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Francis "Jackie" Clavery

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

August 18, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.09

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KING: This is Dwan Reece King conducting an interview for the West Indian Carnival Documentation Project. The date is August 18, 1994 and I'm sitting here with Francis Clavery better known as "Jackie" at the mas camp. The address is--

CLAVERY: 34 Jefferson Street.

KING: 34 Jefferson Street and the band is the Cult--the--

CLAVERY: The organization of--

KING: The organization of the Culture of Black Creation. I got that right. Okay, so let's just start off with some general questions. Jackie, when did you--where were you born actually?

CLAVERY: Trinidad.

KING: In Trinidad? And how did you make your way up to New York?

CLAVERY: I was hired to work; I'm an industrialist, to build refineries in Saint 1:00Croix, because we have a lot of refineries in Trinidad. And that's why I happened to migrate to the United States.

KING: Okay. Okay. And that was what year?

CLAVERY: 1966.

KING: 1966? Okay.

CLAVERY: So I passed from the Virgin Islands.

KING: Uh huh. And then when did you end up here in Brooklyn?

CLAVERY: 1977 after the project. All I did was construction, and completion of the job I take, you know.

KING: Okay. When did you first get involved with the Carnival here in Brooklyn?

CLAVERY: I got involved in about 19, 1979. Actually, the first year I came here I got involved, but not much, 'cause I just came like about--I went to Texas. That's where I pass from New York. Going to Texas, then I went back home because my old man died and then I came up to New York and I met a friend. Maybe it was a year. I had built a couple of costumes. I didn't stay. I went back to Trinidad. Then I came back--I got fully into it in 1978 really.

KING: Okay. So how did you and Randy get together actually?


CLAVERY: Well we had know each other from home, but about five years ago I got very ill. I used to smoke--fluid in the lungs. We met because I sit in the class many times. We had selling these costumes and then we were like; you know--we would get together. I said "no problem" and then we started in 1989 together.

KING: So what do you do as part of this organization? You told me a little bit of everything.

CLAVERY: Well I'll tell you, what we do is like um, most of the time I'm the brain behind it in a way. Randy comes to me and says: "Jackie what are we doing for next year?" So we might be able to do it this way. Once we decide on what we're going to portray, I start to do research. And I get my drawing board, and I put my mind to the projects.

KING: Um hm.

CLAVERY: And from then, well we notify the rest of the crew that next year will be "X Y Z", as the case may be. Sorry, and then I go and start.


KING: So tell me about the process. Like for instance this year. You get an idea and then you--

CLAVERY: What happened; the idea we had for this year was not really Tribes. We had planned to--I, we had a design on our mind where we were depicting sailing. In other words, the theme would have been: "A sailor is a sailor" not the sailor in the United Navy as people think.

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: Everything that is airborne or swims in the sea automatically sails, if you follow me.

KING: So the concept is sailing.

CLAVERY: Yes, that was the concept. But the Coffee Boys came to us and ask us if we would put their band in the street and we said okay.


CLAVERY: So we scrapped our idea and introduced Tribes, because they wanted something with a ritual, a ritualistic background.

KING: Okay. Now I'm trying to get the connection between the Coffee Boys. They 4:00came to you?

CLAVERY: The Coffee Boys is a--really Coffee Boys is a bunch of the guys from San Fernando. We are all from San Fernando.

KING: Oh, okay.

CLAVERY: And knowing that we are in the Carnival, this is the first time they have actually decided to put a band on the back road.

KING: Oh this is their first.

CLAVERY: It's their first year.

KING: Okay, okay, because I--I mean I've heard of them. I didn't realize this is their first--

CLAVERY: You see, they used to be--they, they, they, their organization knows how to give parties, you know, and you know, they sponsor certain things, they donate charity, to charity and what not--

KING: Um hm.

CLAVERY: But then Trinidadian is Trinidadian. You always have got to get involved in the Parkway, so knowing that we're entering Carnival, they came to us and that was it.

KING: Okay. I follow. Okay, so Tribes this year.

