History and the people who make it: Clarence Sears, pt. 2

Clarence Sears [S], FBI KKK infiltrator, was interviewed by Ryan Morini [M] in August, 2015.

This is the 47h in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

Content note: This interview, like the previous excerpt in the March Iguana, includes offensive racial slurs, repeated intact here for historical accuracy.

This portion of the interview is continued from the March, 2018 Iguana. Part 1 can be found at: https://gainesvilleiguana.org/2018/articles/history-and-the-people-who-make-it-clarence-sears/

S: The Klan died in that moment, in Duval County. Once the Klan know that they’re not secret, they’ve lost it. Scared to death.

They kept meeting in a little barn on what is now Bay Meadows Road. In those days it was a dirt street, and a guy had a little barn there. It had a room upstairs, and that became our clubhouse, but it never was the same. Nobody ever advocated violence. They’d just come and talk about Americanism [Laughter].

They took down all of the “White only” signs, and right then it was over, because of that violence. Same way in Birmingham. The ones who won the Civil Rights battle were the four little girls that got blown up, and they finally said “Enough is enough is enough.”

M: When you were downtown on Ax Handle Saturday did you see any of the violence?

S: When I got there, here comes Mercer. “Hey brother Sears! Get in here and help me,” he says. “We’re going to pass out these bats,” and there were already White people walking along. “Here’s a baseball bat, or an ax handle.” New ones he bought. I don’t know where he got the money.

He was kind of another Don Quixote. Mercer Johns gave his life for the “Great” cause. He’d been in the right wing all his adult life practically. He had guns, lots of guns. And old mimeograph machines. The FBI probably had a Xerox machine, but most people would grind out on these mimeograph machines. If you were into some kind of a cause, that’s what you had to have.

One cold night we had a cross burning out north of Jacksonville up in Nassau County, a county park up there. We were going to put confederate flags on your car, and have a parade. Mercer Johns had a big wooden cross. That was to be the fire cross, and they would go up and make their speeches.

We had ten cars, and we had on our white robes. Mercer was getting ready to make his speech we’d heard a thousand times, and somebody came up. “See that car?”There was another car pulling up. “It’s loaded with niggers.” “What they doing here?” “Well, there’s nobody else.” Here comes another car, it’s loaded, and they don’t do anything, just park there listening. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

We didn’t have any onlookers, except two carloads of Blacks. So much for that cross burning in Callahan. [Laughter]. It was a total failure that night.

M: Did the Black people ever get out of the car?

S: No, they didn’t do a thing, but Mercer stopped his speech, and started folding up there, trying to put in goddamn fuses out. You can’t put them out. [Laughter].

Jacksonville’s establishment didn’t want this violence downtown. They didn’t care about the Black people so much. Maybe they did, I don’t know, but what they cared about is just don’t make our city a place noted for violence. They wanted to “just keep the lid on this thing.” Jaime Walker, he left Jacksonville forever. I guess. That was typical of a Klans.

M: What made it so that you were not caught up in the Klan? You grew up as a White Baptist in the south, right?

S: You know, as I mentioned about President Obama, my father died, and I was nine years old. He was on a baseball team at a cigar factory. I was batboy at nine years old. I know now what I was doing. I’m looking for my father. And I couldn’t be the same.

Just before my father died of pneumonia, we went to the beach on Fourth of July, and that was a big deal! He was making like 30 cents an hour at the cigar factory. It cost twenty cents to ride the ferry across the river. That would be like ten or fifteen dollars to go to the beach.

The Fourth of July in Jacksonville was fabulous. Big wooden roller coaster, all the goodies, the Ferris wheels; it’s like a circus. We’re going to the beach! And we’re so excited. You only went once, maybe once in a lifetime. Of course we didn’t get to ride all these things [Laughter]. We didn’t have that kind of money.

First we stopped at a place where macho men took their shirts off, he-men, pounding this big wooden mallet down on a lever. Sending this little cannon ball up, up, up to the big alarm there. When they couldn’t get it, everybody says, “Oh.” Everybody want somebody to ring the bell. Well, my dad was little tiny Catholic from Boston, surely he didn’t weigh a hundred pounds. My sister and I went across the street, they had two Black guys. You know Amos ’n’ Andy?

They were radio black-faced White guys actually. Amos ’n’ Andy, sitting on this bench, and the guy was selling baseballs. Shooting a baseball at a target caused these niggers to fall in the water with a big splash. And everybody, “Yay! Hey, watch them niggers now.”

