[Transcript of interview with Arby Hambric by Claytee D. White, September 23, 2015]. Hambric, Arby Interview, 2015 September 23. OH-02481. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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An Interview with Arby L. Hambric An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White African American Collaborative Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ©African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2012 COMMUNITY PARTNERS Henderson Libraries Las Vegas Clark County Public Libraries Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries Wiener-Rogers Law Library at William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas Las Vegas National Bar Association Vegas PBS Clark County Museum Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers, Editors and Project Assistants: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White, Stefani Evans. 11 The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada Las Vegas in Preface Arby L. Hambric Arby L. Hambric’s book entitled, “To Thee I See: From picking in the fields of Texas to cooking for dignitaries on U.S. Navy ships, a journey I wouldn’t change,” describes his profound journey from working in the cotton fields as a child to being drafted into the U.S. Navy, before completing high school. During this interview, he recalls the significant achievements of the “Red Tails” and the Tuskegee Airmen. Beginning his 20 year Navy career before military integration, Arby describes the racial tensions that plagued the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, and discusses how he was able to successfully navigate that racist environment for two decades and three war eras. Arby enrolled in San Diego State College after leaving the U.S. Navy. He also worked as maintenance personnel for Sears and Roebuck and started a catering business with his wife. He became a member of the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community, SNEC Board upon moving to Las Vegas, Nevada, after his wife died. With a family legacy he can be proud of, Arby highlights the achievements of his great grandson Taquan Mizzell, a Virginia Cavaliers running back at the University of Virginia. As a Navy veteran, Arby often volunteered his time and resources to help others in need. He recalls driving the sick and elderly back and forth from the Westside community to Valley Hospital or University Medical Center, UMC. He also discusses government enforced road closures and a wall that was built to block Blacks from entering the new downtown. This interview sheds new light on military integration and offers key strategies for overcoming environmental racism. Arby mentions a documentary about the closing of the wall and offers his predictions on the future of the Westside. IV Table of Contents Interview with Arby L. Hambric September 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Claytee D. White Preface....................................................................................iv Recalls early life in Texas; oldest of three children; recalls working in the cotton field before being drafted into the Navy; mother was a maid; describes humble family living quarters, located in the backyard of the house his mother worked in; recalls having chickens, rabbits, and pigs in the backyard; recollects mowing lawns and washing windows; recalls school activities and playing football. Attended Methodist Church as a child; now a Baptist Church member. Went up to tenth grade in high school before being drafted into the service; describes the book he wrote entitled, To Thee I See: From picking in the fields of Texas to cooking for dignitaries on U.S. Navy ships, a journey I wouldn ’t change.............................................1-8 Describes the racial climate in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s; recalls the Holocaust that occurred in Mississippi in 1940; recollects serving in the Navy for 20 years; recalls where and how he met his wife; one son together. Great-grandson, Taquan Mizzell, now plays running back for the University of Virginia................................................................8-17 Recollects life after the Navy; jobs held, such as, maintenance personnel for Sears and Roebuck; enrolled in San Diego State College; recalls military integration; the “Red Tails” and the Tuskegee Airmen. Relocates to Las Vegas; recalls being on the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community, SNEC Board................................................................17-31 Recalls taking people back and forth to Valley Hospital or University Medical Center; describes road closures and the building of a wall intended to block Blacks from the new downtown; recalls a documentary about the closing of the wall; offers his predictions on the future of the Westside.............................................................................31-45 v African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project Name of Narrator: Name of Interviewer: We, die above named, give intcrview(s) initiated