receptive in listening. But you have to go there with a solution to the problem. You know you can't go and say we have a problem and ask them to resolve it. You have to go with a resolution and then you mediate between the two and come up with the most plausible one that will help.
Hanson: I think that's a great attitude because a lot of people when they do form groups, they go and say this is a problem, you fix it. And that doesn't get you anywhere.
Clemons: Right. Right. It really doesn't you know. In our Human Relations Commission a problem came before us, oh, it must have been about a month ago, when some young ladies were shot over in Lytle Creek. The two divisions, Black and Hispanic, needed to come together. You have to know why there's a problem. What's causing the problem? You know, before you can try to resolve it. And then you find out what the problem is and then you come up with your solution. And then you meet and then that's how you.... But you go up and they say what are you going to do, and you say well I don't know I'll have to come back and talk to you? You know, you try to get all that, lay the groundwork. I don't think it was totally racial. There's some other problem that came in. But, and it's not because of the Black and Hispanic, that's the way the world is. Good example is the Jews and the Palestinians. You know, you stay over there and I'll stay over here and don't you invade and then you know if you invade you move back. Well you need to learn each other's culture. Learning your culture doesn't mean that you want somebody to...you know. I knew the solution and we know the solution and we can resolve it. So the same way that here, in that area they were predominantly Caucasians that have lived up there years ago, very few Hispanic and no Blacks. Then the Hispanic moved in, that's their home and now the Black are moving in. And, "This is where I live are you going to come and take over now. You know you can't come and take over my land. You go back to where you [were]." South Central Los Angeles was predominantly Black for years and then the Hispanic came in and Blacks moved out. And you talk to a lot of Blacks, and they say, "Wow, Central Avenue, I won't go on Central Avenue, I know what's going to happen down there." The Hispanics are going to run you out. In the white neighborhood, you know the Black are moving in. The whites say, "No, they're not going to move over here, but how can we keep them out." First, don't sell them the property. Second, if they move, burn them out and then put crosses up. You know, you're invading my sanctuary, my comfort zone. But I want to live just like you. Yes but I, you know. So that's a part of, I think that's a part of the world. But you can overcome it, you know but you have to have the right solution that both will accept. And then over a period of time you will accept it. So they wanted to meet, I said well, "But we need to know what we're meeting about and how we can resolve it. If we're going to be a mediator we need to know how we can resolve it. And if we don't know how to resolve it we're not doing anything." And then you know it now, you can't wait six months and go back. They can't even remember what the problem was.
Hanson: Yes, short attention spans. Let me ask you a question, Fontana is close to here and Fontana was known back in the forties and fifties for their Klan activities. Was that a problem here in San Bernardino, did any of that spill over?
Clemons: Just very small amount, you'd hear it every once and a while. You see Fontana and Rialto was predominantly white. When I lived here there was no Black lived in Rialto, none what so ever. In Fontana, they live in a certain area, they sold them property all north of Baseline and Highland. There was one area in Fontana that they started building. And the houses they were building were called owner built homes. Here's the property and we'll put up the framework, but you have to complete you own home. And then the Klan came to Fontana and I don't know whether it was because of the steel mills, most coming to work in the steel mills were from Kentucky, Tennessee, from the mountains and the hills. And, somebody from Kentucky comes out and then he calls and writes and he tells his brother to come to California you know. So the Klan, was vivid, they would have signs up there. And some of them that with the word, "N I----, don't let the sun catch you." Meaning you can come through but when it gets night you'd better move out of there. And it was that way up in Tulare and Bakersfield up in that area, too. There wasn't very much Klan problems that moved down in San Bernardino. I think I only heard of a couple of incidents. One was on Baseline and I Street, there was an African American that owned some property up there and there was a cross placed on the property. There wasn't a house there but they heard he was going to build up there. But as far as any friction or fractions of the Klan coming here, you didn't hear too much about it. But it was predominantly in Fontana.
