- A Dialogue with Clarence “Stretch” Peterson
Mr. Clarence Peterson (aka Stretch) is a former member of the Philadelphia, PA, branch of the Black Panther Party. At the time of this interview (April 14, 2006), he worked for the City of Philadelphia Government as a member of the tax review board and was approaching retirement. In our dialogue, Mr. Peterson provided me with a vivid portrait of growing up in South Philadelphia, his family background, his educational experiences, and those years as a member of the Black Panther Party. Mr. Peterson dedicated four years of his life to the BPP, where he served both the city of Philadelphia and Oakland, California.
First off, what we will do is talk a little about your history—learn a little about you, where you grew up, who was in your family, and we will take that into what led you to become a member of the Black Panther Party.
So, where and when were you born?
I was born in born in Philadelphia, 1948. . . South Philly.
And, who was in your family then?
My mother and father. . . I’m the oldest.
Okay, how many siblings?
I’m my mother’s only child, but my father had children of his own, two boys and two girls, so I’m the oldest of five children.
And, where are your parents and siblings now?
My mother is with me in Philly. My father is retired; he’s in Florida. And my brothers and sisters are scattered all over [laughs] Philadelphia and one in Delaware!
Okay, now you said your father was retired in Florida?
Were they married?
Yeah, they were married. [End Page 155]
Okay, are they divorced now?
What year did they divorce?
They split up when I was six. After he retired, he moved to Florida.
And what did he do for a living?
He was a cab driver, bus driver.
What did your mother do for a living?
She worked for the city of Philadelphia—city government.
City government . . . do you know her specific position?
Not really [laughs]!
All right. Now, a little about you. What do you currently do for a living?
I work for the City of Philadelphia government. I’m going to be retired in about a year.
Congratulations! And what are your specific duties?
Well, right now I work for the tax review board. . . and that’s the appeals board. I do appeals.
What was your educational level?
I finished high school.
What school did you attend?
Thomas Edison High School.
And what were your experiences like in that school?
[Laughs] What do you mean?
Well, did you have an excellent time. . . get all straight As?
Yeah, well [laughs], as far as school, classes came fairly easy to me, but I was involved in gangs.
When did you first get involved in gangs?
I guess it must have been ’64, maybe ’63. Ah, it was Black Philly—it was so rough. I was from 28th and Montgomery. . . that’s in North Philly. Later became part of Valley, which was one of the bigger gangs in Philadelphia. One of the conglomerate gangs, you know? It was a whole lot of gangs.
What was it more for protection? Reputation? Why’d you get involved?
It was the excitement. That’s what got me in it. [End Page 156]
How long were you in the gang?
About four years, but we still had the connections. Like, we still go to reunions. And as we grew up, guys that you used war against or fight against. Everybody is cool with each other, you know. You party with each other, you know. You all survived. It’s that connection that brings to the movement. The movement as a whole, because at that time there was a guy, Cecil B. Moore, who was the head of the NAACP who was...