on 7) WH-ne c Jo/lie (viral Hist mWo/5 raj Hjslory Research Center of IJNLV, the recorded along with typed transcripts as an unrestricted gift, to be used for such scholarly and enucatioiial purposes as shall be determined, and transfer to the l 'niversily of Nevada I as Vegas, legal title and all literary property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude the right of the interviewer, as a representative ofllNLV, to use the recordings and related materials for scholarly pursuits. I understand that my interview will lie made available to researchers and may be quoted from, published, distributed, placed on the Internet or broadcast in any medium that the Oral History Research Center and IJNLV libraries deem appropriate including future forms of electronic and digital media. There will Ik no compensation for any interviews. Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, NV 89154-7010 702.895.2222 This is Claytee White. It is September 23rd, 2015, and I am with Mr. Hambric at the West Las Vegas Library. How are you this afternoon? Fine, thank you. Mr. Hambric, I want you to pronounce and spell your name, please. Arby L. Hambric; A-R-B-Y, initial L-E-E; last name Hambric, H-A-M-B-R-I-C. So Mr. Hambric, we're going to get started by just having you tell me about your early life; where you grew up, how many people in the family? I had two sisters. I am the oldest of the three children. I have one other sister rose Lee Haynes, which she's a Haynes now. My youngest sister, Mildred Busby, I lost her about three years ago. We grew up in Teague, Texas, mostly. We were bom in Centerville, Texas, but we moved to Teague, Texas in 1938 and we lived there even until this day; I mean as a hometown where we live. I would like to say this since, then, if you're saying that. I was in the cotton field for sixteen years before being drafted into the Navy in 1945. So I don't want you to go that far because you were born in 1925. Twenty-six. You were not born in 1925? No. So a few minutes ago you told me it was 1925. So it is 1926. Nineteen twenty-six, right. So November 24th, 1926. Yes. So you will be eighty-nine this year. 1 I got confused on that television I was watching this morning. Twenty-five on Yogi Berra, but me '26. Yes. So tell me about Teague, Texas. What was that like? You worked in the cotton fields. Yes. Beginning at what age? I would say six, seven, eight years old or something like that working in the cotton field and prior to that working in yards. There was no industry in that particular town at all. So that was all for us to do was to do yardwork, housework, to help with Mother and things like that and live in quarters and things of that nature. So describe the quarters to me. The people where we lived and my mother worked for, we lived in the quarters behind the house all the days of our life mostly until I went into the service. Describe the house. Maybe it might have been two-bedroom little house behind the house from the people that we lived in and we worked for. So tell me how far away from their house was your house? It was right in the back. So are we talking about feet or are we talking about...? How far approximately? Well, I would say in the backyard. It was in the backyard. So what else was in the backyard of the house? Are we talking about chickens and other things back there as well? Yes, yes. So describe it to me. 2 Yes, we had chickens and other little animals, rabbits, squirrel. That was the about the size of it as I can remember or recall. We had pigs in there, yes. So what did your mother do in the house? Maid service, cook and serve three meals a day. Did any of the children, your sister or your brother or you help your mom? No, no, because we worked in the yards and things like that. So tell me the kind of work you did as a young boy. As a young boy, the only thing I did while Mother was doing that type of work in the home and things like that, I would work out of the home for various, different people, taking care of their lawns, flower beds and things of that nature and mowing their lawn and washing the windows and things like that and doing other types of cleaning. Did most black kids grow up like that? Yes, yes, yes. So what did you do for fun? Other than school activities, playing ball and things of that nature, what we did for fun, still with us this day, shoot marbles. Other than that shoot a little pool and practice sports in the afternoon. Sometimes we would do something like that. What kind of ball games were you playing? To tell the truth, as little as I was—that's why they call me "Poor Pig"—I was playing football. I was the one always got hit and knocked down. So they said, "Well, you're a poor pig.” Up until this day some of them at home call me that right up to today. Even yesterday I had a call from someone from Teague reminding me of the homecoming service there on the fourth Sunday in October and wanted to know if I was coming down or things like that. I had said, "No, because 3 I'm on an honor flight and I'll be in Washington, D.C. the second and third of October and I was returning on the