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Clarence Irving

Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan

September 26, 2008

Call number: 2010.003.039

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SADY SULLIVAN: Um, today is September 26, 2008, and we are here in Middle Island, Long Island, with Clarence Irving -- and if you would introduce yourself to the recording however you'd like to.

CLARENCE IRVING: My name is Clarence L. Irving, Sr. I have been a resident of the state of New York since 1939, with the exception of two years. I consider it, uh, an asset that I was educated in more than one state. As a youngster, I was -- started my early education in very rigid segregation, and of course, I 1:00completed my education in New York City, in an integrated situation, so I think it gave me a well-rounded, uh, opportunity to meet and associate with people of all races, creeds, religions, et cetera. I also -- in my opinion, I was fortunate enough to be born at a time when a lot of interesting, important things happened in our nation. And I can go back to the 1900s, because my 2:00parents told us about what life was like, for an instance, in 1900. And that sort of gave me an appetite for wanting to know about who I am. And I was fortunate enough to attend an elementary school in Washington, DC, which is a very unusual school. It still stands at 20th and L Street. The name of it is Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School. It was at that school that I met a lot of very interesting people, including the illustrious, if you will, Dr. Carter G. 3:00Woodson. We did not have a library. I only attended the school for one year, but in the sixth grade we had to go to his home for homework, because we did not have a -- an institution that we could use for reference. And some of the things that I learned from him as a youngster, I have carried in my mind throughout my life, and I have tried to pass them along to my children, and I'm very happy to say that they are, as I am, I believe, very proud. As I look back on the 4:00situation of our nation and our community, it does give me an opportunity to believe that I have been fair with every person that I have ever known, and that I have ever dealt with to any extent.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hmm.UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, I'm sorry, I'm just going to be safe and I want to change the batteries on these mics


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: So just give me two minutes.

CLARENCE IRVING: Gentlemen, did I say too much?

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]


SADY SULLIVAN: You wore the batteries out already! [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: Well that was just a -- from the beginning.

DANIELLA ROMANO: You said it well.

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter] Where did you say, um, you were born in Virginia? I missed that.

CLARENCE IRVING: Prince George's -- or, Prince George County, Virginia.

SADY SULLIVAN: Prince George County.


CLARENCE IRVING: It's about -- about -- it's just across the river from Williamsburg, actually.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, okay. And were your parents from there?

CLARENCE IRVING: Yes. Um, there was a, uh -- my father, my -- I don't know if you want to know this or not -- my mother's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was the, was an assistant actually, was a helper, of, um William Claiborne. William Claiborne was a surveyor. My great-great-great-grandfather was one of the original twenty Africans that was dropped off by the Dutch. He was a teenager at the time, and then about 6:00twenty-one or twenty-two years old, he, um, was selected by William Claiborne to be his helper. Of course his name was not Claiborne. He asked Claiborne after two or three years if he could use -- if he could have his name. That's why, now --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, sorry. I think we're good, we're rolling


CLARENCE IRVING: Okay. I'm waiting for you. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: Well, finish that.

SADY SULLIVAN: Okay. Yeah, yeah. So we were -- I had asked you about where, where your parents were from, and then you were telling us about many generations before you parents had been --

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah. They were both from -- they were both from Prince George's County, Virginia,


CLARENCE IRVING: As, as -- as I know. Uh, actually, my mother was, uh, from the 7:00eastern end, and my father was basically, I said, from the western end of the state, and -- so they were born in Prince George County. My father never left the -- the farthest he ever went was to Newport News, Virginia, to work in a shipyard.



SADY SULLIVAN: Your father worked in a shipyard also?


SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Um, and then, so you were telling us about, um, I don't know how many generations back, um, but some --

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, oh you wanted to go back -- you're talking about my mother's side?

SADY SULLIVAN: Clayton, yeah.

CLARENCE IRVING: Uh, uh, Claiborne was his name, Claiborne, C-L-A-I-B-O-R-N-E. Um, actually, my -- as my mother's great-great-great-grandfather --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: There's a telephone in the background there.

CLARENCE IRVING: This is going to kill you, right? The telephone? It's unfortunate; that's -- the only thing we can do is take it off the hook.


DANIELLA ROMANO: Can we turn the ringer down?



CLARENCE IRVING: -- there's a phone over here by the piano, just take it off the hook.

SADY SULLIVAN: I'll turn the ringer down. Do you have a machine --

CLARENCE IRVING: No, you're going to run into all kind of problems. Just take it off the hook. There's one right here. It's the piano, by that old piano, in the chair that she sits in here.


CLARENCE IRVING: Not there, the other side.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, I see. But you're all right with us taking it off the hook?

CLARENCE IRVING: Just take it off, don't worry about it.

SADY SULLIVAN: Okay, thank you.

CLARENCE IRVING: Because it's going to ring all day; she's a very busy lady. Now, where were we? [laughter] Um, you asked me about my --


CLARENCE IRVING: Okay. You asked me about Claiborne. That was my mother's father. And, uh -- what was I telling you about him? There's a lot of things to tell you.

SADY SULLIVAN: Yeah, you had -- well, we had -- you had said that, um --

CLARENCE IRVING: I think I said to you that he was -- uh, how he got his name.



CLARENCE IRVING: That's how I got my name.


CLARENCE IRVING: And the only thing that I was saying about that -- there was people who say that all of the names that, um, that, that African people -- slave, or their slave names, and I'm saying to you that they're -- maybe we don't want to go this way, because what happens is that's a very unique group of people who came from that particular section of Virginia. So, uh, are you, you -- I don't think you need to -- do you want to go into that? It's a whole -- we'll be here all day talking about it.

SADY SULLIVAN: Yeah. No, we should definitely do --

CLARENCE IRVING: Because, see, then I'm going to have to tell you about the Irving side, so try -- let's go get closer to the Navy Yard.

SADY SULLIVAN: Okay. [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: If, if you want to say this, what you could say, is that my father, uh -- I came from a Navy Yard family, okay. My father was a shipfitter's helper, in the war of 1898, in Newport News shipyard. Okay. Now, my brother, in 10:00nineteen -- around 1938, he was employed in the New York Naval Shipyard. And around nineteen -- not around, but I know this for a fact -- uh, I applied in 1940, and I was called in 1944. And I worked in, uh -- so that gave you three generations of, uh, Irvings, who worked, um, in shipyards. We were basically a shipyard people. That lasted, of course, until after the Korean War, and I went to work for transit, also in a machine shop.


CLARENCE IRVING: Um, but the advancement was so slow until I transferred over to 11:00electricity, and I went into, uh, the electrical field, and that's where I retired.



SADY SULLIVAN: So did you -- you applied to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1940?

CLARENCE IRVING: Yes. Uh, I actually -- I applied, ahem, for the apprentice program in 1940, when you were -- when I was in the tenth -- uh, I think I was in the tenth grade. And like, uh, that was a different era, if I may. Because most of us came out of school, or were preparing ourselves: how can I get a job that's going to give me security for the rest of my life, whether it's the postal department, or [inaudible], and the best opportunity at that time for 12:00African-Americans was to try and work for the federal government, um, whether it was in the post office or if you were lucky enough to live in New York or Philadelphia, then you went for the navy yard. But the idea was job security.

SADY SULLIVAN: Why is that -- why was the federal government good for African-Americans, in terms of job security?

CLARENCE IRVING: Well, because even though they had, uh, discrimination, um, you were better off working, uh, for the government, than you would be working in private industry. You, you had a better chance, in the event that something came up -- because during those years, there was an awful lot of, uh, incidents that happened. Um, first of all, you couldn't join a union, so you had no -- it was 13:00you against the boss, and if it was the boss knew the person that you were probably involved with, you had a situation. Uh, there were a lot of times when the truth wasn't told, and, uh, you were in a sit -- a situation that you couldn't win. So [inaudible], why do I have to put up with this? I can -- if my record is cla -- if my record is clean, and I've got, um, the necessary education, then I'm going to go where I will have a better break. If you take a look at the statistics of the '30s and '40s, you will find that the majority of, um, black people, uh, who -- most of them came from the South, that was what 14:00they, uh, that was their objective, was to, uh, become a schoolteacher, become a postal worker, or sometimes you were better off as a porter in a government facility than you would be pretending that you were a clerk, because anything that didn't go, um, the way somebody felt it should go, you would find yourself in a situation.


CLARENCE IRVING: Um, I -- there have been many, many incidents through the -- through the years that will verify what I am saying.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Did your family move from Virginia to New York because New 15:00York was a more integrated place?

CLARENCE IRVING: No. What happened, ahem -- as a matter of fact, I didn't even come to New York under those circumstances. My brother -- I don't know why he came to New York. Well, I do know, too, because actually, my brother was, um, educated in Virginia State, uh, what they called Institute at that time, and he graduated in 1929; it is now known as Virginia State College. And my father was a very stern, um, person, a very proud man, and what he did was he insisted that my brother -- he only went to school three days in his life, but he insisted 16:00that my oldest brother learn to play the violin and become a schoolteacher, because in those days, they called you, when you graduated, you became a schoolteacher, they called you a professor. And he was so proud. When my father died in 1939 -- I, I'm sorry, my father died in 1933. I think by 1934, my brother was doing something else. He left -- um, this is vague to me because I was young at the time, uh -- but he left Washington where we were living, and he moved to New York. Well, I told you before -- I stated before, I went to a segregated school. It was my good fortune to meet, uh, uh, a teacher who was, 17:00um, who attended Virginia State with my brother. I did not know the man. As a matter of fact, uh. to me, he was, he -- I tried my best to avoid him, because every time I ever saw him, he would say to me, "What are you going to do with your life?" I'm in the seventh grade; what do I do with my life? Well, uh, I was a pretty decent singer, and they did a tra -- a play. Um, ah, all I know is -- I forgot the title of the play, but it was a Spanish play, and I had the lead to sing, uh, a song, and in the song -- some of the lyrics of the song was, "Si, si, si, he can get it for a penny." Uh, I think you rem -- may remember the 18:00lyrics to that, but I don't remember, it's been so long ago. Anyway, all over the school, Clarence Irving was, uh -- he was Mr. It, because I had a baritone voice, even though I was, was young. There was a little joke I'll tell you about that real quick, and I shouldn't be telling you this. Uh, I think it was -- we went up to Concord, this was many years ago, went to Concord, uh, for the weekend with, uh, my wi -- late wife. And while I was there, this lady says, uh, "That's Clarence Irving over there!" So, uh -- now this is the people that went to school with me in Washington. And so she says, "Yeah! Did he sound that way then?" She says, "When?" "When he was, uh, twelve years old." She says, "Yeah." [laughter] That -- that was because I always had a heavy voice.

SADY SULLIVAN: Wow, even at twelve!