Hanson: Yes, I knew it was predominantly out there, but I was wondering since were so close.
Clemons: Right. Right. Right we didn't have, they didn't come in and get a foothold or anything.
Hanson: That's good.
Clemons: (Long Pause) I came to a...
Hanson: You came to a halt. Came to a dead end there. (laughing)
Clemons: Right. Well, I mean as far as you know covering most of those things.
Hanson: Okay, that's fine. I can't really think of anything else that I wanted to ask you.
Clemons: There are a lot of things that contribute for an example, again education is good, fine, but you have to have jobs. And San Bernardino is not producing the type of jobs that are needed for the young people that are graduating from Cal State. I went to their graduation, when they honored Dorothy Inghram. And to see all of those that were graduating, and you were thinking about jobs here. You would like to see them come back into the same community and put back in the community.
Hanson: Right you'd want to see young people stay here because that's what's going to revitalize the community.
Clemons: Right. Right. Because I don't see, then I think it some of own fault, where do we have doctor's offices, complexes or lawyers here in San Bernardino. You just don't see it. Again I guess there just has to be the need you know. And like I was saying that in the South you'll find more Black businesses. Black doctors, mortuaries. But that's through compulsion. They were compelled to have their own because they couldn't go anyplace else. Here you're not compelled, I don' t have to go. I can go any place I want to. May not get the best treatment but I can go. So the compulsion, you know. Restaurants, where are they?
Hanson: Yes, there isn't the incentive her to build a Black business community.
Clemons: Right. Right. And those who have the opportunity to do it don't take advantage of it. So that I can recite some of them that are in business and cafe's and barbershops. They don't even own the building they're in and they've been there 20, 30 years and they're renting from somebody. It's Black but they don't expand. I don't know what the reason for it is. It could be leadership or I don't know. I don't know.
Hanson: Could just be the economic climate, too.
Clemons: Right. Right. But, again you have to go borrow money. And they're saying well now if you fail, who else is going to come in, you know. Who else is going to come in and take over. So that I may be suffering a loss, you know I go in and invest money into have a beautiful building for you to go in and then it fails.
Hanson: I think that the corporate culture takes away from a lot of that small business because it's hard to compete.
Clemons: It is. It is and everything is competition, you know competing. And putting back into the community, a lot of people don't feel that they have a responsibility. But those who have made big money, if they could have a vision that, " I could put back into the community and also would help me and then." Magic Johnson is one person that really does, he's involved in so many things.
Hanson: Yes, I think that's what's changed a lot, particularly in the Black community, because my research is in early 20th century. I do work on Mary McLeod Bethune. And her thing was always to give back to your community. And she trained the students in her school to give back to the community and I think that we are lacking that. And not just in the Black community, in every community. All groups of people. Today kids aren't interested in what they can do for the community. They want to know how much money they can make when they graduate.
Clemons: Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Mostly what really gets you is reading magazines like Ebony and Jet. You'll see all the millionaires. There are a lot of millionaires, Black, but you don't hear much about them. You hear all about these football players, basketball players and that's all the kids think how they can become multi-millionaires in sports. They show all 14 Mercedes Benz, and 6 of this and 6 of that in their garage. But once they make it, they don't put back into or invest it back in the community. It would help them and help the community, too. Then you invest it in the community and you say, "Wow, I need to have an accountant, you know I need to have business managers, I need to have cooperate lawyers."
Hanson: One thing grows off the other.
Clemons: That's right it's like a domino affect. Boom. Boom. Boom. It will affect everybody. Maybe through education. But most of these young kids and especially these rappers and stuff, they're sixteen and seventeen years old and they don't have that goal.
Hanson: They're young. They're just kids.
Clemons: Right. And they don't have that formal or even that advanced education. So there's a need.
Hanson: Any thing we haven't talked about that you think we should? I am just trying to think about all of the things we talked about. Which have been quite a few.