CLAVERY: That's right. We tried--you see, we tried to depict tribe, but I'm going to tell you something that only Randy and I know. Back of all Carnival and all costumes is--I'm not--why I'm saying this on tape, I don't want people to misunderstand me, but Mother Africa is the original. Because I'm into art.


KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: And if you start comparing designs, if you go into these history books and you compare designs, you'll see all designs is identical to African designs.

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: You follow what I'm saying?

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: So in other words, you're already playing Mother Africa when you say tribes.

KING: Because it's the root of all tribal designs. That's what you're saying?

CLAVERY: That's right. That's the general idea. Because you can take the Chinese, the Balineseans, Anglos, it's similar. If you do Mexican Indians, as you probably know, in the history of the United States there are a lot of Black American Indian chiefs. Because the White folks won't like to show you, for [unintelligible]. So basically it's Mother Nature, or Mother Africa's culture we are putting on the Parkway. By naming it Tribes, it tends to reach the people.


CLAVERY: In other words, you could probably call it something else, but it would not reach the people.

KING: Particularly in this day and age, I think when people are talking about 6:00their identities and who they are and their histories, that's a very attractive, an attractive word, it's an attractive concept.

CLAVERY: Although two women rebuke me for this.

KING: Why?

CLAVERY: We had a, we had a jamboree about six, eight weeks ago where all the bands went down at Boys' High launching the bands. And when she came and she said and she saw what we had to offer, she said, "Why are you calling your troupe Tribe?" I said "My lady, whether you accept this or not, we are tribes." She said: "That's a White man's word". I said: "No way." You see, I mean I realize that certain people accept knowledge, so I didn't carry the conversation. I said "Lady that's all we're trying to put on; art form and practice. She felt that I really was insulting Black people. But you know, that is ridiculous, because; tribes. If you go into the Bible. In the Bible there were tribes.

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: To distinguish. You see, we use certain words to distinguish it. A lot 7:00people don't read it, they haven't actually read that far I would imagine. So--

KING: I think a lot of it is--is that at one point in time, those words were used--people used those words as a negative when they actually--

CLAVERY: Right, right.

KING: It, it--there's a positive in there.

CLAVERY: That's right.

KING: You get so bogged down with other people's concepts that you start to think that it's a negative too.

CLAVERY: That's right. That's right.

KING: When in actuality, it's really a positive expression of your identity. Okay. Now, so you do a little research. You look at drawings, you look at pictures, you look at photographs to get ideas or--?

CLAVERY: Well really, yes--you're going to--if you see like for instance what we're doing this year. I went into African art, I went into the Mexican Indian art, I have geographical knowledge and it goes way back, you know, but sometimes what I really try to do, of course, I couldn't do this here, but what we usually try to do most of the time is to put all in a concept into the costumes. Like the year we played that--a couple years ago we played "Sophisticated Africa."


KING: Which would be what?

CLAVERY: Where we were not into the bow and arrow business, the spear and the shield, we weren't interested. We went into the courts of Africa, where you saw beautiful robes, where you saw real African beauty.

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: You follow?

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: So that is how we really try to put this on, because the average person when you tell them--every time you mention Africa in a costume they look for, you know, those imitation tiger skins--what you have. And that is a wrong mentality, because there are people in Africa, never worn this--the rich gurus, you know. So that is the type of Africa we portray then, because his daughter portrayed the goddess of the harvest. She was the goddess. See that costume over there in copper? She was the goddess costume of the harvest. Even the judges, it was too high for them. They couldn't understand what they saw.

KING: Hm. That's interesting.

CLAVERY: You follow what I'm saying?

KING: Yeah, I do.

CLAVERY: He probably showed you the rest of the costume in the back.

KING: Yeah, right, right.

CLAVERY: When you watch the way the feathers were laid out. When you watch on 9:00television out on a wheat field in the summertime, the wind blowing, you see that? That's the effect the costume was giving out, because she was the goddess into the harvest, but they couldn't understand this.

KING: Do you think a lot of times the judges don't understand what the--

CLAVERY: I--my lady, this is definitely so, although what we do when--we have a guy, his name's Glenn Thornbull, he manages, he does the, the stationery. We sit down; at least we do this even from home. Any time you're portraying anything in Trinidad you have to write pages about it and give it to the news media, the judges, the Carnival Committee--

KING: About your theme?

