This is Alpha Chapter #27 - 8/16/17

Profiles of who we are:

The Triumph & Tragedy of
Bro. Leroy Armond Clay, Alpha 1929


The story of the Dial starts with the Lamp that conceived the idea, Bro. Leroy Clay.  However, the story of Bro. Clay is as intriguing as the Dial itself.

The Early Years

Leroy Armond Clay was born in Baltimore on October 30, 1909 to Louis and Isabelle Clay.  Clay grew up in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore.  Nicknamed Hickey, Clay was active in the Boy Scouts and Sports growing up.  A talented athlete, Clay excelled in basketball and track.  In 1922, he was a founding member of a newly formed basketball team called the Red Circle Athletic Club that was birthed out of the local YMCA.  From 1922-26, the Red Circle ball team was one of the best squads in its age range racking up a record of 104-6 during that period.  Clay was also a track star at Fredrick Douglass High School in Baltimore winning the 1927 Maryland Colored Scholastic Championship in the 440.  That same year, he graduated from Douglass HS boasting as one of his classmates Cab Calloway while Thurgood Marshall preceded him the year before (Marshall was also at Howard in law school during Clay’s senior year at Howard; bookmark both observations).

Howard

Clay entered Howard in the Fall of 1927.  He immediately immersed himself into campus life.  While at HU, he was a standout athlete on the track team, a member of the 1930 CIAA Championship Bison basketball team and Assistant Manager of the Football team.  In the Fall of 1928, he was inducted into the Lampados Club of Alpha Chapter, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity where he was Treasurer.  It is later that Fall he conceived the idea for the Banneker Memorial Sundial as a gift to Howard from the Lampados Club.

1929 proved to be a momentous year for Clay.  On February 1, 1929, the idea he conceived for a sundial honoring Benjamin Banneker was realized when it was unveiled and presented to the University in a ceremony by the Lampados Club who 100% financed the gift.  Also, in the June 1929 issue of the Oracle, he co-authored the Alpha Chapter Lampados Notes.  In May 1929, Clay was initiated into the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. 

Clay’s year ended with him fighting bigotry and racism head on.  On Monday morning, December 9, 1929, Clay and classmate James Ramsey were driving his 1923 Ford roadster to campus when, as the approached the gate at 6th Street and Howard Place, a car with two white men drove by shouting “get out the way you damn niggers!”  Both Clay and Ramsey yelled back responding to the racist rhetoric when the car stopped, and the two white men got out of their car.  An altercation ensued where Ramsey was knock down by one of the white men.  As other students became to congregate, one of the white men pulled out a gun and identified himself as a plain clothes police officer showing his Virginia badge.  The two white men arrested Clay and Ramsey.  After posting a $200 bond (about $2,900 in 2017 dollars), HU officials instructed Clay to plead guilty otherwise risk losing his position as Ass’t Manager of the Football team.  Knowing they did nothing wrong, Clay rejected their instructions and pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct and assault (even though none of the white men were touched).   On Saturday, December 14, 1929, the trial took place where seven witnesses including one HU professor testified for the defense.  After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the Judge dismissed all charges citing that “he had never tried a case in which he was more convinced of the truthfulness of witnesses.”

Clay graduated Howard in 1931.  During his collegiate career, he served in the ROTC and was commissioned 2nd LT in the Reserve, was senior class vice president and President of the Sabers (ROTC Officer Club) his senior year.  Fraternally,  he was selected to represented Alpha Chapter at the 19th Grand Conclave in Detroit in 1931, Chapter Editor to the Oracle and secretary of the Interfraternity Council.

1931-41

After graduating from Howard, Clay became a journalist for the Baltimore Afro American, a social worker and served as publicity agent for Howard University's Athletic Department.  He married Ms. Monterey Kenny in June 1940 which union bore a child, JoAnn, in 1945.  He also remained fraternally active with Pi Omega in Baltimore.  During this time he remained active in the Maryland National Guard where he was promoted to 1st lieutenant and platoon commander.  Clay was further promoted to Captain by the Governor of Maryland on December 22, 1940, the youngest Captain in the Maryland National Guard including white companies. 

On March 17, 1941, Captain Clay’s National Guard Company was called into federal service and active duty at Fort Dix, NJ. The company was part of the 377th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division.  Captain Clay became company commander of 17 officers and 51 enlisted men responsible for the administration and supply services for the 1,500 men of the 377th

World War II & the Clinquale Canal Disaster

After Ft. Dix, Captain Clay went to Infantry School at Ft. Benning, GA and General Staff Command School at Ft. Leavenworth, KS.  In 1944 he was assigned back to 92nd Division in Italy as an Ass’t Operations Officer/attaché to the Division’s command staff.  It is in this capacity Clay faced an enemy as worse as the Germans.  Racism.

