By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Local Black veterans are being honored as Black History Month kicks off, recognition an area historian says is long overdue.
Among those being recognized are Korean War veteran Elmo Bailey and longtime OBSERVER sales director Joe Stinson. Their service will be acknowledged on Friday, February 4 during the 22nd Annual Rosa Parks Day Community Reception & Gala Farm to Fork Dinner, taking place at VFW Post 67 in Oak Park.
When organizer Michael Harris was growing up, the post’s first Black Commander, Hansel Burns, was an elder in the community.
“Hansel Burns, Gaylen Sykes, Ralph McLaurin and so many more Black veterans taught me by example,” shared Harris, who is also a veteran.
In the 1990s, Harris worked to get local Black veterans medals of honor that they’d earned years prior. The idea now, he says, is to create a mechanism in order to honor Black veterans long term.
Bailey was drafted into the Army in 1953, a year after graduating from Sacramento High School. He was working at the McClellan Air Force base as a civilian at the time. He was sent to Korea, right after the conflict was ending. Because Bailey knew how to type, he worked in Battalion Headquarters. He was subsequently stationed in Hawaii and later found himself back at McClellan.
In “retirement” Bailey spends most days working at VFW Post 67. At the age of 88, he is a quartermaster and handles the post’s finances. He’s had the responsibility of helping Post 67 return to solvency after some rough times.
Like a lot of military men of his day, including the famed Tuskegee Airmen, many of the local Black veterans who came into the post have passed on. “Within the last year, we must have lost six that were very active,” Bailey shared.
One of the men, Joshua Taylor, was Hansel Burns’ brother-in-law. Taylor died in November. Years ago, Bailey served as a supervisor at McClellan Air Force Base and helped Taylor and other Black men prepare for the tests they needed to take in order to get better jobs.
“He gave me a lot of credit, he said I was the only supervisor that ever kind of looked out for them,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t into it just for myself. I tried to help them because I knew how hard it was for me.”
Today, Bailey proudly wears gear signifying his military background. It often prompts people to thank him for his service. He has had people pay for his breakfast at IHOP, after seeing him with his Korean War Veteran cap on.
“That really gets to me, knowing someone would do that,” Bailey said. “They don’t know me, but just because I’m Black and I have my service cap on, that they treat me to a meal like that.”
Stinson said he appreciates the chance to reminisce on his service.
“Some of the most deserving Marines past and present don’t always have the opportunity to go home and tell their story.”
A “farm boy” from Ripley, Tennessee, Stinson had only been out of his hometown once before joining the Marines right out of high school in 1953. An avid reader, he had seen Marines in their uniforms in books and dreamed of joining their ranks.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I was tough enough to be a Marine,” he said.
Stinson went to bootcamp on Parris Island in South Carolina, which he describes as the
toughest, most unique training a man could ever experience. “The first night I thought, ‘what the hell did I get myself into.’” He’d spend 30 years in the military, moving to California, receiving more rigorous training at Camp Pendleton, serving in Japan and later in Korea.
“The war was over at that time, but when you have a war, the country that does the damage has to also pay the price to rebuild it,” Stinson said. “We were sent on a ship to go to Korea to bring back all the beat up stuff, tanks that were destroyed, all the garbage was put on a ship.”
While Stinson was overseas for two years, a revolution was happening back home.
“When I left Tennessee everything was segregated, when I got back they were already marching,” he recalls. “I missed all of that. I had to make adjustments.”
Like Bailey, Stinson was fortunate to avoid any serious racial problems during most of his service, including later when he served in the reserves, visiting different sites for two-week stints.
“A lot of those units in the South were still segregated,” Stinson said.
He recalls one assignment where his unit arrived to merge with another from Rome, Georgia and how the White Marines had a closed-door meeting to “get ready for us.”
After his initial three years of service, Stinson attended Tennessee State University and intended to go back to the service, as an officer and fly jets in the Marine Air Corp. That didn’t happen.
“It was peace time and there was no motivation for them to bring on any Black officers. During my first three years in the military I only saw one Black lieutenant in all that time.”
Later in his service Stinson led a squadron as a 1st Sgt. and Sgt. Major and acted as a recruiter.
Both Bailey and Stinson would like to see more recognition and visibility for Black veterans overall.
“We’re not recognized at all,” Stinson said. “If you just observe TV, whenever there’s a military day or military anything, who do you see on TV? Some White military person, you never, never find a Black being the spokesperson.”
“It’ll be a long time before I would even think Black veterans will get the recognition that they should get,” Bailey shared. “You hear a lot of talk about it, but that’s about it.”
Bailey said it took him 17 years to become a supervisor at McClellan.
“When I first went out there, practically all the brothers that were out there, they put them on the wash rack. I was fortunate, I went in as a machinist’s helper right off the bat, but they weren’t putting people in those positions, you went in to get a job and you were either cleaning parts or washing planes.”
That was the early 1950s.
“Things are getting better,” Bailey said. “But we have a long way to go.”
Making The Connection
Harris boasts having the nation’s oldest official Rosa Parks Day Celebration and says it’s only fitting that this year’s celebration, including the veterans’ recognition, be held at the oldest active VFW Post Hall West of the Mississippi. That VFW is located on Stockton Boulevard, near the UC Davis Medical Center. It’s future is being debated, as the multi-million dollar Aggie Square project moves forward and grabs up area real estate. Harris says the building deserves to be preserved, however, not only because of its past, but for its potential to be of continued service to area veterans. A veteran himself, Harris is hoping to work with Gold River Chapter of National Association for Black Veterans, Inc. (NABVETS) to bring much-needed resources to Oak Park, including fresh vegetables. Harris is also the chair of the California Black Agriculture Working Group and lifts up opportunities for Black farmers nationwide.
“It’s all connected,” he said.
Harris says Rosa Parks’ lesser known military connection deserves mention as well.
“Rosa Parks’ first job outside the household was the Air Force Civilian Corps. She was at Maxwell Air Force Base working in what we would call a hotel, she was a seamstress, doing the sheets and curtains,” Harris shared.
Her husband, Raymond, worked at the military barbershop.
“That’s where she met Raymond Parks, he was a barber at the base. Maxwell Air Force Base was also where she had her first taste of integration. On the military base, there was no segregation on the bus. On the military base there were no Jim Crow laws in effect. There was still racism, it just wasn’t as egregious as downtown Montgomery and that stuck with Rosa her whole life.”
Leaders at Maxwell Air Force Base recently unveiled a special memorial in her honor. Created by Air Force member Ian Mangum, the sculpture is composed of a series of pieces of black steel that form her image. The unveiling came on December 1, 2020, the 65th anniversary of Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. An identical memorial is also located outside the Rosa Parks Museum, located near where the icon was arrested.
The local Rosa Parks Day celebration includes a chance to visit a replica of the bus the icon made her stand in, at the California State Capitol. The event at VFW Post 67, 2784 Stockton Boulevard, includes a meet and greet with veterans from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and a program from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. For tickets, or more information on how to get a local Black veteran recognized, call (916) 450-1912.
- When: Friday, February 4, 2022 from 4:30 – 10:30 p.m.
- Where: VFW Post 67, 2784 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817
- Cost: $40 GA and $100 VIP
Tickets can be purchased at this link here.