CLAVERY: That's right, because you cannot go and say "I am portraying a bat and you look like a fowl. You see, they believe in originality, authenticity and 10:00neatness, says Randy too. Visual impact is when you get the costume makers first appearance. What they do back in Trinidad; they go backstage in the competition night and they go through your costume with a fine tooth comb and look over right through for weakness, for faults and to see if you're straying off what you claim you portray.

KING: Which I think is probably that they want to understand the concept. They want to understand what you're trying to--

CLAVERY: Of course, you see I want to believe there's a difference between the judges here and the judges there.

KING: Which?

CLAVERY: Because there are judges in Trinidad, they go to school for this, they go UWIT, University of West Indian Trinidad. They study it.

KING: And what, what in actuality is what they study?

CLAVERY: They study history.

KING: Uh huh, uh huh.

CLAVERY: They study art. So in other words, if I come to you and say--

KING: So they have an appreciation--?

CLAVERY: Say I am playing Montezuma; I have to play Montezuma, because they have--

KING: Because one of your judges is going to know. I know the history of 11:00Montezuma, and I know the history of what this person should be trying to portray.

CLAVERY: That's right. That is why you'll find Carnival in Trinidad is unique. You can't just call a name and appear, because that way--you see I have that same habit from home, so I do that here. It was so tough for them last year. We played "The Controversy of Time." That depicted "Paradise Lost." Have you ever studied "Paradise Lost?"

KING: It was a while back, when I was in high school.

CLAVERY: Right. It was so high and the names was so difficult for them to announce. All they'd keep announcing was the, I get a laugh--all they keep saying is: "This costume is from the Culture of Black Creation." Up until now they haven't mentioned the name at all in the portrayal.

KING: So just; "Here's another costume. Here's another costume."

CLAVERY: So that means if you cannot call the name, you can't tell, you can't tell me what I am portraying. You don't know.

KING: How can you judge what you don't know?


CLAVERY: I mean I'm not criticizing.

KING: No, no, but it's a kind of--how can you have a perspective on something--

CLAVERY: It hurts, because, this is no boast, I have been to competitions, I have won King and Queen in Trinidad. I have made costumes and designs that won in Trinidad. You'll not see a more commercial costume also. And then I see the costume that they claim win--our costume, it hurts. And as Randy mentioned to you before, there is nobody--and I can stand on this--there is nobody in Brooklyn that can show you nothing that you saw here, because one of these--some of these costumes won't even make the parade. They collapse before they get to the judging point.

KING: Oh really?

CLAVERY: Yes. I mean you have seen this afternoon. This is fiber glass, aluminum rods and wire.


CLAVERY: This, that stuff you see there, that is something--

KING: So it's the quality of the materials are never comparable, they're not necessarily comparable from band to band.

CLAVERY: As we say "Everybody has his or her friend". They sometimes tell me the 13:00words: "It's not who you know, it's who you knew." But as the public applauds my costume, I feel I'm a winner, because we don't go there for the judges, we go there for the public. When they admire what we do, I feel pleased. Because Randy has shown you what we do here, we take simple stuff, like that hat he's sewn, you know, that is ordinary plastic.

KING: Right

CLAVERY: And glue. And then we paint it. When you will see it this year on Labor Day, you will know this. And maybe just showing you the things that we take and put in the costume. When you get told it, you really don't believe. I mean it takes all that time, because what I have to do every day, every year, once the drawings are finished, I have to make the costumes. And to other, other, we call 14:00them monitor. And then, you know, the guys just come and this one would say, what's happening and you'll say "Well let's play in the old." That's how it is. So everything they've done in the band it will pass through my hands. It was difficult to do this. So here I have--I cannot do that either.

KING: Tell me a little about the copper work you do. How long have you been doing that?

CLAVERY: 1948.

KING: 1948? Okay, that's almost fifty years. So you started doing that in Trinidad?

CLAVERY: Trinidad.

KING: And did your father teach you or how did you--?