fourth.” What is an honor flight? An honor flight is a flight that's given for military veterans and retirees. They go to Washington, D.C. and they spend two days. So they get to observe everything there, what is the National Cemetery and all of the malls and all of the museums and things like that and all of the buildings. To tell the truth, in 1954 or '58,1 believe I was back there for a short reunion to read twenty names off of the Vietnam Wall. So this will be my first time going back there in this regard, in that way. So you started to tell me about you were invited to a homecoming. Is that connected to a church or a school? A church and a school, both. I was invited to both, yes. So was the church connected to the school? No, not necessarily. The reunion that you're being invited back to— This year is the church. So tell me about that church. Is that the church you grew up in? Yes. What kind of church? Methodist Church, United Methodist Church. I attended Sunday school there and all the services. I'm a member of the Baptist Church now for the last forty years, fifty years. I'm pretty sure you heard us talk about BYPU. Things like that. So when I grew up as a child in Teague, Texas, I spent at BYPU at that particular church and they were combined with the Methodist Church and 4 the Baptist Church on that. That's about the size of it. So did you finish high school? No. Tell me how far you went in school and what happened that you quit. I went to the tenth grade in high school in Teague, Texas. Later I drafted out into the service and things like that. I spent the rest of my years and things of that nature in correspondence courses, but I never went back. Did they draft you out of high school? Yes, yes, yes. That was legal? Yes. Were other high school students that you knew drafted? Yes. What about white kids? They were drafted, drafted and volunteers. So this is World War II? Yes. So how old were you when you were drafted? Eighteen. Tell me about the military service. Where did you go? For my military service, when I left there I went to Dallas, Texas for the draft board with the notice that I was to be inducted in Dallas, Texas. From there, after I passed the physical and everything else—I went through all of that for a couple of days—I was sent to Bainbridge, 5 Maryland. That's where I took my original training, I believe about twelve weeks or maybe fifteen or something like that in Bainbridge, Maryland. As you know or probably would know, segregated. So the blacks had one particular place where they would stay, eat and train and things of that nature. I never will forget even on the bus when I left training from Bainbridge, Maryland to go to Tacoma, Washington, and that was to put the ship in commission here— Tell me which ship you're talking about. The U.S.S. Palau, CVE-122, which I am a plank owner on that ship right today. What is a plank owner? A plank owner is one that you put the ship in commission and you was aboard that same ship when it decommissioned and went out of commission. So I was onboard that ship for five years. So you went into the Navy? Yes. I thought the Army was the only one that drafted people. No. Go back to 1932 or something of that nature, no, the Army wasn't the only one that drafted then. But there was a certain thing when they were drafting a lot of those or had those volunteer things going on, a lot of times they wouldn't accept blacks in either one. Now, if you were like how we grew up and you were working for someone on a farm or something like that or in their home, just like that, in that kind of an area and that kind of atmosphere, if they got ahold that you wanted to be a volunteer and things like that they could stop it right there. Also, if they found out that you were being drafted, they can say, “Well, this is my...well, N.” They used to use that, and that would stop it right there of you being drafted. So we're talking about in the 1940s? Yes. 6 White people could still say, this is my "N” word? Yes, yes. And it could prevent you from going to the military service if they wanted you to stay there and work for them? Yes, yes, yes. I'm glad you asked that because something I'll tell you. If you want to get into that...This happened in August 14th this year was the seventieth anniversary of "The Spirit of '45" of all of those that went in from '45 to August the 14th this year was "The Spirit of'45," and they was having an anniversary celebration for them down here at Blue Diamond and I went. Through that—I guess I have to get to this—that's where the honor flight came in because I was there that day and they chose me and asked me did I want to go to Washington, D.C. on an honor flight. So who chose you that day? Do I have her name with me? But someone in Blue Diamond? Yes, yes. I did have her name. Is she a politician or someone who lives in Blue Diamond? No, she worked for...What's that company, healthcare? I can't think of it right now. But that's how you got onto the honor flight. Yes, yes, yes. So now, getting back to being drafted in nineteen...forty-five? Forty-five, yes. You told me that you went to