Clarence Lee was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 1913. There were four brothers and one sister in his family. At the age of eight, Clarence was given the responsibility of caring for his sister and younger brother while his mother washed and ironed clothes for people. She received five cents for every child's garment laundered, ten cents for adult clothing. Times got so bad for the Lees that they were forced to leave Baton Rouge and go into sharecropping.
When Clarence was sixteen, his father could no longer support him, and sent him out on the road. For eighteen months, Clarence hoboed throughout Louisiana, riding freight trains up and down the state in what was essentially a search for food to save him from starving. In 1931, he found work on a dairy farm at a wage of ten cents an hour. With his earnings he was eventually able to buy his parents out of sharecropping servitude for an amount he remembers precisely: $111.40.
My childhood ended the day we became sharecroppers. We worked the land of a man who owned a dairy. We had to milk his cows as well as plant crops. I had pain in the ligaments of my knees and couldn't walk. My father woke me in the darkness at 3 A.M., put me on his back, and carried me to the dairy to help with the milking. For three solid months, we worked without pity or mercy.
There was no time to play like other children. I wasn't allowed