An American Dream
The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China
A black soldier's odyssey from Memphis to Korea to China and back
Throughout his life, Clarence Adams exhibited self-reliance, ambition, ingenuity, courage, and a commitment to learning—character traits often equated with the successful pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, for an African American coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s, such attributes counted for little, especially in the South.
Adams was a seventeen-year-old high school dropout in 1947 when he fled Memphis and the local police to join the U.S. Army. Three years later, after fighting in the Korean War in an all-black artillery unit that he believed to have been sacrificed to save white troops, he was captured by the Chinese. After spending almost three years as a POW, during which he continued to suffer racism at the hands of his fellow Americans, he refused repatriation in 1953, choosing instead the People's Republic of China, where he hoped to find educational and career opportunities not readily available in his own country.
While living in China, Adams earned a university degree, married a Chinese professor of Russian, and worked in Beijing as a translator for the Foreign Languages Press. During the Vietnam War he made a controversial anti-war broadcast over Radio Hanoi, urging black troops not to fight for someone else's political and economic freedoms until they enjoyed these same rights at home.
In 1966, having come under suspicion during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he returned with his wife and two children to the United States, where he was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to face charges of "disrupting the morale of American fighting forces in Vietnam and inciting revolution in the United States." After these charges were dropped, he and his family struggled to survive economically. Eventually, through sheer perseverance, they were able to fulfill at least part of the American Dream. By the time he died, the family owned and operated eight successful Chinese restaurants in his native Memphis.
"The greatest value of his story is his picture of Chinese society and how it works."—Kliatt
"Serious historians will value this book as a firsthand account of the POW camps, segregation in Memphis, and its discussion of fellow prisoners and racial dynamics in the POW camps. Students will appreciate the well-written, easily digestible prose and Adams's storytelling ability, along with his telling eye for detail and his ironic commentary. This book is an important contribution to the history of the Korean conflict."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"Clarence Adam's An American Dream...contains many different kinds and levels of information that will appeal to a variety of scholarly interests. . . . It is a story that should be read avidly by both idealist and the African American historian, both of whom often look for happy endings and rewards for the underdog."—H-Net Reviews
"An important addition to the remarkably scant canon of African American memoirs about war, as well as a meaningful American memoir."—Jeff Loeb, editor of Memphis-Nam-Sweden:
The Autobiography of a Black American Exile by Terry Whitmore
"Black participation in the Korean War is an extremely important, yet understudied topic. I expect that future scholars will make use of this narrative both as a source and even as a starting point for further historical inquiry."—Nikhil Pal Singh, author of Black Is a Country:
Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy