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StoryCorps Griot: Ready for War

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StoryCorps Griot: Ready for War

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StoryCorps Griot: Ready for War

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Since 2003, StoryCorps has been recording conversations between friends and family members, everyday people telling us the stories of their lives. Now, StoryCorps Griot is travelling the country, recording African-American stories. Every Tuesday, we hear from the Griot project.

Today, World War II veteran Leon May. He joined the Marine Corps in 1943, shortly after it became integrated. May was 18 years old and had recently graduated from high school in Detroit. Here, he tells his daughter Angela about leaving for basic training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Mr. LEON MAY (Retired, U.S. Marine): We went down there in a (unintelligible). I got my knapsack and got to Washington, D.C. And when I got to Washington, D.C., they had some stairs that go down to separate trains going south and trains going north.

Ms. ANGELA MAY (Leon May's daughter): Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAY: As I went down and I pass by the train, the porter said, hey, boy, come on back here. Where are you going? I said, I'm going to get on the train. He said, no, this is your coach, the first coach in the back of the engine. Angie, you've seen this Third World trains?

Ms. MAY: Mm-hmm. Where they're packed in there.

Mr. MAY: Packed in. And they had their bundles and things. And the train started up and pulled out and it went on this tunnel. And all that soot and all that coal just fill that car. Can you imagine? Now, I'm going to fight for democracy and these people got me in this coach.

Ms. MAY: What was your strongest memory particularly as a black Marine?

Mr. MAY: I had an opportunity to see the enemy face to face. I had 10 prisoners of war and they bring them out of the stockade. That's when I met Kanazi Owa(ph). Kanazi Owa was a school teacher. And he was the one that could speak English the best. And he said, I don't know when I'm going home. I don't know where my family is. And I identified with him because he was a brown man doing things that he wouldn't have done ordinarily, you see.

And so, all of our officers were white. My gunnery sergeant took me off that unit, and he said, I'm going to take you off this unit because you ain't talking to him. He said, he wanted to kill my brothers, you know? And I was thinking, I said, well, how many times have white people - come to black people and they hung me out? And this Japanese never hung a black man. To see that enemy as a human being, that was the one changing experience for me.

CHIDEYA: Leon May with his daughter Angela in Detroit. The StoryCorps Griot booth is currently in Memphis. Next stop: Harlem. All the Griot initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Find out how to record your interview and hear more from StoryCorps Griot at

That's our show for today. Thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, No spaces, just To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, a new Pew Research Center survey on racial attitudes in the U.S. Some may surprise you.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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