Article about Clifton Sharp


Clifton Sharp


The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.

 Muhammad Ali

Clifton Sharp has seen a lot in his 86 years, and there has been much to be seen.

 The great-grandson of a slave, whose father was the white master, Sharp is a decorated veteran who served his country on foreign soil, only to discover that there were very few jobs available for a black man upon his return to his hometown.

 This Veteran’s Day, Sharp finds that more opportunities exist for young black men returning to their hometown. He points with pride to his grandson, Monroe City’s former Chief of Police Monzell Sharp, who is owner of Sharp Brothers Disposal. He also proudly notes that another college-educated young man, Ed Talton, is the first black banker at UMB, where Mr. Sharp banks.

 For nearly nine decades, this black man’s life has represented many of the country’s major struggles-a great-grandfather who was freed and given 40 acres of land, a time when a father who sought help from his young son to provide for the family during the Depression era, a time when blacks had their own schools and their own military units, a time when desegregation was celebrated by some while others fought it, and a time when equal rights came under the Kennedy administration. His story tells much of the history of Monroe City-a time when indoor plumbing was notable, a time when jobs were scarce and low-paying, a time when coal was used to heat homes, a time when Henderson Produce Company was the area’s largest employer, and a time when a man was measured by his willingness to work and care for his family.

 Born Dec. 11, 1919, in the Centerville area of Marion County by Barr School, Sharp was the oldest of five children born to one of Jasper and Tom McClintic’s farm hands, Elmer Sharp, and his wife, Lillie Buckman. Lillie was the daughter of Luvenia and Bob Buckman whose father was slaveholder Bill Buckman. The mother’s name is unknown. Elmer was the son of Alexander Sharp, and his wife, Alice Baxter Sharp.

 He attended school at Sharpsburg School. There was a school for blacks at one end of the road, and a school for whites at the other end, close to one another and yet miles apart. Sharp hitched a team of horses to the wagon daily to take his siblings to school until fourth grade, when his formal education was brought to an abrupt halt. He was needed to work to help support the younger siblings. His abbreviated education was not uncommon for the family’s oldest child during Depression years.

 Life was simple, work during the daytime, sleep at night and games of ball with the siblings on rare occasion when time permitted. There were weekly trips to nearby Hunnewell for groceries or to Monroe City. By the time he was 14, Sharp was turning sod behind a team of four horses. “I’ve been working ever since,” he says. “Working hard,” he says soulfully.

 The pattern for Sharp’s future success would lie in the many lessons his father would teach him in those early years. “Dad always said to be honest and save money,” he says. He remembers that his father would occasionally give him five cents to go to the store to get candy. Along the way to the store, he would encounter some of his uncles and they would give him five cents for candy also. Sharp would trudge along to the store; buy five cents worth of candy and pocket the remaining nickel back for a rainy day. It was a habit that became ingrained.

 His grandfather set an example of hard work and saving. He raised long-green tobacco, made molasses, and rode his horse Liz to area farms to castrate mules and horses. He also cut hickory bark off of trees to cane chairs. By being frugal and working hard, he bought a new Model T, the car that provided the Sharp’s only childhood trip, a trip to Moberly.

 Sharp’s days were filled with hard work, and little play. Playing cards, drinking and frolicking were not looked upon kindly by the Sharps. Those who worked hard, stayed close to home and took care of family earned the badges of honor in the Sharp family. Sharp remembers his mother as always wearing an apron. From the front porch, she would summons the rest of the family in for dinner, which always included beans and cooked apples. On days of rest, the front porch was where men would sit and talk. And Sunday church attendance was mandatory for members of the Sharp family. His grandfather was head of building the church in Hunnewell. Today, Sharp follows in the obedient tradition, being the oldest active member of the Second Baptist Church of Monroe City.

 Sharp had rarely left the immediate circle of family when he was drafted into the U.S. Army on July 14, 1942. He and another prominent Monroe City black man, J.K. (Buck) Robinson served in 1st Army 258 Signal Construction Co. with Robinson becoming a master sergeant. He recalls that Robinson had no fear of heights and would shimmy to the top of the 70-foot flagpole each morning to hoist the American flag over their boot camp. The Monroe City inductees left Hannibal by bus for Jefferson Barracks.

 From southern Missouri, the country boys were sent to Dawson Creek, Canada, by train. The crew of linemen lived in tents to splice cable and hook up 500 miles of telephone lines stretching from Dawson Creek to Edmundton, Alberta. He was in Canada for a year.

 They then went to Boston, Mass., and set sail for the eight-day trip which “would kill the devil” to England where he would live in foxholes, ever vigilant for the sounds of German planes and sirens. From England, he went to Germany where he was a corporal, often walking alone as he moved past bombed-out houses which served as the only barrier between him and tanks. He served in Scotland also, giving another 30 months of service overseas. There were 250 black soldiers in the unit, led by white officers.

 In 1941, Sharp moved to Monroe City with neighbors close by, the “funny” taste of “town” water, and other new experiences. His family was the first black family to have indoor plumbing, and the first black family to have a car. Determined not to follow in the footsteps of his father who was accustomed to moving from farm to farm as he worked for others, the younger Sharp set about buying property in town. He now owns several lots, in addition to his own home, and a 250-acre farm north of Monroe City near his childhood home.

 When he returned from war, he married a young woman from Clarence, and his brother, Cecil, who had been drafted a year later, married her twin sister, Aletha. Their father had driven a small bus from Clarence to Shelbina to Hunnewell and Monroe City’s Washington School for black students. Her mother was a school teacher in Clarence and Shelbyville. They had met at a basket dinner at church prior to his deployment. They had three children, Althea, the late Elizabeth and the late Clifton Sharp. They separated when the children were 13, 12, and 11, and the daughters lived with her and Clifton lived with him. Today, Mrs. Sharp lives at Bristol Manor. He speaks sadly of their separation, noting, “I worship the ground she walked on.”

 Sharp found work at Farmers Elevator from 1946 to 1948 for 55 cents an hour, scooping corn, and coal that was sold for heat. He also picked geese at the old goose farm and scooped lime at the Sandifer farm. He also helped his brother Cecil dig graves by hand at the Catholic graveyard in Monroe City.

 He also worked at Henderson Produce on the dock from 1948 to 1950. He got paid 17 cents an hour there. After that he hauled gravel and coal for people and also worked in Hannibal’s railroad yards. He retired from Electric Wheel in Quincy, Ill., and raised hogs on the farm.

 One of the more exciting times in Monroe City history that Sharp recalls is when the notorious gunfighter John Dillinger and his gang holed up at the former John Keller farm northeast of Monroe City. Dillinger held the Jackson and Carpenter families hostage as he evaded law authorities.

 Today, Mr. Sharp has limited eyesight, and has a friend, Marion Whelan, drive him to the farm three times a week. He has several dogs there that give him a robust welcome as he arrives. Sometimes others will tell him that he is too old to farm, but “I tell them, I just go out to the mail box and get what it produces.”

 He says he had no time for hobbies during his lifetime. Today Sharp’s home, which he shares with his brother, smells of cooked cabbage and apples. The smell wafts to the front porch where Sharp’s family and friends come to sit and visit. “I just worked all of the time,” he says, words not of a man who is complaining, but of a proud man who has earned the right to sit on his porch and visit with friends and relatives while the smell of good food beckons them inside at mealtime.