Black History Month – Lydia Long

Black History Month – Lydia Long

I was asked to write my thoughts on West Texas and Black History Month. I greatly love the history of West Texas and particularly Camp Barkeley and its relationship with Abilene. Recently, I had privilege of attending the 2012 Martin Luther King Celebration In light of this year’s speaker being Lt. General Hawkins, Jr., I thought this letter from history from a collection of letters by African American soldiers during WWII an interesting contrast. I submit for your consideration, a letter from 1944 regarding the conditions at Camp Barkeley. Lydia Long, PhD. TO: Atty. Truman K. Gibson Co. Civilian Aide to Secy. of WarWhite House , Washington, D. C. FROM: Co. A 66th Med. Trg. Bn.M. R. T. C.Camp Barkeley, TexasFeb. 13th, 1944Dear Mr. Gibson:Your letter of the 20th was received and I must say it was received most cordially. {{more}}It proved evident that you are interested in acquiring equality in army camps.Camp Barkeley is one of the largest army camps in Texas and the only Medical Replacement Training Center in the south. We, approximately two hundred of us, were the first Colored to be stationed here, now however, there are roughly over five hundred of us. The latter of which will replace us since our training is nearing completion. None of our commissioned officers are Colored despite the fact that located here are Officer Candidate and Medical Administration schools. There are relatively few of our boys who attend these schools and those who are fortunate to finish are immediately shipped to Ft.Huachuca or elsewhere. Up until a few weeks ago, we could attend only one theater outof five on the post. This theater was an open air theater which we could only attend when the weather was favorable. By protest, we acquired the right to attend any theater of our choice but are forced to contend with being segregated. We have buses which are localand those that run to and from camp, on the local buses we are compelled to sit in the back, threaten by the drivers if we refuse. Despite the fact that buses run all day back and forth to camp at regular one half hour entervals, we have only three which we may ride. Our buses are crowded to the extent that it is practically impossible to close the doors and yet extra buses has been refused us. The camp provides army buses that carry soldiers to town but we aren’t allowed to ride them. Our sector is completely ostrasized from the camp proper so we rarely see the other group. Our living quarters are terrible being formerly C.C.C. barracks, located just in from of the camp cess pool. When I first arrived, our sector actually looked like a garbage dump in comparison with the rest of the camp. We spent three weeks cleaning the place before we could begin training. There is also a quarter master outfit stationed near us, this outfit was here at least six months before we arrived. It consist of no lest than nine companies. These nine companies,including our two, are forced to use a small post-exchange capable of convienely servicing no lest than three companies the most. The nearest post-office is the other side of the camp; approximately 2½ miles away. We have one service club shared by both divisions. It is poorly equipped having nothing but writting tables, a pingpong table and a piano. We don’t have a library, a chapel or a chaplain. We conduct our own services in one of the poorly constructed class rooms. We have had Joe Louis to give a boxing exhibition and two dances in the three months I’ve been here. We were told that if we wanted entertainment we would have to provide it ourselves.It was to my amazement, a short time ago, when I had the opportunity of visiting the German concentration camp here at Barkeley to observe a sign in the latrine, actually segregating a section of the latrine for Negro soldiers, the other being used by theGerman prisoners and the white soldiers. Seeing this was honestly disheartening. It made me feel, here, the tyrant is actually placed over the liberator. Many of the existing conditions we discussed with our company commander but to no avail. Being himself a Texan and probably accoustomed to the maltreatment of Negroes, we find it extremely difficult to obtain his assistance. I was severly repremanded by the company commander, one afternoon, after a class on court martial, for asking “To who could we, as Colored soldiers turn to if we were innocently maltreated.” He asked me to be specific. I spoke of the treatments we received in town, on camp buses and theaters. My question was very diplomatically ignored and after class, in his office, he called me a trouble maker and gave me an order not to even discuss the subject with the other fellows, who were aware of the existing conditions as myself. There are many reasons in my estimation which makes our company commander, Lt. Schuessle unfit for leadership.About a month and a half ago, we had the exteem priviledge of having a Colored Colonel visit us, namely Hamilton Neal. At this particular time, we had practically no form of amusement, not even a service club. At this time the only way we could get to town which was eleven miles away, was to hitch hike or walk. Our only form of recreation was the outdoor theater in which even here we were segregated. Colonel Neal said nothing in the way of encouragement to us. We listen to him, of course, for we realized that his was a position rearly achieved by a negro. He spoke of his pleasure in viewing our i.q. records and told us we should be proud to be at camp Barkeley. I suppose Colonel Neal was sent as a moral builder but to us he competely failed in his mission, for we looked upon him as a figure head. Although we have trained under dire handicaps, we have made an excellent record. Our talent is some of the camp’s best, our basketball team, of whom much controversy was made before being allowed to enter the league, is now aspiring for first place. We have just returned off a ten day Biovauc and we received the commendation that our group simulated the problem of evacuation of casualties under battle conditions better than any group who have gone before us. If afforded the opportunity, we could be a great asset to the camp.I realize that as a soldier there is very little I can do in remedying the conditions that exist in the outside world. I am of the opinion, the undemocratic conditions that is in army camps are caused by prejudice officials and if the right sources were informed, immediate steps would be taken for correction. I sincerely hope that from the meagre information I have given you that it might prove advantageous in your ultimate objective, of course, in writting, I couldn’t tell every thing for fear of boring you or perhaps making you think of my possible exaggeration but I assure you, I have written only the concised facts.Sincerely yours,Pvt. Bert B. Babero :. , 220-238.)Feb. 13th, 1944