Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas

25 April 1945   Wednesday
Menphis 15, Tenn

Dear Mom, Harry & Izzy:

Some time ago the Ford Motor Canpany asked me for my army address and
I gave it to them without knowing why it was wanted. , I soon found out,
however, because I received an issue of Ford's magazane called "Ford Times" put out in booklet form like the Reader's Digest. As soon as I opened the cover, what do you think was the very first thing that struck my eyes?
An article on Memphis. This was quite a coincidence, I thought. I read
it through and found out a few more things about this town--not much though.
In the first place, I didn't know that Memphis had a famous street known all
over the country by the nane of Beale St. On this street a man by the
name of Handy, father of the blues, composed the Beale St. Blues and Memphis Blues and made Beale St. famously known as the home of the blues. This was a surprise to me because during the time I had been in Memphis I had never heard of Beale St. and wondered just where such a famous street could be hiding withhout my coming across it. A few weeks later I accidently loaked up at a sign of a street I was crossing and there was Beale St. I had been crossing it almost every day without knowing it. It is a side street right on the border of the downtown district in about the same location as Hastings is in relation to Detroit's downtown section. Also, Beale St. runs from the river just as Hastings does, but instead of running north and south it runs east and west. Like Hastings, it is densely populated by Negroes. Either this man Handy was a colored man or else Beale St. some time ago was a white district.

The article also says that Memphis is located on the very spot where DeSoto
discovered the Mississippi River. This probably isn't so because there are
many arguments about it. I have heard some that the location of discovery is about a hundred miles south of Memphis. There may be others who are saying it is about a hundred north. The Chamber of Commerce here, I suppose, says Memphis is the spot where the Mississippi was first seen just as say the zoo in Memphis is the third largest in the United States. I went through it one Sunday and found it to be about one quarter the size of Belle Isle's zoo in area and about the same size in number of animals, and Belle Isle by no means could be anywbere near the third largest zoo in the Uruted States.

When the Chamber of Commerce here says Memphis is the largest cotton
center in the World, it is in this instance telling the truth. At Memphis's
docks, wheel-paddle river boats of Mark Twain's days used to load up with
cotton bales, but those days have "Gone with the Wind" as Ford's article
phrases it. Now railroads handle all the cotton. Why it isn't cheaper to
transport cotton by river boats is a mystery to me. Probably loss of time, and extra loading and unloading charges are the reasons.

The big cotton business is what produced the wealth that built so
many fine mansions in Memphis. As you have probably heard me say before,
Memphis has a much greater percentage of rich homes than Detroit or any other large city. There are so many streets here which look like Boston Blvd,
Chicago Blvd and Outer Drive.

Ford's article goes on to tell about the Ford Plant here. I will skip
that and continue the article with my own subjects. The matter of city
passenger transportation I don't believe was mentioned by me before. So I'll say a few words about that.

Most of the street cars here seem to be big models of our Detroit dinkeys.
They are longer and heavier and are furnished a little better inside. In
winter the seats are heated, some more than others. Each car usually has
a couple of seats so hot that they could almost burn your pants off. I
one time was trapped in one on a crowded car. At first I thought it was
going to be easy to endure the heat but after a time it becane so unbearable
I had to bite my lips and hope I wouldn't violate the 'no smoking' ordinance.
As in the dinkeys, one man or woman acts as conductor and motorman and operates the front and rear door. No street car in Memphis, inluding the bigger ones, have any more than one person operating it. Memphis's bigger street cars closely resemble the D.U.R. cars which Detroit had not so long ago. The resemblance even goes so far as the yellow wicker seats. These big cars travel on a street which runs through the center of Memphis just like Forest Ave. in Detroit, and like Forest it is called Crosstown. Buses on main streets are electrically operated with double trolleys overhead just like the ones Detroit has running on Plymouth Road. On less busy streets medium sized gasoline engine buses are used.

Last summer whenever I was near the Wolf River I saw land on the other side which looked like an island. It was overgrown with brush, weeds and trees. To me it seemed as if it was an ideal location for a city park. I thought Memphis was very much lacking in good taste and interest to beautify the river front and offer Memphians better recreational grounds. this spring I found out why such a condition existed. I happened to be in the library whose rear windows overlook the river. When I looked out I was surprised to see the possibilities of a park 100% under water.

