Mark McClure’s father, James Lee McClure, began his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force in 1952, just 4 years after President Truman desegregated the U.S. military. While formally desegregated, the military subjected African Americans to the poorest living and working conditions and the slowest promotions.
Mark’s parents, James and Joyce, were children of the Post- Depression, Jim Crow Era South, were frequently separated when he was sent abroad for maneuvers and training purposes. James wrote letters home often, telling the family what life was like in other places, how he was doing, how much he missed his family, reminding his children to “mind our mother.” Joyce kept all of those letters, and they became a family treasure.
When James retired from the Air Force, the McClures settled in Mountain View, where James began second career at Stanford Medical Center. The McClures were the first generation of the family to grow up outside of the scourge of segregation. Mark McClure died from heart disease at the age of 44 in 1977, just five years into his military retirement. He was buried with full military honors.
In 2014, Joyce McClure had to move to a senior assisted living facility near Mark’s home in San José. The family home was cleaned out, with vital family documents entrusted to Mark for safekeeping. He placed the box of his dad’s letters inside a plastic bin on a high shelf in his storage shed.
When the flood raged through Mark’s back yard, it damaged tools, musical instruments and other things of value. But most horrifying, the shelf in the shed fell over, the bin popped open, and the box of family letters was submerged and inundated. The letters entrusted to Mark to keep safe disintegrated into a pulp.
These letters were an irreplaceable record of James McClure’s distinguished military career. The letters chronicled a unique point in race relations in this country, and the rise of an African American family from the Depression to middle-class living. These are letters vital to the nation’s history. Mark was entrusted to keep them safe for future generations of family, or perhaps to donate to a museum’s historical collection. These options, and this history, are lost forever.