Rupert S. Trimmingham
|Born||August 17, 1899|
Port of Spain, Trinidad
|Died||May 9, 1985 (aged 85)|
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
|Fairview Cemetery, Ann Arbor|
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Army Corps of Engineers|
|Years of service||1942–46|
Rupert Stanley Trimmingham (August 17, 1899 – May 9, 1985) was a corporal in the United States Army Corps of Engineers during World War II who is noted for writing a letter that was published in Yank, the Army Weekly that attracted wide attention to the plight of black American soldiers in World War II. It was an early step in the process that, along with other publicized outrages involving black American soldiers, eventually resulted in President Harry S. Truman issuing Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the United State armed forces. Beginning within months of publication, the letter has been an inspiration for literature and the performing arts highlighting racial inequality.
Trimmingham was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of Harris and Lillian Trimmingham. In 1917 he emigrated to Wales, where he was a merchant seaman from 1918 to 1921. He emigrated to the United States, sailing from Southampton, England, and arriving in New York on 13 October 1925. In 1928 he married and lived in Newark, New Jersey. On 23 August 1943 he married his second wife, Harriet B. Lawsen, in Pima County, Arizona. He joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1942, working as an electrician. After his discharge in 1946 he lived in Gary, Indiana, working for the Singer Sewing Machine Company as an electrician. He became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1950. In 1956 he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where in died and was buried in Fairview Cemetery, Ann Arbor. His wife died in 2005 and is buried beside him.
Incident and letter to Yank
In April 1944 Trimmingham and eight fellow black soldiers were traveling by train from Camp Claiborne in central Louisiana to the military hospital at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, when the train made a one-day layover in a small Louisiana town. The next day the soldiers could find only one place that would serve them a meal, the rail station lunchroom, but only on the condition that they ate in the kitchen, not the lunchroom itself. Around 11:30 a.m. two dozen German prisoners of war, accompanied by two American guards, came into the lunchroom and were served lunch while Trimmingham and the men with him looked on from the kitchen. Trimmingham wrote a letter recounting the incident that was published in the 28 April 1944 edition of Yank Magazine. In it he expressed how earlier that month he: "stood on the outside looking on, and I could not help but ask myself these questions: are we not American soldiers, sworn to fight for and die if need be for this our country? Then why are they treated better than we are? Why does the Government allow such things to go on?"
The reaction to the letter was strong and immediate. In a follow-up letter published 28 July 1944, Trimmingham said that he had received 287 letters, 183 from whites, supporting his position. The editors reported that Yank had received "a great number of comments from GIs, almost all of whom were outraged by the treatment given the corporal."
Influence on popular culture
A short story by Robert E. McLaughlin based upon the events described by Trimmingham, "A Short Wait between Trains," was published in the 14 June 1944 New Yorker magazine. It was later republished in 1945 in a collection of McLaughlin's wartime stories, in 1949 in a collection of New Yorker short stories reprinted three times, and in 1991 in an anthology of war stories.
Also in 1945, radio writer Ruth Moore wrote a one-act play incorporating elements from Trimminghim's account and McLaughlin's story, "Short Wait between Trains,", for the Chicago branch of the Stage for Action, a social activist theater organization of the 1940s and early 1950s. The play had its premiere on 28 October 1945 at the opening of the troupe's 1945-46 season at Northwestern University. The play was restaged in Chicago in March 1957 by the Universal Actors troupe as part of the United Nations’ International Theatre Month.
A 25-minute film, A Short Wait between Trains, produced by Cherryl S. Espinoza and directed by Rick Wilkinson, premiered on Showtime on 15 February 1999 as an episode of the Black Filmmakers Showcase.
The PBS history series American Experience featured Courtney B. Vance reading Cpl. Trimmingham's Yank letter as part of its presentation "War Letters", first broadcast 11 November 2001.
- Isaac Woodard, Jr.
- Harry T. Moore
- Philleo Nash
- The Scottsboro Boys
- Ossian Sweet
- Emmett Till
- Booker T. Spicely
- Obituary, Ann Arbor News, 11 May 1985; Ancestry.com.
- Carroll, Andrew, ed. War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), p. 315.
- Brinkley, Douglas, ed. The New York Times Living History: World War II, 1942-1945: The Allied Counteroffensive (New York: Harry Holt and Company, 2003) p. 176.
- McLaughlin, Robert. "A Short Wait between Trains" New Yorker 20:18, 14 June 1944, pp.27-9.
- McLaughlin, Robert. A Short Wait between Trains and Other Stories (1945) New York: Knopf.
- 55 Short Stories from the New Yorker (1949) New York:Simon and Schuster.
- Benard, Robert, ed. A Short Wait between Trains : An Anthology of War Short Stories (1991) New York: Delacorte.
- "Chi Legit Casts Do 1-Acters on 'Action' Stage." Billboard 57:42, (20 October 1945), p. 3; Dail, Chrystyna. Stage for Action: U. S. Social Activist Theatre in the 1940s (2016) Carbondale: SIU Press, p. 3.
- Helgeson, Jeffrey. Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago's Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (2014) Chicago: U of Chicago Press, p. 226.
- IMDb page; A Short Wait between Trains, PrettyFamous, accessed 26 November 2016.
- Reiss, Matthias. "Icons of Insult: German and Italian Prisoners of War in African American Letters during World War II" Amerikastudian/American Studies (2004) 49: 539-562.
- Egerton, John. Speak Now Against the Day, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
- Gardner, Michael. Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks, Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 2002.
- Yarborough, Tinsley. A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.