CLAVERY: No it's like--again it's art and something you will like, because we go to this--I'm going to give it in a nutshell. We're going to this like--there's a love for it. Because nobody could pay you for this; the talent, full hours a day. Now, it's like I saw a guy do it. I saw the costumes that won best top 15:00band. He lives in Trinidad, a guy named [unintelligible]. I was playing a character in the troupe then. I had some copper work I wanted to get done. This guy says to me, "Are you a mas man? Do your copper work." I said, "Are you crazy? I can't bend wire. I never do this." He said, "I, I never try to start something." I says, "So what if I spoil your copper?" He says, "You spoil it? I'll take my copper and give you a chance." And that's how I started.


CLAVERY: From then [unintelligible] It wasn't as nice as it is now. You know it's kind of clumsy--well I can take your picture and put it on copper, take your photograph and draw it on copper big.

KING: Really?

CLAVERY: Yes. That, that came out of a book; a Nubian Princess.

KING: So what to you--you take a picture--

CLAVERY: Yeah. You draw the-- you're--first you gotta draw the object. And then you get carbon paper, trace it off.

KING: Uh huh.

CLAVERY: --and after this you--everything you see there you draw again with your 16:00hand, because what happens, the carbon it raises when you start to push the chisel.

KING: Okay, okay.

CLAVERY: So you have to draw that thing over again with a very sharp, pointed and sharp.


CLAVERY: And then you take a very small chisel. You start on a very small hump, you mark it up--

KING: This is a very intricate--

CLAVERY: Yes, it is and very painstaking and you have to have a lot of patience.

KING: So do you use a lot of it in the costumes you design every year?

CLAVERY: Yes. Not every year, according to the, to the type of--

KING: The theme, if it's necessary?


KING: So are you one of the few organizations that use this copper work or do you know of other people?

CLAVERY: There is like--there's no one in New York who I know.


CLAVERY: There's four of us in Trinidad.

KING: Four?

CLAVERY: Yes. One of the guys died over two years ago. His son is doing it now, 17:00so it still remains four.

KING: Uh huh. So do you go design for other carnivals?

CLAVERY: Well I used to do it when I was home, but I've been based in New York and I don't want to get involved in Trinidad, because there still are guys there. I used to do it for a lot of bands. It's very nice to do, you know, sit down with some--you see it's very--if you had--talking to you and seeing it done is two different things.

KING: Sure, sure, sure.

CLAVERY: You know, a couple people came here and they were fortunate. Last year when we--a couple years ago I was doing it, and the young man had a camera and he came here and just bought a portrait from me. But it's something nice that is a bit dangerous, you see what I generally have to do is use a mask.

KING: Right, because of the fumes and--

CLAVERY: Because the dried--

KING: --gas.

CLAVERY: Yeah. But it's about the best art form, because it outlives everybody. That never spoils. It stays that way for years and continues to.



CLAVERY: And I mean to see what I really am--what I take to do this. Many a people--the guy who was here, he asked me if I use a press or something and I said, "No." If I melt the copper, I say, "No." I'm going to show you what we do.

KING: Okay, so this is a sheet of copper.

CLAVERY: This is how it comes to me.

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: And then what I do, I draw whatever I have to do on it.

KING: I see, and you just do a sketch?

CLAVERY: What you do, you make like, you make the pattern it's like what I have hanging up here. See the pattern?

KING: So you have a pattern on a piece of paper, you have a design. And you draw the same design on a copper plate, and then--

CLAVERY: Then you start to put that design in the copper; I'm going to show you how. Now you have to do me a favor.

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: Do not peek.

KING: Oh, oh, oh. So is this something that's top secret?


KING: Okay, I'll stop the tape for a second.


CLAVERY: It's no problem for me, because if I hear anyone talk about it, I will come to you--

KING: I won't say a word! I will turn off the tape at this moment just so--just to document that. Oh, this is beautiful. [Interview interrupted.] So the secret object that I've just been shown--

CLAVERY: It's one of the faces.

KING: It's one of the faces, but I am bound to secrecy--but it's done here and then sent to Trinidad--

CLAVERY: To have it cleaned up.

KING: --to have it cleaned up and burnished, because that's where the expertise for this kind of work stands. So there's still only four of you working on this.

