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Carl Stephen Smith

While researching Piedmont history, I came across a book that was digitized by Google, with search results partially available and through ebay I was able to buy a signed copy of the author's book to read more. This 126 page book, Letters from my Nephew Slim, ended up being written by an author who was a chauffeur in Piedmont for many prominent families, worked at the Bohemian Grove at the Piedmont Camp, served in WW II and (according to his book) was the first Black man of Piedmont to be listed on the honor roll at the Exedra. Having not seen any available publications in the Piedmont papers, Historical Society, or Queen of the Hills telling his story, I thought his story should be told.

From Carl's draft card on from October 16, 1940, it shows Carl Stephen Smith was born Sep 21, 1911 in Dumas, Arkansas and his father was named Israel Sawyer Smith and his mother named Alice M Whitten in Dumas as well. The 1940 Census shows he was living at 99 Lafayette Avenue in Piedmont and working for Harry Thornton as a House Boy (though his book says he was the chauffeur) and his highest grade in school completed was the 6th grade. He passed May 26, 1998 (source: social security).

Letters from my Nephew Slim, by Carl S. Smith 1965

(Back cover)

Carl S. Smith was born on a farm in Arkansas, and he knows what it means to be poor. In fact, Mr. Smith is still poor and hard-working. One of a family of eight children, he says he is the “runt” of the family; although one of his brothers weighs more than 300 pounds, Carl never weighed more than 140, "soaking wet.” Mr. Smith served almost four years, during World War II, with G Company, 2d Battalion, 371st Infantry, 92d Division, and won the Infantryman's Combat Badge in Italy. He has worked for most of his life with white people, and feels that he may know them better than he does Negroes.

Living in Oakland, California, with his wife and his 83-year-old mother, Mr. Smith is a member of the Beth Eden Baptist Church there, and has sung with the choir for 28 years. His deep religious feeling and love and respect for his fellowmen shine through the pages of his book, which is his first published work.

Carl S Smith.jpg
Carls book.jpg


(PAGE 67):

Mr. Gary contacted me and told me about a Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Thornton, who lived in Piedmont, adjoining Oakland. They were in L. A. and needed a chauffeur. He had recommended me, telling them that I did not drink. They wanted to talk with me. They wanted to leave that Saturday, but if I could not get away before Sunday, they would wait until Sunday morning. Mr. Weise, being Jewish, recognized Saturday as the Sabbath Day instead of Sunday, so I would be off from Friday evening until Saturday evening.


[...]I went and was interviewed by the Thorntons the first day of May, 1936. I worked up until 11 o'clock p.m. Saturday, helping the Weises get ready to sail early Sunday morning. Then I was down at the Biltmore Hotel at 6 o'clock, ready to drive my new employer and his wife to 99 Lafayette Ave., Piedmont, the same address that is on my discharge papers.

I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Thornton -- they had no children — from May 3rd, 1936, to April 1st, 1942. I was drafted through the Piedmont draft board. I think I am the only Negro on the honor roll in Piedmont in World War Two. My name was on a large billboard facing Highland Ave., at a deep turn going into Piedmont, right in the Civic Center. They have built a memorial building in Piedmont, in honor of their veterans. I have not as yet been in to look it over, but I still expect to go through it.

I spent 3 years, 8 months, and 6 days in the Army, 2 years in the Cavalry, where I trained with one of the greatest gentlemen I have ever known, in the person of Mr. Jackie Robinson.

Service roll - Piedmont Park.jpg

From the Piedmont Historical Society:


The Exedra became a temporary war memorial. Large signs posted at the Blue Vase listed Piedmonters in the war. One side listed those fighting for our country. The other side listed those who died in the war. Residents sadly noted as names were shifted from one side to the other. Piedmont lost 50 young men in World War II. They are remembered on the plaque on the Veterans’ Building.

carl draft card.jpeg
carl draft card 2.jpeg

Letters from my Nephew Slim, by Carl S. Smith 1965


(PAGE 68):

I went to Pine Bluff, now called North Pine Bluff, to a place called Dewdrop Inn, and to a café called the Red Top. There I found the cutest and sweetest little brown-skinned girl I ever met. Her name is Earlee.


We were married five days later, in the county courthouse in Pine Bluff, Ark., by a Justice of the Peace.


Let's go all the way back to the days with the Thorntons. I worked as chauffeur, butler, and assistant cook. I was cook when the maid was off, or quit. I started going up to the Bohemian Grove, the Bohemians consisting of very wealthy gentlemen all across the nation.

There are only three groups of people — no ladies during allowed in the Grove, which consists of beautiful redwoods, trees that were here when Christ walked the earth. These three groups are: members, special guests and employees. Each camp in the grove at that time was allowed to invite guests according to its size. There were at that time 28 camps.