Maryland for your basic training and then you were on the way to Washington and you stopped to tell me something else. So you were going to, what, 7 Tacoma? When I left Maryland, yes, I went to Tacoma, right. So tell me about that. That's where you had stopped? I went to Tacoma for another brief of training as a steward. I don't know whether you remember or whatnot as a steward at that time. Tell me what it is. Pretend I don't know anything. Okay. A steward is a cook in the service to officers in the Navy or the military, period. That's what you are. So Frank Knox, under President Harry S. Truman, had said, "A Negro and a black man and a Filipino would do nothing else but cook and serve officers in the Navy.” So that is where I took my training. You're showing me a book. That's what this is about. What is this book? This is a book that I have written. And it's called To Thee I See. It's about "from picking in the fields in Texas to cooking for dignitaries on U.S. Navy ships, a journey I wouldn't change.” Yes, yes, yes. That's all during the period of the time that I was in the U.S. Navy. So black men in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s who were serving on ships could not do any other job. It was a very special few that did get in under some kind of a program, but, no, no, no, no, because I know a friend of mine got in a little bit earlier and some kind of way he got in as a machinist or something like that. Now, since you said that let me tell you this. At this "Spirit of '45," the seventy-year anniversary of the war, '45 to August 14th of this year, the seventieth year, I met a shipmate, but he went in prior to me. He went in in 1941 and he served until 1946. So this is where I took over. He paved the way for me. He's ninety-four years old. He's from 8 Mississippi. I don't know whether you know anything about it, but you remember the Holocaust that happened in Mississippi in 1940? The what kind of Holocaust? Holocaust, when they burned up all those black people. In Mississippi? Yes. 1 know it happened in some towns in Texas, but I didn't know about—tell me about Mississippi. Well, this happened in Mississippi. Which year? Nineteen forty. My shipmate that went in prior to me and paved the way for me, he was going to a particular college there in Mississippi at that time. The only place they had for black people to entertain was...I forgot how many miles it was from that college. I have his book at home. I met him again at this celebration of honoring "The Spirit of'45.” In Blue Diamond? Yes. Ninety-four years old. Now, what is his name? Leedale. You want his last name? If you know it, yes. L-E-Y-L-A-N-D. Leedale Leyland? Yes, that's his name. So now, what did he tell you about Mississippi in 1940? 9 He was telling me at the time that he grew up and he was going to this particular college how he grew up there in Mississippi and in this particular town they only had one joint there that black people could go to and entertain and the college was a good ways from there. But anyway, when this particular thing happened and they said in particular it was set afire by people that hated. The juke joint was set afire? Yes. And it was two hundred and nine people lost their lives in that. Leedale and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, was three others that got out of there alive that are living today. So did he tell you what happened to cause that? Yes, yes. He was telling me that for some reason they only had one way in and one way out. All of the windows and things like that at that particular event, like where we go have a dance party and things like that, for some reason the windows were secured in a way you couldn't break out, like wouldn't have the right kind of emergency getting away or getting out of there. So why did the white people decide to do it that night? Because this was an annual dance and a celebration for black people to come to in that particular time and I guess it just only happened every so many months or things like that. This is a time when the college was far away and this is where they would come and take part in that also. So why did the white people...They must have living like this, blacks and whites, many years. Yes. So on that night why did the white people decide to burn that building? There was some kind of lynching and protests went on prior to that and this and that, and so the black people were really protesting this and complaining about that. After that they locked a lot of them up in jail and almost killed a whole lot of them even at that time even before the fire. So 10 what I'm saying is I guess it took an opportunity for them to do—the Ku Klux Klan and things like that—to do this to them people at that particular time and at that particular event. So after you joined the Navy, how did your life change? It changed dramatically. Just like I said here, I wouldn't change that for anything in the world because I didn’t know anything else, just like when I went from my training to aboard ship and things like that. I didn't have that kind of particular learning, not that much, and I thought