Clemons: Yes, it has. (laughing) We talked about early years in San Bernardino, the school, you know jobs. Wages were low and opportunities were scarce. I don't know what it would have been like if Norton hadn't came, because it has touched so many lives in San Bernardino. Just about every one you talk to had a part of Norton, especially the Black, you know, either because they came in the service or they had a job at Norton. That had been a part of San Bernardino.
Hanson: San Bernardino really didn't have an industrial base. I mean no industrial jobs here. They were in Fontana and out.
Clemons: Right. San Bernardino was the county seat not an industrial town.
Hanson: If you weren't given a job in a government office, there wasn't much else.
Clemons: In the late 1930s during the Depression there wasn't much else for you to do, except menial labor. People used to go to Bakersfield who wanted to work in the fields during the harvest time. I know when I went to school the Hispanic would come to school late and I mean in October. And when they would come back their hands would be stained Black from picking walnuts and the stain would be in there for months
But unemployment was the predominant holdback of people that wanted to really advance. As I said the lack of leadership, when you would have problems or looking for a job, you would go to W.S. Johnson. He worked as a custodian for the county courthouse. His sons went to college. One son was the Dean of Law at Howard University, one was a doctor, and one was a dentist. But they all left San Bernardino. But they had the drive. And their family life was so strong that they were going to get an education. And as I said of Juanita Blakely Jones' family, all of her nieces and nephews succeeded. One became superintendent of schools in the Jurupa school district in Riverside, and one is a Professor who teaches at Redlands University. We have one of the young men is a dentist, his brother Ed Blakely ran for Mayor for Oakland. Now he's back in New York, he's a Dean at a university back there. But their aunt laid the groundwork for them and showed them what the need was and now you see the results. And one niece was a director of one of the educational programs in the San Bernardino Unified School District. Joanie Blakely. And this is what we need, family and parent involvement, we need it at the elementary school level when the formative years of the young people are so important and the parent has to be involved all the way. They have to go to PTA meetings, they have to see that the kids do their homework and that the teacher is spending quality time with the children. By you being present there the teacher knows you care. They look up and they never see you at school their priorities change. The parent has to live the life for the child to be able to follow.
Hanson: Okay, I think we've covered a lot of material. So I thank you very much be a part of this.
Clemons: If there is any more I would be willing to present it.
Hanson Okay, well if you think of any thing else, let me know.
Clemons: And also you know if I'll get that video I will let you use it. If you think it's worthwhile. You know going back to my time, lack of employment and low wages was such that your parents could not afford it, you could go ahead and try to get an education. Of course in San Bernardino if you went to Valley College you had to go to Redlands, because there was no Cal State. But it was difficult to pay for that tuition, almost impossible.
Hanson: It was a big hardship.
Clemons: Yes. Right. Right. So when you got a job. Wow, I got a job, and I was going to try to stay on it and try to do the best I could. And you know, most of the people that worked at those jobs, the result was shown in their home and their family, family life. Economics has a lot to do with the environment that you live. Not saying that everybody that is living in that lower economic class will have a negative effect on their life. But it helps to have a good income.
Hanson: Oh yes, it helps if you have the income because then you can buy books. You know, you can send your kids to a school, you can get them special things that they need. It really makes a difference.
Clemons: It makes a difference. And you can be a part of it. You know reading to the kids and they get involved in reading. But if you don't have time and you're struggling, and also some problem coming up, family problem, social-economic problem. When you don't have the money, it's a hard position.
Hanson: It makes it really hard.
Clemons: Right. Right. Again advantage of the opportunities that are available and it's not going to be one hundred percent solution to the problem. But at least it will help it. And then you need people that are receptive to what the problem is and wanting to help. And not say I know some body else did wrong so I can't change it.
Hanson: It's not a question of placing blame. It's trying to move beyond and fix it.
Clemons: Right. Right. Right.
Hanson: Well we are at the end of the tape so I want to thank you again very much. It was really interesting talking to you.
Clemons: Well I'm glad.