This was 1937. Nobody talked about race relations much, but it was ugly, really ugly. My sister was like 13 and I was nine. I was standing there holding her hand, and somebody came up and paid the quarter and Amos ’n’ Andy fell into the water, and boy we were whooping it up, really laughing.

My dad came and pulled us away. I said, “What’s he mad about? We’re having fun, Daddy.” I said, “Daddy, you’re playing baseball on the team. You could hit that target.” “Just come on, let’s go.”

We went over to where that guy was standing with a hammer. He was madder than hell, about us being over in that thing, and he off and hit it. And it didn’t make a little ting, it went up there with a loud gong. According to Melissa, it shook the boardwalk [Laughter].

My mother come running back just in time to get the ten dollars that my dad had won. That’s like a hundred today. And daddy got a little wooden hammer just like the mallet that they were using, and he put it on the dashboard of our little Chevrolet. It stayed there till long after he died.

I said, “How come he was so mad?” She [said,] “I’m not going to tell you, figure it out.”

He’s mad about mistreatment of Black people. But I wouldn’t know, since I wasn’t from Boston [Laughter]. What I remember now was his principles.

M: Did the Klan have any influence in the police departments?

S: No, the Klan was a lot more decent than people thought [Laughter]. They didn’t have a good reputation. That’s the kiss of death, if you want to run for politics.

Twenty years before that they had some respect. Everybody was joining in back in the [19]20s, but it was looked on as kind of a Christian organization. By the time I was in it wasn’t something you’d brag about.

J.B. Stoner was later a Klan type. These people, like J.B., would have clubs of various kinds. It’s just to get money.

We had an old saying, If you want to join the Klan there’s three things you got to have. “You hate niggers?” “Yeah.” “You hate Jews?” “Yeah.” “You have ten dollars?” [Laughter] That’s just about the way it was.

Donald Trump is an expression of angry White men who don’t like all the modern stuff that’s going on, the political correctness.

“You can’t say anything.” They think a lot of things are laws, and there’s no law against you using the word nigger, but I wouldn’t advise it. Not only are you going to hurt somebody, but people are going to look down on you, because it identifies you as a troublemaker. But it’s not against the law.

M: The White Citizens’ Council, did you go to any of those meetings?

S: Yeah, a lot of them. When I first started working for this Jewish community, they would send me. We met at the Brentwood Baptist Church. They were moderate, establishment Baptist. They worried about property values, and that Blacks were moving in. So they’d say “We could buy the property if it’s up for sale, and trying to sell it to Blacks. We could buy it as a group.” – that was the kind of thing you would run into. It wasn’t hatred, it’s fear of what would happen to our neighborhood.

I went to the [KKK] meeting one night, and somebody had got a copy of the Unitarian Church membership list, and lo and behold there was Clarence Sears on the list.

“Brother Sears, one of our members here has got kind of disturbed about it.” The EC at that time, Cooksey was his name, he says “What are you to make out of that?”

I said, “Well, Brother Cooksey, these people are Communist, and I’m trying to find out what’s going on.”

“Oh really?”

I said, “I didn’t know they put my name on the list, but that’s kind a good place for me to be; see what’s going on. But if it compromises our group, I wouldn’t want to hurt that. So I want kind of drift out of this.”

He says, “Well, no, we don’t want you to…” [Laughter].

I was a good dues-paying member. They never questioned. I was very careful not to get too rowdy. I’d go to the meetings, do things, but If I made a speech, it was about patriotism. Oddly enough I never heard a word from any of them. Nobody’s ever confronted me. I’m not hiding. Even when I was in the front page in the Times Union telling the same story I’m telling you, never got a call. That’s just most of the people dead and gone. I was in my thirties and the officers were twenty years older.

M: Any final thoughts?

S: I’m a happy guy. Happiest person you’ll ever meet in your life. I’ve had all these things that have happened, but I feel very very good about it, and the good guys are always winning in the end.

My first wife played the organ in a Baptist church and her granddaddy was a Baptist preacher, and her mother didn’t know us in doing anything with the FBI, that was my mother-in-law. One day, she says, “If these Black people,” she called them colored, “if they start going to the schools, you’re going to wind up and have a Black grandchild.”

Well, guess what? My granddaughter has a Black baby. Her grandma was right [Laughter]. I hope somehow she gets some kind of influence.

Search for “Clarence Sears” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu for the recording of this interview.

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program believes that listening carefully to first-person narratives can change the way we understand history, from scholarly questions to public policy. SPOHP needs the public’s help to sustain and build upon its research, teaching, and service missions: even small donations can make a big difference in SPOHP’s ability to gather, preserve, and promote history for future generations. D

Comments are closed.