people lived like that throughout the United States. I didn't know. I experienced that. Just like when I come back to Norfolk, Virginia when they had the sign on there, "We would rather have a dog than a black sailor; keep off the grass.” A black sailor wasn't even allowed on the grass in Norfolk, Virginia at this time. So I was one of those. So how long were you in Tacoma? I would say, I was in Tacoma about three months I guess, going through that training, the rest of my training for my career would be lack from there on in and things of that nature. So we were in there I'd say a period of about three months. Then what happened? Where did you go? I went aboard the ship when they commissioned the ship in Tacoma, Washington. From there we went around the horn to Norfolk, Virginia. I stayed in Norfolk, Virginia aboard that ship five years. So the ship was docked all of that time? No. It would go out on maneuvers and training and things like that. In 1951,1 was trained for— I'm trying to think. I got aboard out of there just before the Korean War. But we operated and maneuvered it, took part in certain operations and things like that. Did you ever see battle? 11 Actual battle, no, but training for it. So that ship stayed in America? No. So where did you go? We went to the Far East and we went to Okinawa. We went to just whatever place out there. I can't think right now. But all the places. So in the Far East, where— The Far East. I'm talking about the Far West now. We went to the Far West first. So give me the names of the places that would make up the Far West or the Far East. They're separate. I understand. So give me the names of some of the places in the Far West. Okinawa. And now Far East, are we talking about Japan? Where is that? Japan, Philippines and China. So you operated off of the coast of those countries? Yes, for seven years each, yes, yes. Also, on the East Coast we also went to Israel, Palestine. Palestine, I believe we were there during that...I'm trying to think of which war that was because the only thing as far as we could go in in an aircraft carrier, you could hear the cannon firing and shooting and all things like that and only someone would go ashore were the admiral and the captain and the staff to meet with dignitaries in Palestine and also we went into Israel and places like that. And then after how many years you got out of the Navy? After how many years I got out of the Navy? 12 Yes. How long were you in the Navy? Twenty years. So that was really a whole career in the Navy. Yes, yes. You spent the whole twenty years on the ship? Just about, nineteen years of that was ship duty. In 1951,1 was transferred to Quidnessett, Rhode Island. My assignment was patrol squadron, a VP squadron. Now, that’s the one I went to the Far East was during the Korean War, and we were stationed temporarily on an Air Force base, Iwakuni Air Force Base in Japan. The nature of that ship was flying recognizant flights during the Korean War. So just like I'm onboard ship, but the pilots would go out and do these particular types of missions and things like that. So the twenty-year period starting in 1945 had you there through the Korean War. Yes. So in 1965, you got out of military. Yes. Any stories that you tell your friends about those twenty years that you'd like to share? It was an opportunity and a chance to see the world and I enjoyed so much of the foreign travel and things of that nature and to learn a whole lot about the people in Japan, the people in the Philippines and China and also the people in Australia. One of the places, I went to the Olympics in Australia. I don't know what year it is, but it's in this book. I believe at that time that was on the—back on the West Coast, after I was transferred to the West Coast on that. That's about it as far as your question. But no particular stories that you tell about military? 13 Shortage? No particular stories that you tell about your military? I'm trying to think of what stories would I tell. This is the story of my life right here. Right. But what I'm asking is when you talk about those first twenty years in the military, do you think about some of the things that happened in Japan or...? What are some of those stories that you tell when you’re sitting around talking to your friends? One of the experiences that I had—you're speaking about Japan. I heard this for years before entering the military. You might have heard when they talked about a black man has a tail. Have you heard that? Oh, yes, of course. I'm from North Carolina. Of course. You're from North Carolina. What part of North Carolina? Ahoskie and I grew up picking cotton. Ahoskie. Yes, you know where—yes, because it's close to Norfolk. He has a girlfriend from Ahoskie. So I grew up picking cotton just like you did. So tell me the story that you tell about Japan. The time they call your voice on, "Your black voice on. Let me see your tail.” And things of this nature. So it was the American military people as far as segregation; that's the base of it. This is the kind of picture they painted about black people. I'll never forget it. Like