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An American Dream

The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China

Clarence Adams edited by Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson

Publication Year: 2007

Throughout his life, Clarence Adams exhibited self-reliance, ambition, ingenuity, courage, and a commitment to learning—character traits often equated with the successful pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, for an African American coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s, such attributes counted for little, especially in the South. Adams was a seventeen-year-old high school dropout in 1947 when he fled Memphis and the local police to join the U.S. Army. Three years later, after fighting in the Korean War in an all-black artillery unit that he believed to have been sacrificed to save white troops, he was captured by the Chinese. After spending almost three years as a POW, during which he continued to suffer racism at the hands of his fellow Americans, he refused repatriation in 1953, choosing instead the People's Republic of China, where he hoped to find educational and career opportunities not readily available in his own country. While living in China, Adams earned a university degree, married a Chinese professor of Russian, and worked in Beijing as a translator for the Foreign Languages Press. During the Vietnam War he made a controversial anti-war broadcast over Radio Hanoi, urging black troops not to fight for someone else's political and economic freedoms until they enjoyed these same rights at home. In 1966, having come under suspicion during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he returned with his wife and two children to the United States, where he was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to face charges of "disrupting the morale of American fighting forces in Vietnam and inciting revolution in the United States." After these charges were dropped, he and his family struggled to survive economically. Eventually, through sheer perseverance, they were able to fulfill at least part of the American Dream. By the time he died, the family owned and operated eight successful Chinese restaurants in his native Memphis.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

Throughout his life, Clarence Cecil “Skippy” Adams exhibited self-reliance, ambition, ingenuity, courage, and a commitment to learning. In short, he exemplified those character traits his fellow countrymen equated with the successful pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, for an African American coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s, such attributes counted for...

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pp. xv-xvii

My father, Clarence Adams, was a man of conviction who lived his life without compromise, regardless of the consequences. Even before he passed on September 17, 1999, it was always my dream that the story of this extraordinary African American, who had lived such an uncommon and fascinating life, could be told to the world. My father many times attempted to put his life...

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Chapter 1. Skippy: The Formative Years

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pp. 1-22

So many African Americans migrated north to Memphis in the 1890s that by the end of the nineteenth century, they made up approximately half of its 100,000 inhabitants. According to historian David M. Tucker, they came “for political freedom as well as the educational and economic opportunities of a city [and] three-fourths of the incoming black immigrants were Mississippi-born.”1 Clarence Adams’s grandparents were part of this...

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Chapter 2. U.S. Army Combat Soldier: Korea

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pp. 23-38

In spite of the resistance of military and political leaders, African Americans have willingly, and often heroically, fought and died in every American military conflict, going back as far as the eighteenth- century skirmishes and wars against the Indians, the French, and of course the British. Unfortunately, two hundred years of military duty and sacrifice did not free black soldiers...

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Chapter 3. Captured!

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pp. 39-45

A soldier suffers a series of shocks during and immediately after being captured. One moment he is ostensibly an independent entity fighting for his country. The next he is reduced to a helpless object at the mercy of his enemies. Often hungry and sleepless, sometimes wounded and feeling an element of shame about the capture itself, and certainly fearing possible execution, the new prisoner faces a...

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Chapter 4. Camp 5

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pp. 46-64

On December 10, 1950, approximately five hundred of us arrived at Camp 5, which was located on a peninsula just outside the town of Pyuktong, on the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. It was a beautiful spot, but not if you were a POW. The camp would eventually hold several thousand United Nations prisoners, including British...

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Chapter 5. Turncoat?

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pp. 65-72

The news that twenty-one American prisoners of war had refused repatriation and were planning to take up residence in the People’s Republic of China was truly shocking to the folks back home, who could easily understand thousands of Communist prisoners refusing to return to North Korea or the People’s Republic of China but not...

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Chapter 6. University Days: Beijing and Wuhan

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pp. 73-83

When we arrived in Taiyuan, which is the capital of Shanxi Province in northern China, some 230 miles southwest of Beijing, we were met by the Red Cross Society, which was to be our official guardian the entire time we were in China. Its representatives took us to a compound where we were able to take a shower, after which we were the guests of honor at a tremendous banquet. In my entire life...

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Chapter 7. Marriage and Family

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pp. 84-91

After I pushed that Chinese bully off the bus in Hankou, Lin and I went off to do our separate shopping. Later that same day when we again ran into each other, she asked if I knew my way back. I actually did, but I told her I had no idea how to find the bus stop. She told me, “Well, I will show you, but first I have to go home and pick up some...

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Chapter 8. The Foreign Languages Press, Africans, and the Vietnam Broadcasts

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pp. 93-104

I graduated from Wuhan University in 1961 with my bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and literature. The university threw a farewell party for us, and everybody had to make a speech, including me. Some official asked me to comment on my university experience. I said it was a great university, but that there is always the bad with the...

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Chapter 9. Going Home!

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pp. 105-115

There were many reasons why I decided to go home.1 I had no contact with people in America, except for an occasional letter, and I did get homesick. Because of the political friction between China and the U.S., I did not want to make things difficult for my mother and her family, so I never wrote about politics. They also did not write...

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Chapter 10. Recriminations

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pp. 116-128

The United States that Clarence Adams and his new family faced in 1966 was radically different from the one he had left in 1947 when he joined the army. The country was in the midst of the most turbulent decade in its history. It was fighting its longest and most controversial war in Vietnam, while at home it was embroiled in a civil rights movement that had become increasingly violent, with...

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Chapter 11. Bootstrapping to the American Dream

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pp. 129-142

Everybody was relieved when I got back to Memphis from Washington. I think my uncles were the happiest — except, of course, Lin. Unfortunately, after a few days, reality set in. We had nothing to live on but our meager savings. I thought I was entitled to my back pay, plus my soldier’s deposits, which were in a savings account in a...

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Postscript by Della Adams

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pp. 143-144

Shortly before he died, I had a very revealing conversation with my father. We had often talked after work at one of our restaurants over our customary glass of Old Grand Dad, but this conversation was different. Seven years earlier he had been diagnosed with emphysema, which was now in its final stages. He knew the end was near, and he wanted to assess his life in a more positive way...

Clarence Cecil Adams Time Line

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pp. 147-149


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pp. 151-155

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760581
E-ISBN-10: 1613760582
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495944
Print-ISBN-10: 1558495940

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2007

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Subject Headings

  • Prisoners of war -- Korea (North) -- Biography.
  • Adams, Clarence, 1929-1999.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
  • Korean War, 1950-1953 -- Prisoners and prisons, American.
  • Prisoners of war -- China -- Biography.
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