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the Adams family

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  • the Adams family

    On Wednesday, June 29, 1966, an African American man granted an interview on the cruise liner President Cleveland in the shadow of Aloha Tower. Hesitant at first, the man slowly relaxed and began to tell Honolulu reporters his story.
    Clarence Adams grew up in 1930s Memphis. Segregation was total. A lynching had taken place in 1933. Black teachers taught black students; black doctors treated black patients; and black mailmen delivered mail only to blacks. While blacks were allowed to shop in stores, they could not eat anywhere or use a toilet. They could only sit in the back of the bus.
    Sent to the Korean War, Adams and his fellow black soldiers were abandoned on Nov 29, 1950 with their heavy artillery pieces while white units were allowed to retreat.
    "We did not stand a chance, and we got wiped out," Adams said. They were captured and sent to North Korean POW camps, where they were neglected. Adams lost his toes to frostbite. Eventually, the POWs were handed over to the Chinese who offered humane treatment. Adams took classes in Communist political theory, and later lectured other prisoners. Because of "collaboration," his prosecution by the Army was likely upon his repatriation. Called a nigger by fellow POWs, Adams decided there was nothing waiting for him in the United States, and when the war ended, he asked to remain in China.
    Someone accused him of being brainwashed. Adams replied that, "How can it be brainwashing when what they were telling me was true?" Adams also justified his decision: "I might not have known what China was really like before I went there, but I certainly knew what life was like for blacks in America, especially in Memphis."
    Adams married a Chinese woman and had two children. He described life as comfortable. He made propaganda broadcasts asking black Americans why they were fighting in Vietnam. "You are supposedly fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese, but what kind of freedom do you have at home, sitting in the back of the bus, being barred from restaurants, stores and certain neighborhoods, and being denied the right to vote? ... Go home and fight for equality in America."
    An increasingly anti-Western atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution prompted his to return in 1966.
    Just before the interview ended, Adams' wife and two children joined him for a few photos. While his family looked nervous, the photographer caught a relaxed Adams beaming from ear to ear. Perhaps it finally hit him that he was back, and that it was good.
    Adams was subpoenaed by Congress but questioned him in private. He returned to Memphis less than two years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, would be assassinated. He later started a successful chain of Chinese Soul Food restaurants in Memphis. Adams died in 1999 and his autobiography "An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China" was posthumously published in 2007 by his daughter Della Adams.