Interview with Charles Diggs
QUESTION 39
INTERVIEWER:

IF YOU CAN TALK WITH US UM, IN PERSONAL TERMS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE ARMY AND WHAT THAT WAS LIKE AND THE IMPACT IT HAD IN YOUR ACTIVISM LIFE.

Charles Diggs:

Well, I, I think that my army experience er had a considerable impact upon er my, er, uh activity, in the civil rights er area uh later because I, I had had some experiences uh with segregation in the North, uh in Detroit, for example. Uh and I had had experiences uh in the South when I was a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, so I was not a stranger to it, and um um going into an army that was segregated er uh and going into areas where um Black servicemen were segregated from from the other uh, other servicemen um in in various states um made me uh uh certainly determined to to try to do something about it er and uh as an enlisted man I was a a sergeant er er I went in as a private and uh I uh as a private first class, as a corporal (chuckle) in South Dakota as a as a private in uh in Michigan uh and as a PFC in, uh, in Atlanta, uh, and as a sergeant in, er, in, in Florida. I, I er um certainly came in contact with segregation in in many ways and then after I graduating from officer candidate school at uh air force administration at that time in Miami Beach, Florida, and er and being assigned to Tuskegee from there, well, actually being a officer candidate, we we had to march on the inside of and to the rear of the ranks so we wouldn't be seen too much uh and er er and all that sort of business, Uh uh and then um in Opelika, Alabama, for example, er where they had er German er prisoners of war that could that could go into the restaurants in downtown Opelika and and I had to be handed food out the, through a hole in the wall in the back er. All these things were recalled vividly. And one of the first things that I got into when I became a member of Congress was uh er was er segregation and discrimination in the armed forces uh that was one of my principal um uh subjects er and er I was er sent by Eisenhower, for example, er er into all of the uh installations in the in the Pacific er area all the way from Honolulu all the way to Tokyo er including Okinawa and er and all of those places in between and er er it caused me also to get Kennedy to er President Kennedy to er er revive the er the Commission on er Discrimination in the Armed Services eh and eh from that it uh went into other areas –it uh it it raised my level of of activism as it did to Congressman Bob Nix from Philadelphia, the Black Congressman who who er had his problems during the war. Er it impacted upon er Coleman Young, the present mayor of the city of Detroit, er who fought segregation er in er officers' clubs, er uh in New Jersey and and so on.