CLARENCE IRVING: Well, I don't -- that's, that's been -- I don't know if it was 19:00true, but they say it was. Anyway, I did have a baritone voice. That's, uh, when I grew -- as I grew up. So Mr. Walker said to me, "Don't think that you --" um, I think he said, "Don't think that you're Billy Eckstine." Well, I don't know if you know who Billy Eckstine is, Billy Eckstine is a very fine baritone, um, vocalist, you know. Uh, he said, "Because you're not even Herb Jeffries." Herb Jeffries used to sing with Duke Ellington, and he had this big song called "Flamingo." So anyway, uh, that was like putting me down. So then he says to me, uh, he's still after me, "What are you going to do with your life?" And I told him that I wanted to be a machinist. The only reason I told him that I wanted to be a machinist was because they had taken us on a field trip to the Navy Yard there in, in Washington, they have a little gun factory there. And so he said to me, he says, uh, "Are you serious?" That's about three or four days later. And I 20:00said, "Yes, I am." He said, "Well, where are you planning to go?" So I said, "Well, I thought when I graduated from here, I would go to Phelps." Phelps is a vocational school, it was a black vocational school in Washington, DC. So he said to me, "Let me -- I'll tell you in all honesty," he says, uh, "Phelps may not be the best school for you." So he says, "Oh, yeah, by the way, where is your brother?" I said, " What do you want with my brother," to myself, I -- [laughter]. So I said, "He's in New York." So he says, "What is he doing?" Now, I'm not really sure that he knew or he didn't know; I'm not really sure that he knew where my brother was or what my brother was doing. If he -- if you think about it, they all still belong to the same fraternity, but I don't know this, I'm a kid. So anyway, I told him. He says, "Well, why can't you live with your brother?" So I said to myself, this man's really getting into my business, you 21:00know. So I said, "I don't know. I've never tried." Now I didn't realize the fact that he knew that my father was dead; he remembers when my father died, he was at the funeral. He also knew that I was living with my mother, of course, in Washington, and my, my -- I think he knew my brother was in New York, I'm not really sure. So then he says to me, "Well, do you, uh -- why can't you live with your brother?" So he says, he said to me, "No, you won't get, uh -- you won't get everything that you really need to get a job, uh, at Phelps. It's almost a waste of time." And that's when the thing came up about my brother. So I told him. He said, "Why don't you ask your brother if you could, uh, live with him?" So I said, "I'll do that." So I did, and he says yes, and that's when I left New York -- uh, left Washington to come to New York, and the fall of 1939, that, 22:00that -- that summer we came up, and I stayed with my brother, and it was from there that, um, you might say my career began. However, when I was in school for two years, yeah, I developed appendicitis, and, um, I was operated on, and I was not even supposed to live, because for -- my appendix ruptured, and in those days, they didn't have penicillin like they have now; they had to use sulfa [inaudible]. For whatever reason, I didn't die. But that ended my baseball career, which is another story, and that also ended, uh -- so I went back to Washington, because my sisters and my brothers convinced me that if I go back to Washington, would I, um, go to Howard Univ -- complete my years and go to Howard 23:00University. So I said, eh, I would, you know. Anyway, June 22, 1942, I went to work for the War Department as a check clerker -- uh, as a checker clerk.

SADY SULLIVAN: This is in Washington.

CLARENCE IRVING: And this is in Washington, DC, in the, um -- actually, we were assigned to -- I was one of the first persons to ever work in the Pentagon building, uh, because I was assigned to the quartermaster depot, but the quartermaster depot had, um, sort of a satellite, because at that time, they were moving -- they were furnishing the place. That's a whole 'nother story, so I won't go into that. Anyway, I stayed there until -- I started June 22, 1942. When I left there, June, uh -- in 1944, I got this call from the Navy Yard. I had forgotten about it; I didn't even know about it. So, um, the letter came in 24:00my brother's house, and they'd been looking for me, and they found me, and, uh, he sent the whole thing in a big envelope to, to make sure that I paid attention to it. So I got it, and they told me to report to the New York, uh, Naval Shipyard. So I went there, and they said, "Say ah, say you, what's your mother's name, what's your daddy's name," I told them, but they didn't need -- see, they didn't need all of this, because they had this from the War Department; all they had to do was check with the War Department. So that's how I started working in 1944, I went to work, and I was assigned to the machine shop in, uh, 31 shop. And that was the beginning of my years in, in the, in the, uh, New York Naval Shipyard. Now, I stayed, um -- well, you can ask me any questions you want to ask me about that. That's -- this is where I start -- I started to work, and I stayed there -- I think I worked until 1946, and uh, then I left, what they 25:00call, um, uh, a RIF, which was a reduction in force, and they, um -- so I went out, and I went to work, I think it was like two and a half years for Roman Silversmiths, um, as a metal spinner, because I had experience with tools and lays and stuff. And then they called me back, and I'm not really sure if it was around '51 or '52, I have a certificate someplace which I'll be able to show you, but I do know that I took a course, uh, I think in 1952, in advanced machine shop theory. And I was assigned to 1819 Flushing Avenue. 1819 Flushing Avenue was an experimental location that they had estab -- that they had, uh, 26:00established, uh, to grind, um, crank shafts, all types of crank shafts. Now, if you think of a crank shaft in an automobile, which is usually six cylinders, you have six pins, they call them, well, this crank shaft in a ship, uh, from a frigate to carriers, are humongous things. And they, under stress sometimes, they have hairline cracks. And what happened is, they, uh, were trying to develop a technique, or they did develop a technique, I don't know if -- if they continue to use it or not. Whenever -- they would examine a crank shaft, and when they'd find a crack they would grind that crack down. What they do is take -- what they call take a cut, and uh -- down through the crack, until they got 27:00to the crack. Now if you could imagine, you've got a round, uh, surface, and you may have to take a quarter or a half-inch off that surface to get down below the crack. Once you get down below the crack, they did what they call fuse-bonding. Now fuse-bonding is done by having a welder come along -- this crankshaft is moving ever so slow, and he would fuse the, uh, his metal, which is an alloy, to this pin. What, and -- if he needed, if he went down three quarters -- uh, let's say he went down, uh, five-eighths of an inch. Uh, that would mean that when he comes, they -- he would have to put three-quarters of an inch of, uh, his alloy 28:00on this pin. It sounds really complicated. Once you did that, then you had to grind that shaft, that particular pin, you grind -- you have to grind that shaft and bring it back to its original size. When you brought it back to its original size, now that surface is going to be harder than the original surface. So, now you've got an excellent pin, you no longer -- an excellent shaft, you no longer have to throw that shaft away. Now whether they continued to do this after I left I don't know. They did this to many, many shafts.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Sorry, hang on. Carry on.


CLARENCE IRVING: So they did this, as I said, to different shafts of different sizes, and that was the experimental -- that was what I did for the crux of, uh -- this was the Korean war that we're talking about, that was not World War II. 29:00Uh, I sort of did it backwards. Uh, as I recall, in World War II, I was, uh -- I became a limited machinist, and, um, I could, uh -- uh, I could run three or four different, um, types of, uh, lathe. They had, well, I'd say three or four now. They had, um, a vertical lathe which was -- a lathe is normally horizontal, but when you say vertical it's a ver -- it's a lathe that runs, uh, stands straight up. Uh, and, uh -- oh it's been so many years now, I can't remember -- I can't recall all the different types of lathes that I worked on. But that was basically my, my job there. There were some interesting, um -- it was a very 30:00interesting place to work. Uh, one of the things that stood out in my mind as an employee was having worked in the Pentagon and, um, how should we say, very rigid segregation, and overnight, um -- it, it, it happened one night, we went to work one day, one weekend, I think it was a Friday, we left, it was just a normal day, and we came back on Monday -- Friday you had a petition between the White workers and the Black workers.

SADY SULLIVAN: This is at the Pentagon?

CLARENCE IRVING: This is at the Pentagon. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest boondoggles that you ever want to see, they've got twice as many bathrooms, twice as many toilets, in the Pentagon as they need, because it was 31:00originally designed -- it was designed as white and colored.


CLARENCE IRVING: Yes, that is a fact. And it's still that way until this day. Because at that time it was, um -- as I say, it was, was, uh, that's one of the shining examples left over from what, uh, segregation in those days meant. Now, getting back to the Navy Yard oh, yeah, no, what I was trying to say was that, we came in that Monday morning, and everybody was like, "Wow." Now, and see, this is the stupid part. You work with a guy, but you can't have coffee with the guy. And if -- there was another thing that happened, when we first were there -- as, as I told you, I was employed as a, a clerk checker. We were young, young 32:00kids, and a lot of 'em, a lot of us were Black, I guess it was about ten or twelve, because they were hiring a lot of people at the time. We could read, we could write, and as I said we could hunt and peck, most of us, because even though they had, uh -- we went to, we went to black schools, they had typewriters in those days. I never did learn -- I can type, I never did learn to type the way they wanted us to learn to type. As a matter of fact, I don't even think I -- I don't think I even went to typing class in junior high school in Washington, I learned just from, uh, girls that I knew. They didn't any, um -- there was no, there were no letters on her keys, you had to learn -- whatever, that's how they learned. But anyway [laughter], we could hunt and peck from, uh, watching our sisters and our girlfriends and stuff like that. We had to work with guys who couldn't read or write. And they were white. And these were real 33:00-- you talk about country bumpkins, these were guys who had been working, uh, for a quartermaster, but the way they got away was, they knew -- they -- see what they did though that, that was upsetting, they had a guy that was older, the older men couldn't read or write, but they were working with the younger guys, and the younger guys did their reading and writing. Now, these guys got promoted. So in comes the Black guys, and they're these guys' assistants. They don't want us to know that they can't read or can't write. So they would -- what they would do is they would come in and say, um, I don't know, there's something wrong with my eyes today, I just can't, uh -- write that for me. So you'd write it. And then the next day they come up with another excuse. Uh, they forgot their glasses, or any kind of excuse, and this, this went on for about two or 34:00three weeks when the new -- when the new guys came in. Because see we were young and fresh, and these got you all the way out there in Maryland somewhere where you got, uh -- there's no bus, no way to get home. But uh, yeah, we just took -- we had enough of that nonsense. We just said, "Why don't you tell the truth, you know you can't write. And that's your job. I'm supposed to be assisting you, you're not assisting me." So, we were lucky, and the reason why we were lucky was because we had a captain, his name was Captain Plugey [phonetic], Captain Plugey was a very fair man, and, uh, he called him and told him, uh, "This boy won't listen to me," and, uh, Captain Plugey said, "Well--" So I said, "I'm not supposed to do both things. In fact, I thought I was supposed to put the tag--" See, one rule of actually doing -- whenever they would move something, we didn't 35:00physically move anything, but you had to put a tag on it. But that was a quartermaster's job, was to tag it, list it, and then move it. Now this guy wants you to do both jobs. But you see, he didn't want to put the tag on, because that was below him. So he's going to make you put the tag on and make you write all at the same time. Well, he had a bunch of fresh Washington kids and we were all [inaudible], so we did -- I would talk to Hudson, and Hudson, "Yeah, you know, him, he can't write." And he said, "I don't think that guys Scott can read either." Now we started comparing notes, so then we said, "Oh we'll fix him," you know, so we go on a job and said, "Will you--" -- he said, "You go put all the tags on." He said, "Well, now that you got the tags on, why, why don't you go and write that up?" "That's your job! I can't write, can you?" They don't know anything, and then -- now he's in trouble, because a van company is out there waiting to pick up the stuff. But he got upset and he called Captain Plugey. So Captain Plugey came and, uh, he said, "What's the matter?" So 36:00what I -- I said, "You see all the tags are on there." So he, uh, he said, "I don't, I'm gonna -- I'll make sure you don't get him again. But, uh, he can't -- he can't write, he can't read." So then, uh, Captain Plugey went to Captain -- Colonel Fallion [phonetic] and told him, "These guys cannot to do this job." See there's a lot of moving going on, coming and going around -- remember, this is Washington and now there's war's on, so everybody is moving around all over the place. So they had to retire these guys in place. But here is a guy that you can't have a cup of coffee with, in the meantime he's going to tell you that, um, you're going to have to do his work and he's going to do your work, so that was a part of, um -- that's why I said to you before, it was a very, very interesting time. But you have to remember one thing: the difference in what you 37:00had then and what the difference is that you may have now is that you had a group of dedicated people, all they wanted was a chance. That was the same thing that happened in the Navy Yard. They didn't go in looking for something or, "You owe me," or anything. I mean, I -- all I wanted you to do was tell me what you wanted me to do, because I could do anything that any other high school level student could do. And if I couldn't do it I was determined that I was going to get somebody to show me how to do it -- you may -- today I may come in and you will say, "what is X of L," and I will say, "I'm not sure," in my own mind, but when I -- the first think I did before I went home is I would find somebody who 38:00would tell me what X of L meant, so then when I come back then I could tell you the next day. And that, I think -- well, in New York, it was a little different, because in New York most of us were -- uh, come, we came from -- we were second generation who came from somewhere, whether it was Italy, Germany, uh, England, wherever, uh, you came from the South, we had the same basic, uh -- although, although, there were things that were very, very, uh, depressing. You worked beside a guy and you know that you are doing the same thing that he's doing, and you asked me why did, uh, we want to work for the government, it was very simple: because you had companies like the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 39:00they built a whole group of, uh, apartment buildings --Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Parkchester. I couldn't get an apartment in there, although I'm making the same money as anybody else. So, what happened: the nearest thing they would give us towards that was when they built the Riverton, which still -- which is still in Harlem. But not all of us lived in Harlem, I didn't live in Harlem. And one of the saddest things was, you're walking, talking with a guy, or maybe you're sitting down having lunch, and he says, "What are you doing," you say, "Oh I'm filling out my application for Levitttown." You're making 89 cents an hour, he's making 89 cents an hour, I'm paying the same taxes as he's 40:00paying, he's going to Levittown for $4,000 a year and his father's going to sell me his old raggedy house for $8,000, he's going to, going -- he's going to put $4,000 in his pocket plus he's going into a brand new community. So those were the kind of things that may have rubbed most of the wrong way, but we didn't say anything. And the reason that we didn't say anything was there was a war going on. And at that time everybody wanted to be a part of the war. Now there was some down time. There was a time, I remember, when we first my first winter work at, uh, the Navy Yard. Didn't have a bank account, always used to check -- to cash your checks across the street at the check casher place. So, there was a -- this guy, uh, who was working in the Navy Yard, and he was taking up money for 41:00the Negro College Fund. The Negro College Fund started in 1942 -- this is to support the Negro colleges in the south. Somebody told this Marine that we were -- this guy was writing numbers, because remember everything around the Navy Yard was Marines, no city cops, no nothing. We were -- went across the street, cashed our checks, went back across the street, in front of the bus stop, and we were standing there. While we were standing there, we were giving -- this guy was writing it down and taking the money, whatever you give him, fifty cents, two dollars, whatever you felt you wanted to give him as a contribution. Somebody saw us doing this, so a Marine came, and he rounded all of us up and took us up to the officer of the day. So he said, uh, "What's, uh -- what happened?" So he said, "This guy's writing numbers." Numbers? So we don't -- we 42:00didn't say nothing, we just go, because there's no sense in getting into an argument and getting your head beat in. So, um, uh, the officer of the day, the man in charge, he didn't know that there was such a thing as the Negro College Fund. So then, when we told him, he was -- at least he was enough of a gentlemen to realize the fact that fifty cents, two dollars, fifty that's not numbers, that couldn't possibly be no numbers. Who's going to play the same number? So anyway, um, this guy explained to him that, uh -- why he was taking up the money. But it wasn't on -- actually, it was on the sidewalk, in the street, we were outside of the gate, we weren't in the gate itself. But that was, um, probably the only incident, negative incident, that I can remember that ever 43:00occurred. But that was about, um, well maybe six or eight of us. I don't really remember; it's been so long ago. And then you asked me about -- oh, you didn't ask me, but I will tell you, the relationship of the workers. My brother remembers when they used to have C and W on the badges, that meant White and Colored, and I think that there was a time when, um -- somebody told me they remembered when they had certain toilets for Blacks and toilets for Whites. There were -- this was before the women, of course, came in. The women came in, um they were there when I got there in '44, so I really can't say when, but the relationship that everybody had, and the respect that everybody had for each other in general, was, uh -- it couldn't have been better. The reason I say that 44:00is because, well, it was a war, and everybody wanted to win this war. I remember, Joe Lewis made that famous remark when he fought, uh, a fight and gave the government, the naval relief fund $250,000. And Joe Lewis said, "We're going to win because we're on God's side." And that was basically the kind of, um, feeling and relationship that, that, that we had. And, um, it would be very hard for me to say anything negative, I think, about those days, because I recall -- 45:00what I do recall is that A. Philip Randolph, who was the president of the Sleeping Car Porters, he actually wrote a letter, I think it was in 1948, in which he, um -- this is documented -- in which he told -- he threatened the March on Washington -- um, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You see, the March on Washington that actually happened was nothing new. It was an old game that they had just, um, dressed up. Because remember, um, it was a known fact, you could not win with violence. That was not the way to go. The best way was to try to work on a man's conscience, and say, "Are you going to deny me a glass of 46:00water simply because I'm, because I'm black? You can stink of -- anyway you want to. They have tried every possible type of exam, and except for the fact that I have black skin, there is absolutely no difference." And we know that. We've intermarried. We've bisected and dissected and done everything you can think of. And the contributions that we have made -- and I didn't tell you this before -- uh, Dr. Charles Drew and I graduated from the same elementary school. Twenty years apart, but, uh, we came from the same elementary school. And the thing is, the contribution, the contribution that has been made by African-American 47:00people, particularly those that were born in the South, because they were actually, if you look it up, they were the water-carriers. Even in the voters rights, uh, uh -- a law, as it's written, there was a, there's a rider that came in that involved immigrants. We brought them along with us, whereas we could have said no. But yet, as it is until this day, um, it's very hard for our children to be recognized for who they are and what they are. It's almost like a fad. I'm happy to have the opportunity to be able to speak about my years in the 48:00United States government, my years, uh, and the contribution that I think that I made as an individual to help make this country a little better. I am the father, as I said, of three children. You look on anybody's police blotter and you will not find the name -- not from Paul Rufuser [phonetic], who was my father, and I'm proud of that. But it's only because of the fact that we insisted to -- I told my children, "You've got to do better than me." And thank goodness they, they have done it. Uh, if there are any questions that you would like to--

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Um, can we go back to the to your very first day at the 49:00Navy Yard?


CLARENCE IRVING: Well, my very first day --

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, oh, let's pause --

DANIELLA ROMANO: Your wife's home.

SADY SULLIVAN: -- I think Lily is here.


CLARENCE IRVING: You guys want to stop?

DANIELLA ROMANO: Should we let her in? [laughter] Just kidding.

CLARENCE IRVING: [laughter] I'm glad you -- I will remember your question.

SADY SULLIVAN: So we'll start with your first day.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Hello. Hi, come on in. Welcome, make yourself at home. [laughter]

LILY IRVING: I'm accustomed to this kind of, uh, stuff.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Here, don't trip over that.

LILY IRVING: Thank you. Sorry about that.


LILY IRVING: This is fine, here. I probably should not be here.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Oops! Sorry, I had no choice.

CLARENCE IRVING: You can close that, close that door if you don't mind. I take -- my only reason for that is that I take, I take blood-thinners, and, and I'm a little fragile.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Feel the cold, do you?


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: You feel the cold, do you?

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh yeah, in a minute. In a minute. You open a door down the block, I feel it. [laughter] Okay, you were, you were asking me, my very first 50:00day --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We have to let things settle down a bit here.

CLARENCE IRVING: Okay. So you can let me know when you're ready.


CLARENCE IRVING: Hm. This is a good chance for a sip of water. Ah. You let me know when you're ready.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay. I'm going to need those guys to be quite back there.

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, oh, okay. Grandma?


CLARENCE IRVING: Can't talk! Don't even whisper. [laughter]

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, hang on. Everybody ready?

CLARENCE IRVING: The question you asked me -- oh, okay.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Hang on, hang on. Sorry. Can you speak for me quickly, just give me a sound check?


CLARENCE IRVING: Yes, I can. How's that?



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: If you just lean back a little like you were before --

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh sure, I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- that'd be great.


SADY SULLIVAN: So, so, going back actually I have, I have just a quick interim question. Where, when you came to live with your brother, um, in New York, where was he living, where did you live with him?

CLARENCE IRVING: #1 Albany Avenue.


CLARENCE IRVING: And, um, that was -- we, we stayed there a very short while because he was negotiating to buy a house on, um, Decatur Street, which is about five blocks up, and we moved --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Can we stop? Sorry, one of these microphones has cut out on me. Sorry.

CLARENCE IRVING: Okay! [inaudible] I can remember.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, thank you.



SADY SULLIVAN: I'm not wearing a watch today.



CLARENCE IRVING: How much did we lose? [laughter]



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No, no, no, just, just the start of the last question.


CLARENCE IRVING: Won't be the first time. [laughter] I used to do a little show, um, I used to do a little show, you know, called Hour One.


CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, it was, uh, like QPTV. Uh, must have done it maybe a year 53:00or so. A lot of it was destroyed because -- you remember that, uh, I don't know if you know that, uh -- is it okay if we talk now?


CLARENCE IRVING: I'm just talking to her, though.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- just talking, just not interview stuff.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, right, no I'm just uh -- now what happened, uh, at York College they used to have, um, studio. And, uh, what happened, they had that problem that, uh -- what do you call it? What's that thing they had with, um, moth, uh, mildew --legionnaire's disease.


CLARENCE IRVING: See what happened, yeah, it was something-- uh, the water got in the wall or something, and they had to throw almost all of this stuff out.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh goodness, so all your tapes and stuff.