when we go out in service at...I'm trying to think. And even into Hawaii, it was really segregated at that time, too. You couldn't hang out at the same place that white people hang out. You had to go to the place that was designated for the blacks. So that is one of the stories. That kind of story happened just about every port we went into either in the Far East or Far West or the Middle East, yes. 14 So once you got out of the Navy, what happened? Once I got out of the Navy, I applied for the post office. Applied for...? For the post office, yes, yes. Even before that my wife and I, we had a regular catering service and we would do catering for special people and special times. Where were you living? In San Jose, California. How did you meet your wife? You want me to tell you the truth? Yes. I met her at a bar in San Pedro. This is my second wife that we're talking about. I met her in San Pedro. I was drunk. Her and her sister said, "Let's do something about this. Let's take care of him.” From then on we become friends and things of this nature. She was living in Los Angeles—Compton, in Compton. From then on we started dating each other and for years until I was transferred to San Diego. That's what ended that. One night on liberty in San Diego I was at a bar. I was drunk and she was with her boyfriend and she seen me and she told him that that's my ex-boyfriend. From then on we were friends forever more. I guess that was for about two or three years or something like that and then I got married to her there in 1961 in San Diego. Where did you marry your first wife? Norfolk, Virginia. Was your ship in Norfolk, Virginia at one time? Yes, that was our home port for five years. And she was a native of Norfolk? 15 Yes. No, no, she wasn't a native. You mean my first wife? Yes, yes. Yes, she was a native of Norfolk, yes. So what was it like being married in the Navy when you could be shipped out any time? How did that work? It was always a sad experience to that extent because you might be in port X number of weeks or months or something like that and then you had duties and things like that and you could only go ashore a certain period of time and things like that. Then once you got married and then a lot of times depending on the duty that you had, you couldn't stay overnight sometimes. But this has changed. That was one thing she really disliked; that. I never will forget it. If I have to say it, through a Christian family that I knew, were very good friends of mine, this girl that I married was a very good friend of that family. So what happened, she got pregnant. So I couldn't turn my back on that and we got married in 1951,1 believe it was. Yes, something like that. And one child, my son. I talked to him a few days ago. My great-grandson, Mizzell, Taquan, he plays running back for Charlottesville, Virginia right today and he'll be playing there soon. He's number four. For which team? What's the name of that team? It's a university. Oh, he's at one of the universities. University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and he plays football for them. He got a scholarship. After he got out of high school, he got that. To tell the truth, I had never seen that boy in my life. But the year before then, 2012, he was in the Army football bowl game in Houston, Texas. It would have been Houston, Texas, but I think they moved that game to Austin. And that was the first time I got a chance to see him face to face. Even to this day we talk a lot. I 16 have never seen that child face to face. I talked to him last week. I used to go to North Carolina a lot, Charlotte. When my son got married to his second wife that was where I got to meet my great-grandchildren. This is my youngest granddaughter and she is the mother of this particular boy, Taquan Mizzell. He's the one that plays for the college? Yes, number four with the Cavaliers. He'll be playing this Friday. Great. And you watch his games? Every one of his games, yes. Come to think of it, since you said that I did not know—we didn't find out until it was the day the game were, they played UCLA their first game this year. If we had known it, Trish and I, all of us would have drove down for the game. We were so saddened when we found out that the Cavaliers were playing at UCLA. So now, aren't the Cavaliers a professional team? It's a college team. I think that's the name of that team, the Cavaliers, yes. That's a college team because this is his first—what they go in the first year, a freshman, junior? Freshman is the first year. This is his second year. Sophomore. Sophomore, yes. The Cavaliers, yes. So after you left the Navy and you started working for the post office, where were you living? I did not go work for the post office. I had submitted an application. At this particular time, if anything was closed and you were a retiree of the military, you could open that to take the exam. I took the exam. In the meantime, I went to work for Sears and Roebuck as a maintenance 17 personnel there and I worked with them for five years, also. In between that when it came up for me to be accepted into the