CLAVERY: Well this was finished like a couple months ago.

KING: Uh huh.

CLAVERY: I always try to do before; you know I try to get this out of the way. Then I start the wire work, 'cause, you know, this is more painstaking, so when you finish when it goes to Trinidad, I try to do wire bending and--

KING: So now, is this going to be in the parade or is this part of the--? This is the secret thing that I can't even--

CLAVERY: It's going to be in Trinidad.

KING: This is going to be in Trinidad, part of the king and queen. Okay, so it's really top secret, so I'm bound. Okay, well thank you for showing me that.


CLAVERY: Here you can see the rest.

KING: So--Okay, we're just going to ask a few more questions and then end the interview--um. Is there anything you find unique or special about the Carnival here in Brooklyn?

CLAVERY: After Trinidad?

KING: Have you been to any of the other Carnivals?

CLAVERY: Only Florida, I did, I did costumes for Florida.

KING: Have you gone to Caribana in Toronto?

CLAVERY: No, I've never. You see when Carnival takes place we're in the middle of our work--

KING: Because it's right--yeah, right, because it was the end of July.

CLAVERY: A few weeks ago. I can't really spare, I can't really spare that time. But I want to go to that Caribana sometime, because one of our friends, as a matter of fact, the guy is a band leader in Florida--he and his wife is up here right now, and they went to Caribana, so he came by and said that he had trouble. And I said trouble? Most Caribana isn't that big of a thing.


CLAVERY: See I will tell you, because I want to believe that the majority of the 21:00guys that come from Trinidad, they stay in Brooklyn.

KING: Why's that?

CLAVERY: Because they all visit. Most of the time these guys want to come and visit.

KING: Oh, oh, oh.

CLAVERY: They come to New York maybe a couple of months, because you know--

KING: Right, right, right.

CLAVERY: So they cause--many times they can't go across the border. So you'll find the queen stays in Brooklyn. That is why you'll find that ironically he does not go to Trinidad. But I go to Trinidad, because if you stay away from Trinidad Carnival too long, you lose that. It's something you have to keep abreast with, because there are years going by; costumes and you don't know what you'll see there. You see, they, what we call "mecca" of Carnival is Trinidad.

KING: Right.

CLAVERY: So you always have to go back to the source to see what are the new ideas or what was up, what you can add to. Once you stay away for a year, you lose that. So that's why I try my best to go home every year at Carnival.

KING: So you look and see what's going on there and try to infuse it with what--


CLAVERY: Yes, you see what's going on, yes--because that way, you know, you'll always keep abreast of what's going on. Like new materials; for instance years ago we used to use a lot of wire, steel and--Trinidadians would use fiberglass, cane and aluminum rods.

KING: And so now you're using fiberglass.

CLAVERY: Yeah, so that--you can--you sort of keep abreast when you see this. I mean it's kind of expensive, but, you know, I love it. I mean, I work 65 hours a week you know, my only fun right now is this. I only work on this.

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: You know what I'm saying?

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: I enjoy it that way. And I'll tell you one thing, it's a form of art that if you can get in the business of doing copper or--once you get into art, art is a form of expression and many a times, people in New York express you and your heart. And if you can get in their hearts, it will advance you very much, you'll be more relaxed, you'll always be thinking progressive; in a shock, thinking all the time. You won't have time to waste. You're always thinking 23:00ahead: "I want to be able to do this". Because once you sense you have started to do the work successfully, I just keep coming in here to present the most startling show, every time, because a show gets monotonous when you see the same thing over and over.

KING: Exactly.

CLAVERY: You follow? Once you carved the new stuff, you always have time for making it interesting. So that's what we're trying to doing. I'm trying to show them--because you don't show them everything once. You give them gradually, until--but a lot of the kids we show; White folks, colored folks, they seem interested. As a matter of fact, you have to retain a lot of these places. What happened with the actual, the artsy folks, they wanted to come in their spare time and help me out. And spare time is so limited.

KING: Umhm.

CLAVERY: Because we do costumes for the Islands also.

KING: You do?

CLAVERY: Yes, yes, like St. Thomas, Tortola, and all this. So, it's kind of tight for us. As a matter of fact, at the time Labor Day is completed, we start--


KING: -- doing next year.

CLAVERY: --the project for next year, yes. Or we did some work for some people in Barbados, but they didn't show this year because they were on a cruise. They're coming back next year, so that means we'll do St. Thomas, Barbados, Tortola and whoever comes again.

KING: Now how do they become aware of you? Are these people who have come up for Carnival here?

CLAVERY: Either seen what we have done, or the, the New York Company ads or--what do they call them? City Lore?

KING: City Lore? Right.

CLAVERY: The Council of the Arts.

KING: Oh, okay, okay. Well, let me end with one last question. If you could tell me--now I think you've articulated to some degree--what is it that Carnival means to you?

CLAVERY: Carnival to the Trinidadians, it's like--you love America. You feel it in your soul. You see, it's like the beat. We are colored folks. You dance, I dance. The soca is similar to your dance, the difference is the beat. Because if 25:00you watch people dancing the soca, the movements are identical. We have the rhythm. And that was not from us, that was from our fore-parents. The smallest Negro child -- when he or she in any part of the world, from the time they hear the beat -- they move. That is something embedded in us. You say, [unintelligible] That's the feeling. That is something that nobody can give you. You was born with that.


CLAVERY: If you understand what I am saying, that is Carnival. You see Carnival is not only a parade and beautiful costumes. You see, Carnival started with Negroes in the Caribbean. That was of the Canboulay Wars, freedom. On emancipation day, although they were emancipated, they still wanted to control. And that's where the Canboulay Wars started. Carnival, Carnival really is a mockery; it was then a mockery to White folks, because if you probably ever went 26:00into West Indian culture or Negro culture, you see there were men dressed, just like the White women. But that was to sort of tease them or mock them. Over the years, it has become a tradition. And the very people that you tried to mock then want to get back in your culture, because they realize it's going places. White folks see dollars, they see green. They don't care about you. But you see, once they're involved, they realize they get part of the cake. That is [unintelligible] Carnival is like, you're loving America, you love you. That is Carnival. Now, you see the term "carnival" was really car-na-val. Car-na-val. What you need is to pause the word. Carnival is really what we call Creole talk in the Caribbean. Because Caribbean culture is mixed with patois, you know, broken French, because Trinidad's influence was French, Dutch, Spanish and English. So you have--like America--it's the only melting pot in the Caribbean, 27:00similar to New York. Trinidad have every nationality you could live with, be faced with; a million plus population with Chinese, Indians, everybody and they live in peace.

KING: Interesting. I never even thought about that.

CLAVERY: Yes. And again, that is where we are fortunate to be gifted, because we are part of all of these cultures, because we mix cultures. All these different cultures out there on holiday, they have their festivals, they take part in all them, we take part--As a matter of fact, I have built costumes for the [unintelligible]. The Indian type, social event, their form of Carnival. The Chinese too. I did that. So you find we have a mixed culture. That is what makes us, us Trinidadians, that--above the average tribal people. Not to say that, we're criticizing their status. Being multi-racial, the society we live in is a 28:00multi-racial society, and mixing.

KING: Do you think that's something that Trinidadians could bring to the United States and to America too?


KING: As far as the idea of working in harmony.

CLAVERY: Yes, we have tried this, because if you--we try to bring everybody to the Parkway. Now this young woman; and you mentioned that you saw, she was surprised to see that over 5,000 people in one little area, all different races and there's no misunderstanding; everybody having a wonderful time. She was amazed. You see, we were never taught--I wouldn't mind it, because we never had a problem with wars with White folks. Maybe my fore-parents, but from my generation 'til now, we never had a problem. All the new people had the problems. Now, maybe the British are more sophisticated in their form of treatment, because I camped in Pt. [unintelligible] if you understand what I'm saying. Now these people in this country create that hatred, because they do 29:00people very much injustice. Maybe they didn't like great-grandparents, I don't know. Now, we just--now you would say, we want to go there, we do it like this. You don't want it, we don't care about it. That is our mentality. If we can live in this little commune and enjoy the same facilities you enjoy, you know, we don't care about you. If you understand what I'm saying? Because you put a line--you say don't cross this line--we say alright. Give us the same movie houses, give us the same dancehalls and the same shows we don't have to go there. We can go by Macy's here and shop, we don't have to go in Macy's with you and shop. When they realize that standoffish attitude, then they stop, because we had a problem when I was a little fella. You couldn't go in some movie houses in Trinidad. They are allowed for the elite. But realizing the elite does not support the arts that much. Who, if you check, who goes to the movies a little more? Black folks. If you want something. So when they realize what--the people 30:00that keep the theaters and movie houses alive is the colored folks--so. And there's really an amalgamation that came in because way back, as a boy, White folks used to play Carnival on trucks. Race it down the street, because they didn't want to mix.

KING: Yeah, there's this whole kind of an image, keep away, keep off, you know, the streets and the people just fought, I mean there's just all kinds of things.

CLAVERY: Today, they entered more than me. They mixing more than me. And not from Trinidad only, Canada and Europe. Man, you should see the British, the Dutch everybody's getting involved because they're starting to realize that living that kind of standoff life does not payoff. Because when the Pope came to Trinidad, he gave us a name: The rainbow people. You must have heard it. He and all of the [unintelligible] that melting pot of all different races living in one little, country. We boast about that. Every race and creed our life will 31:00present in our [unintelligible]. I would like very much for you to visit Trinidad and then to decide for yourself.

KING: I would love to. You've given me a whole different perspective, another piece that--

CLAVERY: Because I am fortunate. I have seen many a generation. I was born 1928, right, so that means I've seen--

KING: --seen quite a lot. Well a lot more than I have, probably.

CLAVERY: So that means I've seen it break down; that initial barrier broken down. Many years ago, before the Independence, under British involvement, you couldn't do certain things. When you acquire independence--my father in-nation; he dead now--He says "Black folks couldn't get work in banks and there was only White folks". Because White folks, they sold Africa, we're in the minority eh? 32:00He says, "Once anybody, any nationalist country, whether he be Black or White, once you are qualified to hold any position in Trinidad, you have to give it to them." Long ago, that was never so. You following me?

KING: Um hm.

CLAVERY: And then people had to realize that it paid off in the end. I love America, just I love [inaudible] I would really like everybody [unintelligible] There is a lot of opportunity, but we are still governed. Certain opportunities are offered us, but I don't want to get into that--

KING: That's a whole other story.


KING: Well, I thank you for your time, and I didn't mean to take you away from too much of your work, but I really appreciate you sharing with me what you do, and talking about your experiences, and I'll be on the lookout to hear about the king and queen since I can't see the costume right now.

CLAVERY: Oh, did Randy show you the drawing?


KING: No, I didn't see that either.

CLAVERY: Okay, I'll show you that.

KING: Okay, well this just ends the interview here, and I want to thank you very much.

CLAVERY: Same here.

KING: Okay.

CLAVERY: It was nice meeting you.

KING: You too.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Francis "Jackie" Clavery

Francis "Jackie" Clavery was born in Trinidad in 1928 and came to New York in 1966 and to Brooklyn in 1977. He designed and created costumes in conjunction with Randy Brewster, as part of The Culture of Black Creation. He was one of only four designers in Trinidad who worked with copper in Carnival designs.

In the interview, Clavery recalls getting involved with designing costumes for the Brooklyn parade in conjunction with Randy Brewster. He describes the research process involved in realizing a band's theme. He discusses the deficiencies in New York's judging process and the higher level of competition standard in Trinidad. Clavery describes and demonstrates the process of copper engraving, a rarified technique that he incorporates into his costumes. He explains the need to stay in touch with Trinidad's Carnival in order to keep an edge and stay innovative. Clavery then discusses his personal connection to Carnival. He traces the history of Carnival and describes Trinidad as a unique Caribbean multi-racial melting pot exhibiting more racial harmony than the United States. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.

The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.


Clavery, Francis "Jackie", Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, August 18, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.09; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Clavery, Francis "Jackie"
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


  • African Americans
  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Costume designers
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Immigrants
  • Multiculturalism
  • Race relations
  • Racism


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Trinidad


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Finding Aid

West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records