Clarence Mathews was born on June 5, 1889, approximately one year prior to the Plessy decision. Daddy Clarence, as he was affectionately called, was raised by his mother, Fannie Leftwich, and his grandmother Satura Worthy. Upon reaching adult hood, like many others, he fled the Jim Crow south in search of a better life. That search landed him in Kansas City, Kansas where he found employment with the Illinois Rock Railroad as a fire builder. He remained in Kansas City until the death of his wife whereupon he and his four years old stepson returned to Mobile, Alabama. Eventually he married Gertrude Otis, and the two of them raised six children. He also became very active in his community.
According to Matthews children he was very civic minded in the Jim Crow south.
Both sons remembered the Major league baseball exhibitions held in Mobile, Alabama. Although Jackie Robinson had integrated major league baseball hotels would not permit black ball players to stay or eat inside their facilities. That included Satchel Paige would was not only a native of Mobile, but good friends to the Matthews.
Clarence Matthews and Alex Herman, father of Former Secretaey of Labor Alexis Herman would house the athletes. Two of his sons remembered their front yard always being full with the fans of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.
As to his civic activities, his daughter Claudette, recall a lesson she learned from her Dad.
One morning as she was leaving to vote her father inquiried about her poll tax receipt. During those days, you had to pay a poll tax in order to vote. This tax was not affordable to all, and prevented lots of blacks from voting.
In reply, Claudette told her father that she did not believe that she needed the receipt. Mr. Matthews in reply told that if she could see as far forward as he could see back, then to go on.
Claudette walked a great distance in the hot humid weather to find that he needed her receipt.
Upon going back, she had to face her father who ask her if she needed her receipt. She had to tell him yes. Mr. Matthews who was a believer in voting in all elections especially the local ones made her find her receipt and then go back in the hot weather to vote.
The oldest daughter followed up on TN Reid and the Allen Life guard story. The family of boys could only pay for the train ticket. However, it cost more than the ticket which amounted to a month’s salary. Food and boarding was not included in the 20$. Mr. Matthews mortgaged his house during the depression to make up the difference.
Mrs. Fournier also explained that although the charter was important, it was more important to expose the boys to a world outside of Mobile. Big on education, Mr. Matthews wanted the boys to see that black colleges existed. Matthews wanted the boys to reach higher in life
And they did reach high!
Alexis Herman, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Clarence Mathews’ goddaughter narrated the clip above. Tune in tomorrow as we continue the story of unsung heroes.
For Spanish and hearing impaired versions, please go to the Febone1960.net Black History Month Calendar
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