CARL CLARK, BLACK WWII HERO WHO WAS DENIED BRAVERY MEDAL, DIES AT 100
Carl E. Clark, who was recognized more than six decades after World War II with a medal for bravery that he had been denied because he was black, died on March 16 in Menlo Park, Calif. He was 100.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Karen Clark Collins.
Mr. Clark was serving as a steward first class aboard the U.S.S. Aaron Ward, a destroyer, when Japanese kamikazes attacked it near Okinawa in May 1945.
“They would guide those planes directly into the ships,” Mr. Clark said of the planes, which he described as “flying bombs,” in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press.
Six kamikazes hit the destroyer, with the blast from one plane so powerful that it blew Mr. Clark all the way across the ship.
Though he suffered a broken collarbone in the attack, he was credited with saving the lives of several men by dragging them to safety. He also put out a fire in an ammunition locker that would have cracked the vessel in half.
The captain tried to make up for the slight by giving him extra leave and making sure that he was not sent back to sea, Mr. Clark said. He stayed in the Navy until 1958, rising to the rank of chief petty officer.
Mr. Clark’s bravery came to light when he was interviewed by Sheila Dunec for a documentary she was filming, “Remembering World War II.” Ms. Dunec brought his story to the attention of Mr. Clark’s representative in Congress, Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California, who pressed the Navy to investigate.
Mr. Clark received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal on Jan. 17, 2012, during a ceremony at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif.
ROGER WILKINS, CHAMPION OF CIVIL RIGHTS
Roger Wilkins, who championed civil rights for black Americans for five decades as an official in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a foundation executive, a journalist, an author and a university professor, died on Sunday in Kensington, Md. He was 85.
His daughter Elizabeth confirmed his death, at a care facility. The cause was complications of dementia.
A black lawyer in the corridors of power, Mr. Wilkins was an assistant United States attorney general, ran domestic programs for the Ford Foundation, wrote editorials for The Washington Post and The New York Times, taught history at George Mason University for nearly 20 years and was close to leading lights of literature, music, politics, journalism and civil rights. Roy Wilkins, who led the N.A.A.C.P. from 1955 to 1977, was his uncle.
Roger Wilkins’s early mentor was Thurgood Marshall, the renowned civil rights lawyer who became the Supreme Court’s first black associate justice. And he organized Nelson Mandela’s triumphant eight-city visit to the United States in 1990 as millions turned out to see that living symbol of resistance to apartheid after his release from 27 years in prison in South Africa.
Beyond attending a segregated elementary school as a boy and being arrested once in a protest against apartheid, Mr. Wilkins had little personal experience with discrimination. He waged war against racism from above the barricades — with political influence, jawboning, court injunctions, philanthropic grants, legislative proposals, and commentaries on radio and television and in newspapers, magazines and books.
Outwardly, he was a successful, popular black man with more white acquaintances than black friends. The second of his three wives was white.
A lean, intense, soft-spoken intellectual, he grew up in a genteel middle-class family. The customs, attitudes and social currencies of everyday black life “evolved away from me,” he said in a memoir.
It mattered. As he rose to prominence, he came to regard himself as a token black in institutions and social circles that were overwhelmingly white and privileged. It troubled him deeply. In the memoir, “A Man’s Life: An Autobiography” (1982), he cited struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and drinking problems, and acknowledged years of unease with his blackness, of trying to live up to the expectations of whites.
A University of Michigan Law School graduate, Mr. Wilkins went to Washington on a wave of New Frontier fervor in 1962 to join the Kennedy administration. He became special assistant to the head of the Agency for International Development. He was soon spotted as a savvy, if outspoken, Democratic asset, and joined campaigns for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I am a firm believer in the view that the riots are not the real problem,” Mr. Wilkins said, calling for more jobs, housing and help for the poor. “The real threat to American life is our inattention to the really depressed and anguished conditions of the minority group people who live in the ghettos of this country.”
“For hours this went on,” Mr. Wilkins was quoted as saying. “There were no photographers there, no newsmen. There was no glory in it. He also kept two assistant attorneys general of the United States waiting for hours while he did this.”
Mr. Wilkins joined The Times editorial board in 1974 and later became an Op-Ed page columnist. In 1977, he and other minority journalists accused The Times in a federal lawsuit of racial discrimination in hiring and promotions; the case was settled for cash and pledges of improvements. He left the newspaper in 1979 and was an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Star in 1980 and 1981.
From 1979 to 1989 he was a member of the board that awarded journalism’s Pulitzer Prizes. He was also on an advisory panel that recommended Janet Cooke of The Washington Post for a feature-writing Pulitzer in 1981, for her article on an 8-year-old heroin addict. It was exposed as a fabrication after she won the prize. He said the episode had harmed “blacks in newsrooms all over the country.” Ms. Cooke, who returned the prize and resigned, is black.
From 1982 to 1992, Mr. Wilkins was a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank. From 1988 until his retirement in 2007, he was the Clarence J. Robinson professor in history and American culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. During his teaching years, he wrote for newspapers and magazines and was a frequent commentator on radio and television.
After his father died in 1941, the boy and his mother joined relatives in Harlem, and three years later settled in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he graduated from high school. At the University of Michigan, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 and a law degree in 1956. He tried social work in Cleveland briefly, practiced law in New York City for several years, then joined the Kennedy administration.
Mr. Wilkins wrote “Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism” (2001). He produced and narrated two PBS documentaries, “Keeping the Faith” (1987) about black churches, and “Throwaway People” (1990), about a poor black neighborhood.