There were many hotel chefs, private cooks, and many waiters and bartenders from hotels, clubs, and private homes, that planned their vacations at that time, from about July 15th to August 1st.


I must have worked up there about 6 years, 5 years before the war, and again in 1950.


I worked at the Piedmont camp. A Mr. William (Bill) Volkman was captain, and my boss, Mr. Harry Albert Thornton, was assistant captain. Mr. Volkman died during World War Two, and Mr. Thornton after the war. Many of the old timers are dead now, and in some cases I have heard that their sons are members. I met and served great men like President Hoover, who was special guest of Mr. William Cavalier of Piedmont, and Mr. J. P. Morgan; also the heads of the Chrysler Corp., who were members, the great Mr. John Charles Thomas - Mr. Volkman was an heir to the Schilling Corp. He gave Mr. Thornton a used cream in my coffee since. That was more than 25 years ago.

Letter from William J. Nicoson to Carl Smith 1970-04-30.jpg

I also met the then Governor of California, in the person of the Honorable Earl Warren, in 1950. Chief Justice Warren was the special guest of Mr. Joseph Knowland, owner of the Tribune and father of the former Senator Knowland. I first served Mr. Knowland 27 years ago up at the Grove. There were many others.

I had the pleasure of taking my wife through the Grove, on the off season in 1947.

I quit the Thorntons in the spring of 1946. I worked for a Mr. Harrison S. Robinson the rest of 1946 and '47. He died in November 1947. I worked the remainder of the year and started working January 1st or 2nd, 1948, for Mr. and Mrs. Valentine. I worked for the Valentines through 1950, and quit in November of 1950.

I quit on the 4th of November, and started working for Ozalid Gentile Ailene Film Corp., where I worked for 7/2 years. I have also worked in the cotton fields surrounding Dumas. I even worked as a teenager for a white contractor in Dumas.


In 1929, I worked as a helper to white bricklayers, along with another Negro boy by the name of Odell Bryant. I also worked with my stepfather, a gentleman by the name of Frank Bell, who also lived in the same white house that Doctor O'Neil and my Uncle Henry lived and died in.


Mr. Bell was a master at plastering, bricklaying, and pouring concrete. 

I have lived in societies all the way from the farm to the very top cream. I always try to learn the very best that each society has to offer. I have stood in poverty, and I have stood as a waiter in the midst of a group of men worth far more than a billion dollars. Being around men of great wealth gave me a sense of value.

From Sean at the African American Museum & Library at Oakland Vertical File Collection, MS 179, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library.

1940 census for harry thorton with carl smith.jpeg
1940 census for harry thorton with carl smith.jpeg
Carl Smith.jpg
Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, Commanding General of the 92nd Infantry (`Buffalo') Division i
92nd Infantry Division (United States)

From wiki:

The 92nd Infantry Division (92nd Division, WWI) was a segregated infantry division of the United States Army that served in both World War I and World War II. The division was organized in October 1917, after the U.S. entry into World War I, at Camp Funston, Kansas, with African American soldiers from all states. In 1918, before leaving for France, the American buffalo was selected as the divisional insignia due to the "Buffalo Soldiers" nickname, given to African American cavalrymen in the 19th century. The "Buffalo Soldiers Division" divisional nickname was inherited from the 366th Infantry, one of the first units of the division organized.

The 92nd Infantry Division was the only African American infantry division to see combat in Europe during World War II, as part of the U.S. Fifth Army, fighting in the Italian Campaign. The division served in the Italian Campaign from 1944 to the war's end.

Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, Commanding General of the 92nd Infantry (`Buffalo') Division in Italy, inspects his troops during a decoration ceremony (via wiki)

Buffalo solider:

While the 92nd was referred to as a black unit, and its enlisted men and most of its junior officers were black, its higher officers were white. The 92nd, which had fought in France during World War I, was once again activated in 1942. Under the command of Major General Edward M. Almond, the 92nd began combat training in October 1942 and went into action in Italy in the summer of 1944. The unit continued a long and proud tradition by retaining the buffalo as its divisional symbol. Its circular shoulder patch, which featured a black buffalo on an olive drab background, was called The Buffalo—as was the division’s official publication. The 92nd even kept a live buffalo as a mascot.

The nickname “Buffalo Soldier” dates back to the late 1860s, when black soldiers volunteered for duty in the American West. The American Indians, who regarded the new threat as “black white men,” coined the term “Buffalo Soldier” out of respect for a worthy enemy. According to one story, the Indians thought that the black soldiers, with their dark skin and curly hair, resembled buffaloes. Another story attributes the name to the buffalo hides that many black soldiers wore during the harsh winters out West, as a supplement to their inadequate government uniforms.