CLARENCE IRVING: All my hard work.


CLARENCE IRVING: All my hard work, yeah. But not only mine was, uh --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- a lot of other stuff, yeah.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, that's such a shame.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, it was.

SADY SULLIVAN: Do you need -- is it a cable thing? I have extra cables.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm not sure what it is.

CLARENCE IRVING: And they wouldn't let us have it, you know, and I wan --

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Do you have a direct from this one to XLR?

SADY SULLIVAN: Um. Oh, from -- yeah. I think I might. Oh no, I do but not with me. That's what my other recorder takes. Um, what do I have? Just quarter inch to -- I mean, just eighth inch to quarter inch. Do you have a quarter inch in there?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Ah, uh, no. No. Say something for me, Clarence?

CLARENCE IRVING: I just said something.


CLARENCE IRVING: Is that okay? Jiggle worked. [laughter] Hm. Yeah, they had a 55:00nice little studio in there. It was a shame. I did some pretty interesting things, and a couple of things that I, I wanted to keep so bad.

SADY SULLIVAN: Yeah. Oh, that's -- it's that kind of thing -- mildew attacking --


SADY SULLIVAN: It makes -- at the Historical Society --

CLARENCE IRVING: Now tell me, when did you run into Randy -- Randy Weston?

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh goodness, um, I started at the Historical Society in 2006, and that was, um, and I interviewed him for the first time that year


SADY SULLIVAN: And then, um

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Just say something for me, Clarence?

CLARENCE IRVING: Say something. How was that?

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We're up and running again.



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Um, so after that question about first day we're good, hang on.





CLARENCE IRVING: Now, I did forget the question. Oh, you -- I know what it was. I can tell you what it was. You asked me what was my first day like.


CLARENCE IRVING: Okay, my first day, um, you know, remember my first day at the Navy Yard was not a typical, because of -- I was a transfer. They knew who I was, so I didn't have to go through all of the procedures, whatever. They had more on me than you would have on most people, because I had, um, I had become, um, uh, an established employee.

SADY SULLIVAN: Because of your work at the Pentagon.

CLARENCE IRVING: Because of my rep -- all they had to do was send for my record and, uh --and can I ask you a question?


CLARENCE IRVING: Do you know what happened to those records?

SADY SULLIVAN: The Navy Yard records?


SADY SULLIVAN: I wouldn't know, but Daniella would. [laughter]


DANIELLA ROMANO: Personnel records?


DANIELLA ROMANO: Would be all in St. Louis.



DANIELLA ROMANO: That's -- the National Archive has --

CLARENCE IRVING: Can you -- is there a way to, to -- is there a way to request them?

DANIELLA ROMANO: Yeah. And I can get you the forms.

CLARENCE IRVING: I certainly would appreciate it, because I would like for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, to, to have -- I, my children broke the record after me, they didn't go to work in the Navy Yard after all. [laughter] Well, my son did work in the government but, uh, I'm a little bit of a nut that way. I like to let them know.

DANIELLA ROMANO: I'll get you the information, absolutely.

CLARENCE IRVING: I appreciate that so much.


CLARENCE IRVING: And, uh, I promise you, I assure you, my little grand -- sweet grandsons, that'll be [inaudible].


CLARENCE IRVING: [laughter] You, you asked for, you asked to come over here, I bet you say, "I'll never go to that guy's house again."

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]


SADY SULLIVAN: No, grandchildren, great grandchildren, always -- always appreciate talking about them. Um, okay, so your first day was not typical, 58:00because you had already -- you, you had worked at the Pentagon, so what was, what was your first day like?

CLARENCE IRVING: It was very interesting in that, um, they told me, um, basically what I was doing and they introduced me to my instructors and, um, ah, having had a little bit of, uh, experience in, um, public school, see I didn't -- I had a -- I was able to grasp things a lot, a lot quicker than a lot of people because there was such a shortage of skilled people at the time. Here you have, uh, I was no different from any other kid that came from, um, the outside, 59:00but there weren't that many being drafted at that time, because so many people were being drafted and being used in, uh, facilities. But, uh, I they issued you the tools that you were going to be issued and showed you what area you were going to work in, and that -- that was about all. I don't recall if I was put on shift work immediately, I doubt it, I assume that I worked steady days for a while.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. And was there -- was there a uniform or anything like that?

CLARENCE IRVING: Not -- it, it was, it was not required. Uh, what was required was short sleeves, you could have, um, one-piece or you could have two pieces, 60:00but you could not have sleeves.

SADY SULLIVAN: Why is that?

CLARENCE IRVING: No sleeves, no long hair. Because you had, um, machine -- machines that, uh, are spinning either horizontal or vertical. Uh, as a matter of fact, um, I have a lump on my lip now, not from the Navy Yard, this was from, uh, once I forgot to, uh, tighten a chuck. A chuck is, um -- I was working on the outside, actually, and, um, the Navy would -- never would've approved of the piece, this piece of equipment that I was working with. And the chuck was locked, but because of this wedge here, it opened up, and when the chuck opened up the piece of work that I had inside flew back and hit me in the mouth.


CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, it was -- well I looked like a bloody pig, it was a 61:00terrible thing, but they did a good job. This was much later. But, um, that was -- I said that to --because in the Navy Yard they had written out, um, main, uh, safety instructions. And, um, it was just a -- as a said, a good place, a good place to work compared to what you had, and it was a desire, nobody, nobody, um, didn't come to work wanting to do whatever they had to do. You were in a war, you know, and at that time there hadn't been a war in a long time, and everybody wanted to win the war. You had a lot of what would be today considered derogatory, uh -- they would have on the walls "Slap the Jap" and, uh, "Hunt the 62:00Hu," uh, "Hunt the -- " what did they call them, the Hundies? Huns? The Germans. What did they call them?

SADY SULLIVAN: The Huns, yeah.

CLARENCE IRVING: There was a name that starts with an H, I forget -- I forget whatever they called them, anyway. And, uh, Right in the Fuhrer's Face and all kinds of things, you know, and that was sort of like motivating --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- to people, you know. And, um, nobody -- I don't remember a lot, there may have been, but I don't recall any racial incidents in, in -- in the Navy Yard itself. Uh, and I know that a lot of friendships were made. Uh, a lot of people were, uh, lifelong friends. The people who I knew that -- we stayed friendly until they passed. They introduced me to their families, and I 63:00went to their -- some of these, some of these people I went to their chistenings, I went to their weddings. [laughter] And then I went to their parents' funerals. It, it just was, it was a whole different ballgame, although there were certain advantages and disadvantages, but by the same token, um, there were a lot of good things happened. I, I, I don't know.

SADY SULLIVAN: How was it? Was it -- I imagine if -- that's if -- coming from, from segregated schools, and then a workplace that, that has everyone working together, there must be -- how do you -- there must be difficult conversations, there must be some, some bumpiness there. How did -- how did those things work out?


CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, oh well now, I, I, I would say this: segregated schools were not, um, uh -- which is -- how should I describe it, uh, segregated schools were not places in which you were taught to be angry. All you wanted was -- I, I think you went there with the idea, let me have a chance to show you what I can do. Now remember, if you take a look in any area, whether there's sports, or whether it's academics, or -- anyway, but for instance, if a black kid gets an 65:00opportunity to go to Harvard, he's not going to Harvard with a chip on his shoulder. Uh, if he gets a chance to go to Dartmouth, Columbia, wherever, it's -- student teachers worked all year long, saved their money to come to Columbia in the summer time, they didn't come up here to picket. They didn't come up here to riot. They came up here to get as much knowledge as they possibly could so they could go back home and teach their kids. If you -- you see there were so many things -- for an instance, there were so many things that, that, that we lose, that the deck was stacked against us. For an instance, take the Tuskegee Airmen. That was designed to fail. To fail. But those guys were determined, "I'm going to show you I can fly a plane. I'm going to show you that I'm just as 66:00loyal or more loyal than, uh, any other person that you've ever seen." And it was the same thing in, in, in the Navy. Dorie Miller died, he didn't have to die. All he had to do was stay down in the boiler room where he belonged, but no, he saw other guys out, he heard that guys were getting killed up on the deck, he went up and he -- he was never trained to fire a machine gun. And he -- what he wan -- what he got for his heroics was something that he wasn't assigned to do, but he heard that the guys up were getting killed, he went up and he wiped, uh, a couple of planes or whatever he did, then they brought him back, that's when he got killed. But that was, uh, look at all of the explosives that, uh, black soldiers had to ha -- and sailors -- had to handle during World War II. But the history books don't tell you this as it was done in those days. Uh, 67:00[inaudible] if you take the percentage of, um, what is -- the word that I'm looking for is, well I would say -- I don't want to say espionage because espionage meant in the inner workings, but you could always put a little jump in the game one or the other. But, uh, that was not something that, uh, black people did. When you sit down at the table at night, you never talked about anything negative about the country. Although, and I will show you a for an instance that happened this was something that was could have been very bad at the time that it happened. My partner, who I told you that I was in the record business with, he had a very nice physique. He was no Sugar Ray Robinson, he 68:00wasn't the world's greatest fighter by any means, but he was a decent fighter. And, uh, he had a beautiful physique. There was a sculptor who wanted to do, I don't know why she wanted to do this bust of a man, she came up to Stillman's Gym and she saw him and she liked him and she asked him, would he be willing to pose for her. So he said, "Okay." She'd pay him. And he met her every day -- she used to -- she lived in Stuyvesant Town. So he would come to ring the bell and she would take him upstairs to her apartment and he would take his shirt off. And this particular day this guy looks out the window and he sees this black man in this white woman's apartment. So what does he do? He calls the cops. The cops 69:00come up there, and here he is with his shirt off, they're going to lock him up for rape and all this kind of nonsense. So the woman says, "He's working for me." But you see, this is the kind of thing that could've, could've, uh, made him a very, very angry man.


CLARENCE IRVING: Now as luck would have it, this is the same man who, in less than a year and a half, uh, the people from Scranton, Pennsylvania had seen him fight, and they decided, "We want to hire this man." You want to hear something, an addendum to that? He's the guy that discovered Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champion of the world. Now can you imagine if this poor guy had gone to jail? He would have been very angry the rest of his life. Not only that, think of how much money Larry Holmes made, and is still making, as a tax payer. Next question. [laughter]

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, I changed tapes there, so.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Can you just pass me those two tapes? There, and the other one.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, thank you. Very good, though.



CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, you're done?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No, I've just go to change tapes.

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh. No, I thought it was -- but I mean, I was just trying to show you how things evolve --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- and how things can happen --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- and how good things can come out of it.

SADY SULLIVAN: I hear you, and having -- and, yeah, focusing on moving forward towards --


SADY SULLIVAN: -- positive outcomes --


SADY SULLIVAN: -- and yeah there's, you know, but we, we're getting over the-- [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: True. That's it, yes.

