I ran into Waterloo's Harry Clifton Crockett on a 1943 Des Moines Sunday Register "open forum" page while researching Chariton's Richmond brothers, five young black men who served their country during World War I and World War II, but in racially segregated units.
Like Booker, Thomas and Henry Richmond, Harry Crockett was among Iowa men drafted separately from their white brethren during World War II, then assigned to all-black support units commanded by white officers. Harry completed basic training in California and his unit was assigned there for a time --- then transferred to Camp Gordon, Georgia, where he ran head-on into Jim Crow.
Born Sept. 29, 1913, in Water Valley, Mississippi, Harry was brought north to Waterloo as a child by his mother, Katie, and had graduated from Waterloo's East High School in the early 1930s, then gone on to attend Iowa State University. When drafted, he was engaged in defense-related works at the John Deer Tractor Co. in Waterloo.
Harry shared his experiences in the Army and in the South with his fellow Iowans on The Register's "Open Forum" page of Sunday, Aug. 15, 1943, under the headline, "A Negro Soldier Wonders If There is One God for Whites and Another for Colored Folks," as follows:
To the Open Forum Editor: I was inducted into the Army on Jan. 22, 1943. Prior to induction, I was employed at the John Deere Tractor Co. in Waterloo, Ia. --- building defense tools and using my wages buying War Bonds, contributing to the Community Fund and other meritorious institutions, and paying the many taxes levied as the result of our participation in the war. From the Camp Dodge Reception Center, I was transferred to the desert wastes of California where I received my basic training. There, with the treatment accorded me, I felt proud in being a soldier in the Army of the United States.
A troop movement that terminated in Georgia has changed this feeling of pride to one of bewilderment and disgust. Now, the only reason I know I am a soldier is the fact that I am wearing the government issue uniform.
Incidents experienced en route to my home while on furlough have raised the question: For just what am I fighting? While waiting for the train in Augusta, Ga., I attempted to procure something to eat at the waiting station (which was the only available place to eat at that time of night), and was told that I, because of my color, could not be served in the main eating room.
To get food I had to go around the building, into the back door, and pass through a maze of other entrances. My exodus ended in a poorly-lighted, foul-smelling room with unfinished slabs for tables and benches for seats. Ants and flies dominated the area --- struggling for possession of the crumbs and bits of food particles that littered the table as well as the floor. The menu gave me my choice in sandwiches --- as the waitress would not serve me, a Negro, a meal.
HOW MANY GODS?
Most revolting has been my experience in attempting to worship on Sunday. I was informed that here Negroes and whites were not allowed at Catholic masses together! And there had been no arrangements made for a colored mass, which caused me to wonder if there were not two Gods, one for white and one for colored folk, and one for the North and one for the South.
In this respect I wonder what the fathers of this country who came here for religious freedom would thing of our religious setup. Well, religious suppression is but one phase of the injustice and ingorance that exists in the South.
WHY DOES HE FIGHT?
I wonder for what am I fighting? Physically, I am as healthy as the white soldier; intellectually, I am as intelligent; morally, I am as clean. Yet, because of the color of my skin I am made the object of segregation, discrimination, and religious intolerance.
Am I fighting to preserve the tradition of the South which makes me a social leper?
Am I fighting for the preservation of these unwholesome customs of ignorance?
Am I fighting to pass on this blighted heritage to those of my race who shall follow me? Signs that read, "For White Only," "No Negroes Allowed," have the same significance as Nazi Germany's "Juden Verboten."
MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY.
White Americans, when you accord only lip service to the tenets of "Four Freedoms," "One World," "The Bill of Rights," etc., you make a mockery of democracy. In not practicing what you preach, not only do you live a lie but render neutral the colored soldier who is an excellent fighting man, who has given the fruits of his labor and is willing to give his life blood of his body for the only country he knows. --- T/5 Harry C. Crockett, Hq. Det., 432nd QM Serv. Bn, Camp Gordon, Ga.
Not long after his letter was published, Harry and his unit were deployed to the European Theater of operations where he served honorably from Dec. 6, 1943, until Dec. 6, 1945. His honorable discharge was given on Jan. 30, 1946.
After the war, Harry moved from Iowa to Los Angeles where, during 1948, he married Ruth Bullitt --- and prospered mightily.
In 1953, the Crocketts joined Holman Methodist (now United Methodist) Church --- early members of what now is a large and vibrant Los Angeles congregation with a predominately black membership.
Here's a little information about Harry, taken from the congregation's online history: "...for nearly two decades, he served as the treasurer of the congregation, keeping meticulous records of all the financial transactions. Using his accounting skills, he also served on fundraising campaigns as well as in other capacities that could utilize his business acumen. He also volunteered with the Braille Institute."
Ruth Crockett, "was devoted to being membership secretary for many years, keeping a careful diary of individual family members, recording each marriage and baptism. Mrs. Crockett also organized Holman's breakfast club at her home between services. Like her husband, Ruth Crockett volunteered at the Braille Institute as well as the Boy Scouts of America."
Harry died in Los Angeles on April 23, 1990; Ruth lived on until 2004.
When Ruth died, she left the couple's home to Holman United Methodist. It was sold for $348,000 and the proceeds established the foundation for the Holman Permanent Endowment Fund. The Crockett Library at Holman also commemorates Harry and Ruth.