In the spring of 1944, after years of pressure from the black community, the government grudgingly rescinded its policy excluding African American soldiers from combat. On July 30, 1944, the first wave of Buffalo Soldiers—the 370th Regimental Combat Team—disembarked at Naples, Italy, where they were greeted by a jubilant crowd of black American soldiers from other service units. The rest of the division would arrive a few months later.

American troops were facing an uphill battle in Italy, and at that point the Allies were desperately short of infantry troops. After months of hard fighting, the Allies had managed to push German forces under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring almost 500 bloody miles up the Italian peninsula. But even after the fall of Rome on June 4, 1944, the Germans had simply retreated in an orderly fashion from one line of defense to another rather than acknowledge defeat.

On D-Day, two days after the victory at Rome, Allied soldiers swarmed across the beaches of Normandy. For the duration of the war, the American Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army, under the overall command of British General Sir Harold Alexander, would play second fiddle to the Allied push in France. During the summer of 1944, nearly 100,000 men of the Fifth Army, out of a total strength of 249,000, were transferred to the fighting in France. As the Allies stood at the south bank of the Arno River in July, preparing to assault Kesselring’s most formidable barrier yet—the infamous Gothic Line—the Americans clearly had too many tanks and not enough infantrymen. Kesselring had built the line on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains, the 50-mile-deep range that, in northern Italy, runs diagonally from coast to coast and affords natural protection for northern industrial and agricultural centers.

In addition to the 370th, at that point the 92nd consisted of two other infantry regiments, the 365th and the 371st; four field artillery battalions, the 597th, 598th, 599th and 600th; plus headquarters battery, the 92nd Reconnaissance Troop, the 317th Engineer Combat Battalion and 317th Medical Battalion, as well as a medical battalion, signal company, quartermaster company, maintenance personnel and military police. The Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to the IV Corps of the U.S. Fifth Army in two primary areas of operation, the Serchio Valley and the coastal sector along the Ligurian Sea. They occupied the westernmost end of the Allied front, while the Eighth Army attacked across the eastern portion of the Italian peninsula. The 92nd would face not only mountainous terrain and tremendous resistance—including the German Fourteenth Army and its Italian Fascist soldiers, the 90th Panzergrenadier Division and the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division—but also an array of man-made defensive works.

in color the 92.jpeg

African American `doughfoots' of the 92nd Infantry (`Buffalo') Division pursue the retreating Germans through the Po Valley. German forces in Italy have since capitulated unconditionally (wiki)


NOVEMBER 6, 2009

The Buffalo Saga is indeed a raw, unvarnished, often angry account of a decorated young soldier’s encounter with institutionalized racial prejudice. Once, while fighting in Italy in 1945, another soldier in the 92nd Infantry Division said his company had lost too many men to continue fighting. Daugherty asked why the officers couldn’t just call up replacements. “Look, bud, they don’t train colored soldiers to fight,” the soldier told Daugherty. “They train them to load ships, and you don’t expect them to put white boys in a Negro outfit, do you? What do you think this is, a democracy or something?”

Daugherty’s memoir also recalls the time a black soldier got shipped out to the front lines in Italy after confronting a white officer. Word was the officer had threatened to send him where he’d get his “smart Negro brains” blown out. “I merely wondered how many men were here to be punished because they had dared to express a desire to be treated like men,” Daugherty writes.

The exclusion of Black soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II : the study commissioned by the United States Army to investigate racial bias in the awarding of the nation's highest military decoration
by Converse, Elliott Vanveltner

Publication date 1997

the attitude of key commanders of the 92nd Infantry Division, the largest black unit and the one to compile the most manhours in combat, was most definitely characterized by racial prejudice. That prejudice had to affect their judgment in awards and quite likely explains why no black offi cer or soldier in that Division was recommended for a Medal of Honor.

I'm not sure if they crossed paths, but Ron Field wrote a book in 2008 called "Buffalo Soldiers":

(back cover)

Until his retirement in 2007, RON FIELD was Head of History at the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1982 and taught history at Piedmont High School in California from 1982 to 1983. He was associate editor of the Confederate Historical Society of Great Britain from 1983 to 1992. He is an internationally acknowledged expert on US military history, and was elected a Fellow of the Company of Military Historians, based in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

pg 176:

The largest percentage of African American combat soldiers was found in the infantry, and more than 20,000 black infantrymen fought in Europe and the Pacific. Not only did many African Americans serve in segregated infantry units, but some were part of an experiment that involved the creation of the first racially integrated units in American military history. This experiment was so successful that it helped to justify President Harry S. Truman's decision to integrate the US military in 1948.

Said he was fighting on arrival
Fighting for survival
Said he was a Buffalo Soldier
Win the war for America

-Bob Marley
carl grave.jpeg

Born Sep 21, 1911 in Dumas, Arkansas and

passed May 26, 1998 in Lafayette, California

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