SADY SULLIVAN: Yeah, I appreciate that. Um--


CLARENCE IRVING: Oh -- gonna get another drink of water. [laughter]


SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: Do you want water, Sadie?

UNIDENITFIED SPEAKER: If you guys could spare a pen, there, as well.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Sadie, do you want water?

SADY SULLIVAN: No, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, everybody happy?




SADY SULLIVAN: Okay. Um, so who were, who were your instructors and your supervisors when you first started, who were teaching you?

CLARENCE IRVING: In the Navy Yard?


CLARENCE IRVING: There was, um -- as strange as it may seem, I had, um -- and this was unusual, because I don't think any -- I don't, I don't remember this happening to anybody else -- I had -- actually, I had two, um, bosses, two of my bosses actually were black. One was a quarter man named, um, Ed Dummitt [phonetic], Edward Dummitt was his name, and the other one was, uh, Leroy Rodman 72:00[phonetic]. And then I had a -- gee, I can't for the life of, life of me think of his name. Um, he was an Italian-American named Ralph. Very nice man. Um, uh, there was another one, uh, De Young [phonetic], um, uh, Mr. De Young. But as I said, uh, I don't think people had time, you know -- Georgia took that, um, uh, slogan, they said that they didn't have time to hate, they had no time to be angry. And that was basically what it was like in, in, in the Navy Yard. I mean, um, everybody knew what we were there for, and um, I don't reca -- I can't recall any, um, situations where guys would, would, would say that they were 73:00actually picked on, because I knew, whew, four or five guys -- I knew one guy, he and I became great friends, Johnny Buxton [phonetic], the piano player, uh -- I'm sorry, a guitar player. [laughter] And he had, he was -- he was so elated, because he finally had had an opportunity to work at something, the one thing he wanted to be. He didn't want to be a guitar player; he played guitar because he couldn't work in a machine shop. He enjoyed, uh -- in other words, when he came out of high school, and he couldn't get a job, and so he went on to become a musician. And we talked about it a lot, when Johnny and I were, um, became good friends, as a matter of fact. Johnny died of, uh -- well, Johnny was, he had to 74:00be about thirty-five or forty when I was twenty, uh, because he taught me a lot of things, and um, when I attended his, uh, funeral, yeah, about twenty-five years ago or something like that, but there were a lot of people like that, and there were a lot of ladies who, uh, well it was the same thing. See, you have -- I shouldn't say it this way, but I'll put it -- remember, um, '38 to '44 wasn't too long, and a lot of those people came from the WPA, PWA, didn't have jobs before, nothing steady, working in factories, um, you didn't have good, uh, ventilator, uh -- put it this way, you didn't have ventilating systems, uh, at 75:00that time, that were equal to what we have now. And uh, I suffer from, um, uh, a disease, but, um, it happened later, after I left the Navy Yard, I was working for Con Ed. But what I'm trying to say is that you worked in the Navy Yard, they had all kind of, uh, exhaust fans to take out smoke, to take out dust, to -- it was like working in paradise, and then on top of that, you had lockers, you could -- of course, you could go in there with a white suit, and, uh, change your suit, work in, huh, grease up to your ears all day, go take a nice shower, put your white suit on, nobody knew where you worked. You couldn't do that in 76:00most factories, so -- and they had, uh, the most up to date equipment, and, uh, if something was wrong, it was always a, a first aid person there, it was just an unbelievable place for people who had, uh, had worked under some of the terrible conditions. Don't forget, you had terrible factories in New York City, awful fires, explosions. You didn't have that kind of thing in the Navy Yard. And the Navy Yard was beautiful, I mean, the sidewalks were like Park Avenue, yes. I mean, beautiful, all of those streets that you see, just as clean as, uh -- it was unbelievable. Once you walked in those gates, in that gate, you were in a different world.


CLARENCE IRVING: Because it was inspected by, um, the upper echelon of -- and not only that, they had good cafeterias, you know, it was just a, a whole -- you 77:00know, and people weren't able -- they had their -- they knew that they had to go, but they regretted the day that the war ended, only because of, of the, the good treatment, and uh, you went in the cafeteria, the food was fresh, you didn't have to worry about yesterday, or some guy slipping a three-day-old roll on you, no. It was just the -- okay.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. So what was the, um, because it was, it was gated, what was the -- how did you get into the Navy Yard to go to where you were working?

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, you had a badge. Uh, I was trying to, to -- I, I asked my niece if she had a copy of, uh, or if she had my brother's badge. And, uh, but 78:00she said no, because I wanted to bring it so you could see what the badges look like. My, um, mine was destroyed, they were all destroyed at the same time. But you had this badge, and um, you always went in the same gate, and as strange as it may seem, most people, after three or six months, they kind of knew you, you know. In other words, you walk in, and you had, you had your badge on so they could see it, but they didn't -- if you had the same Marine, because Marines guarded the gates, there were no such thing as civilians or anything, they didn't even know you, they didn't want to know you -- I'm contradicting myself, but I mean, they knew you by, by face, and uh, so they could tell -- you couldn't get out, the only way you would get out is if you had to have, uh, a written permission to go out, uh, in between shifts.


CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah. Um, it was really very, very rigid, yes.


SADY SULLIVAN: Um, and so, and that, that security, did you, did you get a sense why it was -- there was security like that?

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, sure, because you could, um -- well, first of all, you, you -- uh, the wrong person that came in could do a lot of damage. And, uh, it was extremely important -- don't forget, that was, um, a major facility, and you had all types of explosion -- explosive liquids and materials around there. I don't think that -- I'm almost positive that the ships didn't have any ammunition on them, but there were -- now, there were, I don't, I don't know this as a fact, but I think it's true: there may have been times when they brought one or two ships in when there was a live, um, bullet in the ship that they had, uh -- a 80:00part of doing a repair was to take that live bullet out, or the cap, or the head of the bullet sometimes. Usually, as I recall, they loaded and unloaded the ships in like Bayonne or some other, um, location. But there was a time when they, I think this is true, there was a time when there was to save a ship, they had to weld thirteen men in the hole, and, um --

SADY SULLIVAN: You mean they weren't -- they couldn't get out.

CLARENCE IRVING: Most of them, I think they think they were dead, they -- they were dead, or some of them may or may not have been dead. But what they did in 81:00order to save the ship, they -- I understand that they had to, uh, build -- shut off a -- you see, it's like a gate, and they de-capacitated that part of the ship, and those men were, were left in there. But they were removed, and uh, in the, in the Navy Yard, because the Navy Yard was the only place with -- I don't remember where they brought the ship from even, but, uh -- and the ship had been in a, in a battle.


CLARENCE IRVING: And uh, and I understand there was some, uh, um, uh, shells or bullets or caps or something that was left in there, yes.

SADY SULLIVAN: Was that the, the USS Franklin?

CLARENCE IRVING: I, uh, it could may have been. I don't know. Thank you for verifying my statement. [laughter] I, I only -- see, 'cause I, I know -- I 82:00remember the situation, but I don't remember -- I remember my brother was, uh, was supposed to have been, uh -- the Constitution caught on fire, you see. [laughter] The Constitution, [inaudible] in our notes. The Constitution caught on fire, and my brother was on that shi -- on that shift. But he wasn't on that shift. What happened was he got, uh, his, uh -- one of his fellow, um, employees had asked him if he would swap with him, because I don't know if he had to go to -- this guy had to go to a funeral or what he had to do, but I was working -- this was after the war.


CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah. And I was across the street working for -- on 10th Avenue, and I could see the fire. And they wouldn't let us -- there was no way, 83:00because we wanted to take a rowboat and go across, to, to see -- because we're worried.


CLARENCE IRVING: And then I found out, uh, I called my, uh, sister, sister-in-law, and she told me he wasn't there, he had changed shifts. And unfortunately, the guy he changed his shift with died.

SADY SULLIVAN: Wow. How lucky for your brother, that's --

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, but unfortunate for the other guy. It just wasn't his time.



SADY SULLIVAN: Wow. Was there other -- do you have other memories of ships coming in with battle damage?

CLARENCE IRVING: No, see, that wasn't -- that, that was not my area. I'm only telling you things that somebody told me. I was, uh, I was in the machine shop, which was -- we were a long ways away from the docks.


CLARENCE IRVING: When you, when, when -- when you go and you see, what is it, uh, 128 Building was quite a distance from the dock, I didn't even know what they were doing down there.



SADY SULLIVAN: So there wasn't -- you wouldn't sort of -- there wasn't time to 84:00kind of wander through the Yard.

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, no. Oh, no. Your badge told them where you belong.


CLARENCE IRVING: And the only time that you would get a chance to do that was -- now, I don't remember what ship was, um -- what do you call it when they break the champagne?

SADY SULLIVAN: The launch?

CLARENCE IRVING: Launch. Yeah, it was, it may have -- I think I remember a time when they launched a ship, and that's a big celebration, and they bring all the guys there who have like thirty -- see, when you hear me say 128 Building, that was 38 Shop. 38 Shop was a machine shop, and we did some of the work that -- on, on the ships, but then they would go -- we would go, 07 would be there, 26 were the welders, and 35 -- I don't remember all of these different, but all would be there, like "Yay," you know. And sometimes, um, they would, uh -- I think if -- 85:00this was not during the height of the war, this must have been in the '50s, they would let you go home after the celebration. And, um, you know, that was a big celebration for that day. As a matter of fact, they gave you, and I'm so sorry I don't have a -- uh, because all of that stuff was in a box, my brother's and my, it was doing my -- my brother's house, it was right near a furnace, and the pipe broke, and we didn't, we didn't even know it, because when the pipe broke -- well, I wasn't living there, but anyway -- but, uh, when the pipe broke, we weren't paying any attention, and somebody went in, and oh, my God, everything is ruined.


CLARENCE IRVING: And I come over, and the pictures are stuck together, and there was all kinds of stuff in there.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh that's a shame.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah it was, it was really a mess. But that's why I don't have anything. I have one thing, and I'll, I'll find it. Um, I'm not sure if it's here or in Texas, but that's the certificate that I have for, uh, advanced 86:00machine shop training. That's the only --

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Tell us what the machine shop was like, what -- like what the space like, and the sound and smell and--?

CLARENCE IRVING: What was it like?



SADY SULLIVAN: What was it like to be in there?

CLARENCE IRVING: Uh, well, a Navy Yard machine shop is, uh, like no other. From the ones that I've seen, I've seen American Machine and Foundry -- first of all, it's tremendous. And they would have, um, uh, a section for, uh -- a, a, a section for lathes. You know what a lathe is? Okay. A lathe is a, is a machine that has a tool, you use a tool, and you -- everything is, uh, what's the word? -- cylinder type, uh, it's not, though, that's not the right word. But everything rolls around, okay, on the horizontal. That's, um, we usually -- now, 87:00we also have a vertical lathe, and the vertical, uh, the one I was speaking of originally is horizontal; you have a vertical lathe, the vertical lathe does the same thing, only it does it, um, up from a vertical position.