It’s well documented the racism that existed in the armed forces during WWII.  No more was this prevalent than in the 92nd Division, the Buffalo Soldiers.  This historic division was formed in WWI and was made up, almost exclusively, of African-American troops.  During WWII, this Division was led by Major General Edward J. Almond, a white southerner.  Almond had disdain for Blacks in the military quoting:

"No white man wants to be accused of leaving the battle line. The Negro doesn't care.... people think being from the South we don't like Negroes.  Not at all, But we understand his capabilities.  And we don't want to sit at the table with them."

In the Fall of 1944, the 92nd Division was sent to Italy to fight against the Germans in the Italian Campaign.  In early February 1945, the Division was sent to take the town of Massa from the Germans.  To achieve that goal required crossing the Cinquale Canal, a tactical disadvantage since mountains and the Canal surrounded the town.  The crossing of the Canal was easy for infantryman initially but proved to be difficult for tanks due to the ebb and flow of the tide.  As the Germans held the high ground, they were easily able to pick off the tanks struggling to cross the Canal.  With no tank support or reserves and cross back the Canal difficult due to the tide, it was a rout by the Germans.  The 92nd Division suffered its greatest loss of the War in this battle.  That’s the backdrop to what happened to Bro. Leroy Armond Clay on February 9, 1945. 

The Incident

  • In early February 1945, Clay was sent forward to the Canal to take charge of stragglers and reorganize them to carry on the attack.
  • On February 9, 1945, Clay received a call from a Lt. Colonel at Division HQ to contact the commanding officer across the Canal to determine what he needed to carry on.  Clay informed his command that all telephone and radio communication was down and tanks refused to take him across the Canal due to the heavy shelling by the Germans.  He was instructed to “get over any way you can.”
  • Clay constructed a make shift tank-to-tank radio relay across the Canal and spoke with the commanding officer.  He obtained their status and support needs and relayed this information to the Lt. Colonel at Divisional HQ as requested.
  • The following day, Clay was reprimanded by his superior for not following orders in crossing the Canal even though he obtained the specific information requested by his superior. 
  • Two days later (February 11), Clay was ordered to the field with one of the Division’s regiments to take command of a rifle company of approximately 200 men.  Clay request to report the next day since he had no field work as a rifle company commander in almost ten years and wanted to have a short period to familiarize himself with the duty.  His request was denied.  As to not put his men in harms way, Clay reviewed rifle command procedures and reported the following day. He was immediately arrested. 
  • Clay asserted that the reassignment to a position he had no experience was a punitive measure for not crossing the Canal on February 9.
The Consequence
  • Clay was charged with failing to carry out an order and failing to obey a direct order.
  • Assigned an attorney one day before his trial, Clay was convicted of both charges on February 22, 1945, and sentenced to 50 years hard labor and dishonorably discharged from the Army.  The sentence was confirmed by General Almond in April 1945. 
  • Upon review of the case by the Judge Advocate of the Mediterranean theater, Clay was found to be not guilty of the charge of failing to carry out an order but guilty of failing to obey a direct order.  His sentence was reduced to 20 years.
Resolution
  • Clay was transferred to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Green Haven, NY in June 1945. 
  • Clay’s case was taken up by the NAACP.  The Attorneys assigned were future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a friend of Clay’s from high school and Howard, and Robert Carter. The case received national attention in the Black press and support from major national figures such as Adam Clayton Powell.
  • As a result of Marshall’s and Carter’s work, a clemency review hearing was held, and on December 5, 1945, clemency was granted for Clay on the condition that he re-enlist as a Private.   

Clay re-enlisted and remained in the Army rising this time to the rank of 1st Sargent before being honorably discharge in 1950. 

Post-War

After the Army, the only job Clay could get was at the Post Office selling stamps.  The Post Office offered no advancement for African-Americans even though he had more education than his white superiors.  He tried to establish his own electrical business but was hampered by the electrical union that denied Blacks.

Clay remained active and financial with the Fraternity throughout his post-undergraduate years with Pi Omega Chapter serving on the 43rd Conclave Committee in 1956.  His wife was also a Quette for the Chapter.

Tragically, on the evening of March 12, 1964, Clay was assaulted and robbed by two Black youths near his home on Carey Street in Baltimore.  A week later, on March 19, he died of his wounds. 

Postscript

Bro. Leroy Armond Clay’s life exemplifies the triumphs and tragedies faced by many African-Americans during the time of overt, legal segregation and bigotry in our country.  Bro. Clay’s legacy is one of heroism and perseverance.  His unsung contribution makes him a shining example of the qualities each Omega man should possess.


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