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Frederick man saw segregation in the war and in the schools

FREDERICK, Md. — For Kenyon Parker, of Frederick, there is such a thing as a free lunch.

All Parker, 88, needs to do is put on his hat indicating that that he's a World War II veteran, and with it comes instant admiration and people offering to pay for things like meals and haircuts.

"It's a pandemic, really," said Parker's wife, Norvis Long-Parker. "It just stops like a moment in time. They get up and shake his hand."

It has not always been like this for Parker.

When he was drafted at age 18, it was not a typical draft. Because he is black, Parker was drafted to serve in a segregated 150-person company in the Army that was to have no contact with white soldiers.

"I was glad to go," Parker said. "Your activities around home were restricted. It's not like these youngsters we have now, just coming and going as they see fit."

After training, Parker was sent to England, Germany and France throughout the war, and he had the same task in each location: driving the DUKW, or the "Duck."

Parker said these vehicles were designed by General Motors specifically for World War II to be able to transport on land and through the water. He said the Ducks were used to transport ammunition and supplies to soldiers on the front lines.

Parker said his race was what kept him from joining the infantry, and he didn't mind that at all.

"It was a way of life. You were born into a segregated system, you lived under a segregated system," said Parker, a native of Lewes, Del.

He said he really enjoyed driving his Duck, which he named "Sad Sack" after the comic strip.

"You just had this big machine that's worth $150,000 or more, and you were in charge of it," Parker said. "It was your Duck."

Once the war was over, Parker was stationed at the Panama Canal, the Philippines and Japan. He left the military in 1945 to attend Delaware State University.

Parker said the college was for black students who were studying to become teachers. He said he studied industrial arts and chemistry.

Parker taught in Manassas, Va., and St. Mary's County before coming to Frederick County in 1954 to teach at the former Lincoln School, which he said was the county's only school for black students. It was the year that schools in Frederick County integrated, he said.

"I didn't think much of it," Parker said. "You were taught to teach. You teach whoever is in the classroom."

He said students seemed equally unfazed by the change, though there were protests when the Lincoln School's name was nearly changed.

"So much had happened there that's part of black history," Parker said.

He stayed with Frederick County Public Schools until 1980. After that, he said he did some teaching with the Jefferson School and the Heather Ridge School.

The father of four and grandfather of three is retired, but he spends two hours every day at Planet Fitness in Frederick.

Though he still remembers having to sit on the top floor in movie theaters, Parker now considers race relations in Frederick healthy.

"I think they're what you make them," Parker said. "Once you're a teacher, you know no color line. If you let that be a bias to you, you don't need to be teaching."
 

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