CLARENCE IRVING: Then you have turret lathes, and then they -- when I have -- like they may have a, whew, a dozen, a dozen lathes, I'm trying to think of -- I can't think of the -- horizontal lays, and then maybe you'll have maybe four vertical lathes, then you'll maybe have a dozen, um, turret lathes, then you got, um, milling machines, a section of milling machines, then you've got, and now, when I'm saying that, I'm talking six or eight, it depends, or maybe even more, what's that, uh -- drill presses. You might have -- usually you would 88:00have, if you've got six turret lathes, then you more than likely, you'll find, um, a dozen, uh, drill presses, because there's -- drill presses, you do, uh, you do most of your stud work, that, that means you, uh, drill holes, and, and put the threads in the hole, and a stud is usually, it's about -- depending, but it's a, it's a cylinder kind of thing, it's got threads on each side, and when you put the stud in, when, when -- they'll drill it here, and then you may have another drill mach -- drill press set up in another area that will put the stud in. Now, um, then, there's another section of drill presses which is set up, so 89:00that whatever that cap would be, now you've got, uh -- okay, here's an idea. You have a cylinder, you've got a stud, so you've got to drill a hole in that cylinder so that the stud will fix -- will fit in there. Now, that, you move that, now you've got the -- this cylinder, this head, plus your stud, it moves over to the next one, and that would put whatever that's going to be, a cap, or an attachment, or whatever it is. So that's why you have so many drill presses, because they do so many -- they can do so many different things.


CLARENCE IRVING: So you start out with this cylinder over here, and if you get this cylinder that you want from the drill -- from the lathe, and they may have what you may see a lot of contours or whatever you have in it. Then you take it 90:00over -- then it would move over to your, um, turret lathe. A turret lathe is a lathe that has, um, a surround -- see my fingers, imagine, imagine my fingers being spread out, and it has a cylinder in here. Now, this one here will drill a hole. This one here will [inaudible] for that hole; this one here would, um, put, this -- sometimes they may put the stud in. This one will put the washer on it, and this one here, uh, would, um, maybe it -- you might want to make sure that this original stud from over here, if it's supposed to be three quarters of an inch down, it has to be three quarters of an inch down. If it's not three quarters of an inch, it'll hang up something, something is not going to fit. In 91:00other words, now you've got to take this -- you say, well, what the heck, it didn't go all the way down. It didn't go all the down, and why, because maybe somewhere along the line, the hole wasn't drilled deep enough, or for whatever reason, a chip got in there, it wouldn't go down far enough. Whew. Why do you take me through this, this has been so many years --

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: Anyway, this is a part of, of, of what happens. Now, when you get over to the end, you have another drill press, but this drill press is set up to check to make sure everything is in place. And once you do that, uh, you pass it, and it goes through the inspector and then out the door.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, I have to reset here. Clarence, do you mind just leaning back again?



CLARENCE IRVING: Just, just do me like this. You know. When I do like this, say, "Get back."


CLARENCE IRVING: I get carried away. I forget.

DANIELLA ROMANO: But all that recording was fine, yeah?



DANIELLA ROMANO: All that sound was good, yeah?



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay, and there's a battery in there.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: [inaudible] Thank you.


DANIELLA ROMANO: We're getting the whole sequence of, of jobs, because there's also a woman that Sady has interviewed who's a parts inspector.


DANIELLA ROMANO: And, so, when you're talking about the three-quarter inch, she's talking about using a micrometer to do these measurements, because if anything was too big or too little, it would gum up all the works.

CLARENCE IRVING: Right, absolutely. Yes, yes.

DANIELLA ROMANO: It's wonderful.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, yeah. Yup.

SADY SULLIVAN: Okay. So, actually, so speaking about that, you would, you would start -- somebody would start with that piece and go to all the different machines.



SADY SULLIVAN: And it wasn't -- so you would follow your piece that you were working on? Or would --

CLARENCE IRVING: No, no, no, no, no. Wait, no, no. I mis -- I mean, I misled you. You have a box, maybe, of ten or twelve or fifteen or fifty. Could be sometimes as many as five hundred pieces. You just did your job, and it went from you, it went from the, uh -- it went from the tur -- from the, uh, whew --it went from the lathe, okay, I'm trying to think, it's not a turret lathe.

SADY SULLIVAN: I see. So you --

CLARENCE IRVING: It went from the lathe to the turret lathe, and to the turret lathe, what did I say -- and it was a, it was a procession.

SADY SULLIVAN: I see. So there was each person for each lathe.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, no, no. It was a procession, right.

SADY SULLIVAN: And then you -- I see.

CLARENCE IRVING: And see, that's, that's what -- that's what's known as production. Now, uh, I'll get ahead of myself a little bit, when I was telling you about -- I don't know why I was selected to work in, uh, 1819 Flushing Avenue. Uh, they must have seen something in, in me as to why they would want me 94:00to, to work there.


CLARENCE IRVING: Because there, one person is going to do more than one thing. But what I was showing you there, that was basically a production person.


CLARENCE IRVING: They're going to be -- that -- and it's like pressing pants, because all you do is press pants, all he does is press shirts, and uh, sometimes you will even find that in, uh, years ago in the laundry, this guy would press the sleeves and the collar, and the other person would press the body of the shirt, and uh, that would pass down the line, and the bag would come down and slip right into the shirt. Well, it's almost the same -- that's what's known as production.


CLARENCE IRVING: When I was working in 1819 Flushing Avenue, that was experimental, that's a different kind of thing, uh, because they were trying to, to work something out, trying to develop something.



CLARENCE IRVING: But the other thing was already developed.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. And there was an efficient way to --

CLARENCE IRVING: Yes, yes, that's right.

SADY SULLIVAN: -- get these things done. Mm-hm. And what was -- with all those machines going at once, what was the sound like in that space?

CLARENCE IRVING: It seemed, as, as, as, as, ad, um -- it's unbelievable, but in most cases, you didn't have that much noise. That was the beginning of the, uh -- you, you're thinking about the olden days when they had, uh, belts, uh, then slapping and making a lot of noise. Except for, um, there maybe have been, if that first person, usually the lathe-hand, he may have had the -- if he got a raw piece of material, sometimes you might hear, "Rhee!" You may get that sound from him until he gets to a certain point. Once he -- because when you get a raw 96:00piece of, uh, a raw -- a, a, a raw piece of steel, and you've got to make something from it, uh, the outside shell sometimes would have a noise, or it may, uh, smoke a little bit. But once you get that first cut through, you, you don't hear it anymore. But as far as, uh, extreme noise, no, it's not that noisy in there. Uh, it's, uh, no, because you had -- first of all, you had electric motors, and uh -- you, you could talk in a normal voice. It, it, uh -- that's not suggested, because usually when you talk, uh, you forget, uh -- lose track of what you're doing, and you could wind up even getting hurt, because if you -- everything that you put in that machine has to be put in there tight. And now, 97:00you have safety devices on, which are red lights, green lights, but years ago you didn't have that. You had to make sure it was tight, hand-tight, and if it wasn't tight you, you had a problem. You had too many problems, uh, they found somewhere else for you to go or out the door.


CLARENCE IRVING: And that was it.

SADY SULLIVAN: What was the feeling, um, about the pace of the work? Did you feel, um, that you had to rush, or were people pretty comfortable with the pace?

CLARENCE IRVING: No, they -- I would say this, that if they asked, expected -- you had like, basically a quota, and usually the quota was, um, depending on what you were doing. Let's say that you were making, um, the interior of a button, just for argument's sake. They expected forty-eight a day. That's twenty-four in the morning, basically doing -- and what a lot of people, what a 98:00lot of guys would do is you would, you know, you're gonna do forty-eight, so what you would do is, in the morning, before lunch, you, you would try, you'd say, I'm gonna do thirty, this way I can kind of take it easy in the afternoon. And not only that, you might also, uh, you, you -- if it's difficult, um, you, you want to try and do fifty-two or fifty-three, because you want to make sure you put in forty-eight good ones. I know sometimes guys are ambitious, there's a war going on, so you would just make sixty. It, it didn't, you know, it didn't matter. But the point was to keep up: you wanted to be sure you did your quota. And that depends--

SADY SULLIVAN: Was there a sense in, in the work, that everyone was doing -- was 99:00there a collective sense of this being for the war effort?

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, yeah! Well, everything was -- that you did, was because, um, oh yeah, yeah, you had brothers -- you didn't have too many sisters -- but you had brothers, cousins, uncles, fathers, they were actually fighting this war, somebody was fighting this war, the kid next door. And the guys used to, used to have, um, um, uh, piece of, um, crayon, it was, yeah, crayon, and he used to write, "To Joe, From Pete," and all that kind. Joe never saw it maybe, but there were times when Joe did actually see it. Um, you know, he would --

SADY SULLIVAN: That would be written on a piece of -- ?

CLARENCE IRVING: He would write it on, if you had a cylinder or something, anything rough, and you with your [inaudible] Pete was in the Navy, and, uh, he may have been your brother's kid or something, you know, or, and you would just 100:00put on there, you'd put on there, "From the Scott Family, with love." It was, you know, it was a war, it was, uh -- and those are some of the things that went on. And then there were, what they have, they used to have a thing like looked like a gremlin or something, I forget, it was some kind of little animal, like, you know this, uh, animal -- what is this thing that you see the Geico uses?

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, a gecko?

CLARENCE IRVING: Yeah, well the -- they didn't use a gecko but it was what, Kilroy, Kilroy, yeah, Kilroy Was Here, you know. Kilroy Was -- Kilroy Was Here, that I remember, remember that one? Remember that one? Yeah, that one used to be a famous one, Kilroy Was Here, and you'd put your name on it.


CLARENCE IRVING: So it would say Kilroy Was Here, and put Mary on the underneath the Kilroy. Sure, it was, uh, all a part of the game.


CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, thank you, I was trying to remember what that was.

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: Sure. I was, uh -- as I said, everybody enjoyed, it was a whole 101:00different thing. And not only that, people who balanced their budget which was -- sometimes they'd never done it before, you know?

SADY SULLIVAN: Because it was -- so it was good money that people were making in the Yards?

CLARENCE IRVING: Very good money, sure, because, uh, the average -- the average person -- I mean, you can laugh about this, but the average person at that time, the average was about $1.75 an hour. Now I, I started at $1.89, and that's at -- now we're talking average -- that's at the bottom of the top for most skilled people.


CLARENCE IRVING: It was good money in those days, sure.


CLARENCE IRVING: My first job I had, I made $1,080 a year. And when I left I was making that much a week. But, uh -- not there, but, uh, that just goes to show you --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- how times were --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- in those days. Yes.

SADY SULLIVAN: So how was it when -- when the war ended, an -- I forget the term 102:00that you used, that they -- they sort of laid them off.



