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"We really believed sincerely that we were going to make our mark in this war and become able to claim our rights when we returned to the States." (Audio Interview, 14:24)

   Robert P. Madison
Image of Robert P. Madison
Robert Madison at time of his service, Italy
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: 370th Regimental Combat Team, 92nd Infantry Division
Service Location: Howard University, Washington, DC; Fort Meade, Maryland; Camp Croft, South Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Gallicano, Italy
Rank: First Lieutenant
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An architecture student at Howard University on December 7, 1941, Robert Madison was also a member of ROTC. That allowed him to serve in the Army as an officer, but his rank didn't shield him from experiencing discrimination; he and his fellow black officers were segregated from the white officers. One benefit of his serving in Italy was to further his education in architecture. He was wounded while driving a jeep in December 1944, and a subsequent bout with tonsillitis shortened his service in the field. Lacking the points to go home when the war ended, Madison pulled various Occupations duties until May 1946. Back home in Cleveland, he experienced outright prejudice when trying to further his education in architecture, but he persevered and eventually opened a minority-based firm, the first in Ohio.

Interview (Audio)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Named commanding officer, a colonel, of ROTC; wooing his future wife while attending ASTP courses; to Ft. Benning for OCS; discovering limitations of living in South as a black man. (03:50) Segregated facilities, even for officers; he and his fellow black officers believed they were going to make their mark and claim their rights after the war; isolation of Ft. Huachuca no accident: it kept thousands of armed black soldiers away from any meaningful concentration of people. (01:38) About to go into battle for the first time; expecting artillery bombardment to soften up the enemy's positions when he heard Gen. Mark Clark forbade it; before that, Clark had promoted several black officers on the spot during a company review; Madison demoted for his outburst about the lack of support; bond with 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Nisei soldiers; liberating Luca, where they were welcomed with great celebration; advancing without much resistance; negotiating to stay in the yard of a luxurious villa, which belonged to an admiral of the Italian navy. (10:01)
As motor officer, in charge of moving all vehicles out of Florence; Fascists had turned all the road signs backwards; winding up at a blown-out bridge and having to turn the entire convoy around to get to Viareggio; bombardment barely missing his ammunition truck. (04:16) Relatively quiet in the fall; rest and recovery in Florence; as an architect, loved exploring the city; segregation in the USO, but on the field, everyone fighting together; white officers jealous of black men consorting with local women; day after Christmas party at villa of local countess, driving north, hit by a shell, wounding his foot and abdomen; white soldiers bandaging him up; feeling sorry for himself until he saw men with worse wounds; in hospital into January; it was integrated. (11:59) Still in Italy at Christmas 1945; families in Switzerland offering to host U.S. soldiers; spending the holiday with the Fuchs family; seeing Bern, Zurich; learning to ski; enrolling in University of Pisa; already knew how to speak Italian; story of John Fox, posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor; citizens of the village of Sommocolonia erecting a monument to the soldiers of the 92nd; being suspicious of locals who were overly friendly, as they may have been Fascists. (07:44)
Determined to continue his education on the GI Bill; trying to get into Western Reserve University in Cleveland; dean turning him down for racial reasons; putting on his uniform and medals and asking to speak to the Dean of Admissions instead of the Dean of Architecture School; WRU agreeing to admit him with some testing, which he passed; breaking the color line in the School of Architecture; going unwittingly to a college party at a local country club that did not serve Negroes; college giving him a degree without his completing requirements, to get rid of him; applying to Harvard School of Design; Walter Gropius intervening to get him admitted; trouble getting jobs; applying for a Fulbright and studying in France, again under GI Bill. (09:06) Reflecting on his experiences; bravery of the 92nd Division manifested with the recognition by the citizens of Sommocolonia; many black soldiers who had been in college unwilling to take the guff. (02:06) Attitudes of white GIs toward black soldiers escorting Italian women; experiencing it firsthand for his friendship with an Italian countess; white soldiers not ready to accept that blacks were fighting for the same cause; early exposure in his life to the South tipping him off to what was in store when he was eventually stationed there in the Army; using the black grapevine to determine local customs when traveling in the South. (05:27)
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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