As far as the racial question is concerned, I try to avoid talking about
it with any Memphian. It is a very touchy subject which is better left alone.
In one instance, though, I couldn't avoid it. It was forced upon me. I was
standing near the Fair Grournds waiting for a street car. Nearby there were
two men sitting on a stone bench. A negro, who also was waiting for a street
car, sat down on the same bench. One of the two white men, short, stout, and
round-faced, swore at the negro. "What do you mean by sitting so close to us. Don't you know you are a n***er," he said or something to that effect. He got up and came over to where I was standing. His friend followed him.

While the short, stout man was standing near me, I noticed he was slightly intoxicated. His friend, however, was quiet and sober. The drunken fellow kept talking abouf the nerve of this negro.

Then be turned to me and asked for a match. I gave it to him. After he lighted his cigaret, he said,"Soldier, what would you do if a negro sat down near you?"
"I wouldn't do anything," I said.
"You wouldn't do anything!" he exclaimed and Sort Qf backed his face away
from me as if I had slapped him hard.
"Why Shoud I do anything?" I asked.
"Soldier," he said indignantly, "where do you come from?"
"Is that how they live up there?

I just stared at him in anger and was ready to give him a stinging reply
but became afraid that I migh become involved in a fight. The man was drunk
and there was no telling what he might do if he lost control or himself.

"I have no objections to whatever you're saying," I said.
"We southerners know how to keep n***ers in their place. It's for their own good as well as ours. We Don't let any of them go too far."
"That's perfectly all right," I said and wanted to add "for you" but didn't.

The street car came and I boarded it and took a seat. The two men sat
down in the seat right in front of mine. After a few minutes the short, stout
man turned around and surprised me by saying, "Soldier, I want to apologize
for the way I talked to you."

"That's all right," I said and felt that I had won the arguent. He did
all the arguing. I kept quiet and agreed with him and then found I had won.
It was a very strange victory.

This incident doesn't really give a picture of how all southerners feel
about the colored people. the short, stout man looked and talked like an
ignorant hillbilly. Probably he was from Arkansas. However, there are some
educated people here who are nearly as narrow-minded as this man. This is borne out by the fact that Memphis has banned the movie entitled "Brewster's Millions" because it shows too much racial equality. (In my attempt to be tolerant of all individuals, I recognize that in past times many groups of individuals have been categorized. I believe that the term 'hillbilly' will likely be a term that is will be improper to use as we learn to tolerate all races, religions and cultures.)

Mom, did you receive the package I sent you? If you did, you must have
had a good laugh when you saw what junk there was in it. At least it looks
like junk because there is such a mixture of unrelated articles, but in the future all these things may come in handy with the exception of the undershirts. I don't know what can be done with them. If they are too small for me in Memphis, I don't know how they'll ever fit me in Detroit.

Harry, I was glad to know you did so well in mating tba mink. Your new
system seems to be a very good one. Right now I suppose some of the young are beginning to squeal already. My one wish now is to be discharged in time
so that I could help you take care of the new crop. The uselessness of my
position troubles my conscience when I think of you struggling day and night
with the mink business and at the same time working at Hudson's and
battling against nature to bring a dead refrigerator back to life.

Izzy, I wish to thank you for the box of mixed nuts you sent me. It was
quite a treat for me to taste the rich relatives of the poor common peanut.
I also enjoyed reading your letter. I hope to hear from you again soon before I leave Memphis for my furlough.

Will be seing y'all soon--so long.  Eddie

Thur. Apr 26 Mussolini is captured near lake Como by partisans.

Fri. Apr 27 The US and Britain reject Himmier's armistice offer.

Sat. Apr 28 The partisans kill Mussolini.

Sun. Apr 29 Germany's military leaders sign an unconditional surrender effecive May 2. Fighting is heavy in Berlin.

Mon. Apr 29-30 Munich is captured by the United States Seventh Army.

Polar Bear Patch

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