CLARENCE IRVING: Well, it was very good for skilled people, because there were people like Pfizer, American Machine & Foundry Company, um, I told you I went to work for Amsize Silversmith [phonetic] -- they couldn't wait! They couldn't wait. Where were you going to get those skilled people? They, their -- everything was opening up, uh, there was, um, what was the name of that, uh, um, uh, that -- well, Madman Muntz came out with the television, was one, but that was later. Remember -- do you remember the vacuum cleaner that had the big wheels, they thought it was the high wheels, and uh, but they lasted about four or five years and they moved to Puerto Rico? They couldn't get enough machinists.

SADY SULLIVAN: It was -- they were built in Brooklyn?

CLARENCE IRVING: They were built -- oh, Brooklyn was a -- oh, Brooklyn was a -- 103:00are you kidding me? Brooklyn had -- was a very, very -- if you get a historic -- Brooklyn Historic Society put out a book a few years ago that tells you all about the industry of Brooklyn. Now you have some of the most --

SADY SULLIVAN: Yeah, Brooklyn Works, I think.

CLARENCE IRVING: Yes. You have some of the most skilled people you ever want to find right there in Brooklyn, yes. Yes. Then all of those, um, companies, uh -- and I -- because I remember the guy that went to work for, I keep saying American Machine & Foundry Company, because they, um, uh, offered me a job. But, uh, I was doing better with, um -- actually I met a young man whose father who -- oh sorry, his uncle had opened a silverware shop, and he wanted me to come with him. And I went with him, and I stayed with him the better part of six years, until they called me back in the Navy Yard. But if you had any skill 104:00right after the war, you had no problem at all getting a job, plenty of overtime, and it was like, uh, unbelievable.

SADY SULLIVAN: So there wasn't -- I mean, was there a sense of, of disappointment that, that work in the Navy Yard was over at that point?

CLARENCE IRVING: Not really, because, you know, it was -- everybody was so happy that the war was over, and the guys came home, and, uh, well, in those days it, first of all, the girls and guys wanted to get married and guys wanted to settle down, they wanted to -- they were so happy to have a job, that their wives didn't have to work. That, that came along a little, I would say, in the turn of the fifties is -- was the beginning of the wives doing, as I understand it, they 105:00began to, to, to work, and they got two, the two salary thing. But I mean, guys took pride in the fact that, uh, that, uh, they could support their families all by themselves, yeah.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. So then you -- were you working in the Navy Yards in, in '66 when it was decommissioned?

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, no. No, I had -- I left -- oh my goodness. I started to work for the City in January of '54.


CLARENCE IRVING: So, uh, but I had been out -- I must have left the Navy Yard about '53? Somewhere around there. I don't -- I should know but I don't really remember now.


CLARENCE IRVING: Uh, and, um, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I was thinking at one time of going to work at, um -- see I took the exam and I, I 106:00didn't take the job. [laughter] The first time around. I then I went to work for January '54. Yeah.


CLARENCE IRVING: No, '66, oh my god. '66? '66 I owned this property.


CLARENCE IRVING: It was just a vacant piece of land.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, so did you build this house?



CLARENCE IRVING: This is a custom-built house. Mm-hm. '78.

SADY SULLIVAN: So, did you raise your kids here, or --

CLARENCE IRVING: No. They never --

SADY SULLIVAN: -- or in Brooklyn?

CLARENCE IRVING: No, my kids graduated, um, my kids graduated from school in the city. I lived in St. Albans and my children grew up in St. Albans and, uh, on the advice of my lawyer I decided not to, um, build -- I wanted to build a house here, and he said, "But you've got to be crazy because you've got to think about 107:00your future as a retirement. Why would you want to build a house that you needed extra room for your children? You need something that's going to be just for you and the wife."


CLARENCE IRVING: And that's what happened, and she passed in '93. We built it in '81, and most of the time we, uh, spent, uh, this is our summer home.


CLARENCE IRVING: This -- we, [inaudible] almost, you name it, almost every musician you can name came here, because there's a golf course right down the road, I don't know if you know that.

SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, I didn't know that.

CLARENCE IRVING: But there's a golf course right down the road and they, they used to come and check in to play golf, and then come up to eat and play cards, and I used to chase them out of here, "Go home." [laughter]

SADY SULLIVAN: That's nice, that's nice. So do you remember -- so you were living in Queens then, when -- when the Yards were decommissioned. Is that right?

CLARENCE IRVING: When the Yards were decommissioned was '66?



CLARENCE IRVING: Oh yes. Yes. I have -- I was living in St. Albans, yes.

SADY SULLIVAN: And do you remember, like, what the -- what the sentiment was? I mean, did you have -- did you have feelings about it?

CLARENCE IRVING: No, because actually my, see, my brother, my brother, uh, was still in the Yard because he was -- but he didn't work there. What happened was, he was transferred to Boston, no he was transferred to -- he went to Philadelphia, then he went to Charleston, and then he went to Boston.

SADY SULLIVAN: These are all shipyards?

CLARENCE IRVING: These are all shipyards. See, he was, um, he was a CRS specialist, he was a welder.


CLARENCE IRVING: But CRS is, uh, corrosion resistance --


CLARENCE IRVING: -- specialist. He welded, um, the, um, fuel tanks and the 109:00carriers. And there weren't that many -- they've become like dinosaurs, there weren't that many of them around. And he became a supervisor, so what happened was, uh, he was -- when they closed the Yard over here, the Navy, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he was offered all of these different places. He thought he was going to like Philadelphia because we had some, uh, relatives in Philadelphia, so he was going to, like, stay with them and come home on the weekend and that kind of stuff. But he really didn't like the situation of the yard, and he left there and he tried Charleston, South Carolina, and he didn't like it there either. So then he transferred to Boston, and he liked it, and he, he and his wife, moved to Boston, and he -- he must have been -- they must have been there about -- 110:00'66, was that when it closed?


CLARENCE IRVING: Goodness. Yeah, I guess you're right. Yeah. But he, but he was there about ten years, because he, he owned three or four houses up there.


CLARENCE IRVING: Then his wife passed away and he gave the houses to his son. He moved to Virginia and he died there. I remember that.


CLARENCE IRVING: But I, gee, I was so busy when my children were young, I was doing other things, and I didn't pay attention to what was going on, really.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

CLARENCE IRVING: Mm-hm. It was just a -- the Navy Yard was just a part, it was a good part of my life, a pleasant part of my life that I remember, uh, you know, but -- and it was just good working there, but, uh, that was about it.

SADY SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Do you have -- do you guys have questions?


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yeah, um, what role did the Navy Yard being integrated lead to Jackie Robinson being integrated into Major League Baseball, or did it play a role?

CLARENCE IRVING: [laughter] I would I would say this, um and there's a book that will bear me out, called The Great Experiment. See, Brooklyn was ready for Jackie. It was not so much a question of Jackie being ready for Brooklyn. Now you might question why did I say that. Remember, before Jackie Robinson came to Brooklyn, they had a baseball team in Ebbets Field called the Brown Dodgers. You also had the Black Yankees. And more than that, Brooklyn was the ideal place for 112:00Jackie Robinson, because remember as I just said to you, Brooklyn was a very, very neighborly place. Now remember, Jackie Robinson, when he came -- when he came -- when he was signed by the Dodgers, you know how he got the place that he lived? The first place that he lived? He didn't know the lady. She had put an ad in -- she wrote a letter, and, um, they came to the house. And it was a -- like a railroad flat. But she had a vacant room. Now, this is not the kind of thing that you do no matter where you are. Why am I telling this story? I'm telling 113:00this story because it was the kind of love and camaraderie that you had in the communities at that time. I am going to tell you another story about Jackie Robinson. When Jackie Robinson came and he lived in this lady's house -- it wasn't very long -- on McDonald Street, uh, there was a restaurant called the Orange Blossom Inn, it was owned by a man who was a veteran named, uh, Eddie Moore, he was born in Florida and that's why he called it the Orange Blossom, uh, Café -- it wasn't the Inn, Café. Anyway, it was on the corner of Decatur and Ralph Ave, the building still stands. Eddie, uh, told some of us, and said that the first time Jackie came there were so many people all around the place, 114:00so Eddie decided, I'm going to shut down when Jackie comes, and he and his wife -- because they had, they didn't have, uh, cooking privileges where he was staying. He came in and then he realized he did this for two days and then he realized the fact that, uh, "I'm losing all my business and people are yelling, 'I don't care if Jackie Robinson is Jesus Christ, I eat here. Remember, he won't be here tomorrow, I will.'" He says, "All right, all right, okay." He was a little guy, I'll never forget. So the next day, he's -- Eddie's now -- remember, we had a record store down the street, two doors down, my partner and I. Eddie came walking down to the store with his apron on and he says, "I want you to--" he talked very soft -- "I want you to do me a favor." "If you want me to do you a favor, I'm going to get the business, what do you want?" We thought he wanted 115:00to borrow some money. So he says no, he says, "Would you take Jackie, uh, would you take Jackie's food to him tom, uh, tomorrow?" "Do we look like waiters to you?" And so he says, "No, no, I'm serious." So we says, "Take it where?" Because we didn't even really know where he lived, you know, but we knew -- when he told us the address we said "Okay." So, we did. And he gave us about four brown bags of food and two plates and -- so we took the food around to Jackie and his wife, and they were living in this, uh, in this lady's house. Now I said all that to say this: you wouldn't dare do a thing like that today. First of all, we didn't know him. Second of all, we didn't know the lady. And the, the thing of it was, he was treated like somebody from outer space, which he was, 116:00maybe, but he was a, he was a, he was a -- but I mean, you say something like that today, you say, take this over to Run DMC, you see how fast you'll get it done, nobody will do it for you. That's why I said, uh -- I saw people almost in tuxedoes going to Ebbets Field to see Jackie Robinson play. It was a big deal when the Dodgers were home. I have an uncle by marriage who lost his eyesight, unfortunately, because my -- his wife, my aunt, had a beauty parlor, and she asked him -- she was having trouble with the sink or something, and she said, "Drewie, clean the sink," so he says, "Okay, okay." But it happened to be on the day that we were all going to the ball game. You know, those days maybe one out of six guys had an automobile, so we're all going to pile in this guy's car, 117:00we're gonna go to the game. So she kept after him and he said, "Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it." So he got so upset with her, he went and he poured, um -- it wasn't, whatever it was, it was like lye. He poured it in the sink, and when he poured it in, he plunged, and then -- because the water wouldn't go down, he got upset and he looked, and when he looked down it splashed back in his eyes.


CLARENCE IRVING: And what -- to compound that, we're in a hairdresser parlor, right? So the hairdresser, she didn't know any better, so she puts Vaseline -- or some kind of -- on his eyes. Now by the time he gets to the hospital, the eye -- this Vaseline is in between the acid and his eyes, and the doctor said, "What do you expect me to do?" So he went on the best he could but he did eventually lose his sight.


CLARENCE IRVING: But I said all that to say this: that's the kind of excitement that Jackie Robinson created. So, as I would say to you, that he was, uh -- the 118:00borough was that kind of a place, so.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And the Navy Yard helped facilitate that kind of atmosphere?

CLARENCE IRVING: Well, I put it to you this way: Brooklyn was a very, very proud place.


CLARENCE IRVING: And anything that you wanted -- if you -- people were -- I, I don't remember if this happened first or how it happened, but I remember there's a football player named Elmore Harris, who was not as good as Jackie Robinson was as a baseball player, but people flocked out there to see him. Joe Lewis could walk down Fulton Street, he'd have a parade. That's the kind of 119:00atmosphere, if you will. Um, Lena Horne was a goddess. I, I mean, Lena didn't -- if she -- if somebody saw Lena Horne, eh, getting ready to pay her cof -- getting ready to pay her fare to get on the subway, which was very rare, she didn't have to pay. All you had to do was be somebody that people respected. And, and the world was there for you. Now I say this to you as a person who is a great lover of Jackie Robinson. I had stock in his bank, that's how much I appreciated him, but I wanted you to understand that, uh, Brooklyn was a wonderful place to live. There was no pla -- I didn't -- you say, well, why did you leave there? I left Brooklyn only because I was able to move into Addisleigh 120:00Park, which was a part of St. Albans, it was, it was up for me. And, um, you might say that I followed him, because he moved out there a year before, but he -- unfortunately he didn't stay. Um, and remember another thing: Jackie and his wife always made us proud. Remember that. That was a wonderful thing. Because when you say -- you look at a typical family, you look you can take the Robinsons as a, a benchmark, and say that's what I'd like for my son to be, or my daughter to be like. That -- these are the things that count for me I mean, like, I -- I have a very -- right now my heart is broken, because I like Charlie 121:00Rangel and I've liked him for many years and as my wife will tell you there's nobody more angry with them than I am, and he's been a person who's donated to my causes through the years. But my question was, how in the heck could you let this happen to you, Charlie? Over $10,000? Maybe we could have got a couple of guys together and, and paid this for you, because it was so important that you die clean. We didn't -- we don't need this. You, you, you understand where I'm coming from?


CLARENCE IRVING: So that's the -- that's to me is -- is this, is what -- because this is what my grandchildren have to live off of.


CLARENCE IRVING: You know, there's, there's a few guys I've written off. Like, a lot of people say to me, "I've always admired Jesse Jackson," but at this age? Come on, man. We don't need this. You get my point?



CLARENCE IRVING: Okay. I'm sorry if I went too far, but I just wanted you to know. But, um, get that book, think about it, and look at it, and think about what Brooklyn was like at that time.


CLARENCE IRVING: The first the first motorman to drive a train lived in Decatur Street, next block to me. Uh, you hear her speak of Randy Weston. I don't know anything negative on Randy Weston. Randy Weston was a kid in my time. Good musician. He may have gotten a little deeper into Africa than maybe some other people may have wanted him to go, but I don't anything negative about him. I don't know that anybody ever had a paternity suit against him. This is what I 123:00judge people by, basically. Can you live sixty-five or seventy years with a clean record? That's what's important. That's why I'm so proud of Jackie, and what his wife did. But, as I said, we worked hard -- [laughter]


CLARENCE IRVING: -- to get him there, and when we got him there, to keep -- to, to really take care of him and, if you take a look, um, Branch Rickey knew exactly what he was doing. You know who he is?




CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, okay, I just, just, just wanted you to know that he was not exactly, uh, a cream puff. But he, he knew what he was doing. Any other questions?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: So yeah, are there any more questions?


SADY SULLIVAN: Oh, yeah, um --


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: So, if you guys have got other questions you can feed them through her, because it upsets the framing a little bit, also [inaudible] the left, all right?

SADY SULLIVAN: Okay. We have a question about Sands Street. Did you ever hang out on Sands Street?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Could, uh, do you mind if I just --

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, I'm sorry. Just, just do this, you'll get me all right. Uh, not really. Well, see --

SADY SULLIVAN: What was happening there?

CLARENCE IRVING: I, I, I -- as I recall, there may have been a couple of, uh, bars and stuff. But, um, see I was, uh -- well first of all, I was young. I was a youngster. And second of all, if I had wanted to, uh, there were too many guys. See, see -- well, first of all, let me put it this way: uh, I didn't do things, I was never the type of person to do things that could provoke things. 125:00And as I recall Sands Street, what I heard about it, was a lot of sailors were down there and there were a lot of things that went on that could provoke, and I don't need to -- I never was a drinker. Although I get a -- I performed a lot. But a guy would say, "I'll buy you a drink," and, uh, "No thank you." And I've heard guys that [inaudible] for, "if I've got to listen to your music than you've got to drink my liquor," and I, well, don't listen to my music, you know, because I don't want you liquor. There was a lot that -- a lot that came from my mother, a lot of other people and stuff, and I was the kind of person, if I buy you something, you buy me something. Is that --?

DANIELLA ROMANO: Just wait a minute.

CLARENCE IRVING: Just take it off -- is that her or me? Which one is it? Is it the one on the table?

DANIELLA ROMANO: It's the one on the table.

CLARENCE IRVING: Just take it off the hook.


DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay. Well, I don't want to hang up on her.

CLARENCE IRVING: Don't -- that's okay, just hang up, don't worry. It's not -- my mother's dead.

SADY SULLIVAN: [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh geez, that's all, we've got to go through all that now. That'll stop in a minute. Oh, God.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Hi Clarence, this is Liddell [phonetic], I was trying to --

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh lord, okay. Tell her I'll call her back.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay, it's off the hook.

CLARNCE IRVING: Let her go, forget it, it's okay, doesn't matter. I know who it is.

DANIELLE ROMANO: [inaudible] follow you all the way down [inaudible].

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Oh, I've got only twelve minutes, but I've got more tapes.

CLARENCE IRVING: Okay, uh, we can -- I can go back to where I was if you tell me where I was.

SADY SULLIVAN: We were talking about Sands Street, so there was --

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh, oh, no, yeah --

SADY SULLIVAN: -- so there was -- and that you're not --

CLARENCE IRVING: Sands Street had a reputation, it wasn't the kind of place in 127:00-- that, um, I would go to, and I heard a lot of things about it. And there was -- you see, there was an incident -- you didn't ask about this, but I'll tell you about it, there was an inci -- oh.

SADY SULLIVAN: Sit back. [laughter]

CLARENCE IRVING: Oh. [laughter] There was an inci -- sorry -- there was an incident that happened, um, it didn't get a lot of publicity, it happened between, um, the Merchant Marines, and I don't remember the -- I think it may have been England, I'm not really sure.


CLARENCE IRVING: But this was, um, we talk about pride. There was a ship called the Booker T. Washington. Which was, uh, a Merchant Marine ship. And, um, there was a situation where American, uh, Merchant Marines -- and I understand there 128:00were some sailors -- and Black Merchant Marines got into a ruckus on foreign -- on foreign soil. And that was sort of like the, the, um, the red flag of staying out of that, that -- see the, the, the black community in those days was different from now. You had people who lived together, fought together, they read newspapers like The Amsterdam or The Afro-American, and they went to church and they, they talked about it. Now, somebody might say that, "Did you know that 129:00Clarence Irving was allegedly involved in a situation?" Well that was everybody's pain. And the thing was -- and this happened a lot in Brooklyn, that's one of the reasons why you never had, uh, any incidents in Brooklyn that were comparable to other communities, was because of the fact that, going back to what I had said earlier in the, in the day, we -- nobody wanted to be the reason for a situation, or a reason why something negative happened. And the thing -- everybody knew -- if you were young, the older guys would say to you, you don't -- don't let me catch you on Sands Street. I didn't even know the guy! 130:00But he's Black. And that was good enough for me. And we were taught: you listen to what your olders say. And unfortunately we were brought up, "Don't do as I do, do as I say. You don't know why I'm doing what I'm doing." But that was good enough for us. And that's the rea -- that's one of the reasons why you had, uh, the situation that you had in Brooklyn. If you take a look at the schools that, uh, uh, Willie Randolph is a typical example, but he's a late example, because he's way behind. But, uh, eh, you, he's as clean as a hound's tooth. I don't even think Willie would drink. He may -- I never knew him to drink. He married a girl that lived -- he lived in the project with, and they moved on to Jersey and 131:00made their little millions of dollars and they mind their own business. The fact that he was, was fired as a ballplayer, that's a whole different thing, but remember, Fred Wilpon, where'd he get him from? He got him right from where he got -- the same fields that he played ball on. And that was the -- but now you've got such a mismatch of, uh it's a whole different ballgame because we were all -- most of us -- I guess I should be dead, but most of the old-timers are dead. But -- and nobody ever bothered to look at the playbook, how did we do it? And the big thing was that we raised our children and we tell them, "Get the heck out of New York." My son went into the Marines and he come home and he said, "Dad --" "No you're not." Couldn't get at it -- "Well, where am I going?" "I don't know, think. You find a way." And he wound up going to Houston. [laughter] And he's been there ever since. And, uh, that's -- I don't know any 132:00other way. It was a strange place but it was a great place, we all look back on memories of it. So. Any other questions?

SADY SULLIVAN: Where -- so you have one son in Houston?

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Clarence Irving

Clarence L. Irving, Sr. (1924-2014) grew up in New York and Washington, DC. His father worked in the Newport News shipyard. Irving moved from DC to New York to live with his brother and became a machinist at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

During his interview, Clarence L. Irving, Sr. (1924-2014) talks about his family and educational background before coming to work at the Navy Yard. He says that the best option at the time for African Americans was to work for the federal government because there was less discrimination and more protection for minority employees. He also talks about his work as a machinist, describing the facilities he worked in and the tools he used, as well as working conditions, yard safety, accidents and security. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection is comprised of over fifty interviews of men and women who worked in or around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, primarily during World War II. The narrators discuss growing up in New York, their work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their relationships with others at the Yard, gender relations and transportation to and from work. Many narrators bring up issues of ethnicity, race, and religion at the Yard or in their neighborhoods. Several people describe the launching of the USS Missouri battleship and recall in detail their daily tasks at the Yard (as welders, office workers and ship fitters). While the interviews focus primarily on experiences in and around the Yard, many narrators go on to discuss their lives after the Navy Yard, relating stories about their careers, dating and marriage, children, social activities, living conditions and the changes that took place in Manhattan and Brooklyn during their lifetimes.


Irving, Clarence, 1924-2014, Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan, September 26, 2008, Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection, 2010.003.039; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Irving, Clarence, 1924-2014
  • New York Naval Shipyard


  • Accidents
  • African Americans
  • African Americans--History
  • baseball
  • Family life
  • Naval ships
  • Neighborhoods
  • Race discrimination
  • Security systems
  • Shipbuilding
  • Shipyards
  • Tools
  • Work
  • Work environment
  • World War, 1939-1945


  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Queens (New York, N.Y.)
  • Washington (D.C.)


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Finding Aid

Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection