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Happy 107th birthday, Mr. Flowers!


Las Cruces resident Clayton Flowers celebrated his 107th birthday on Christmas Day.

Flowers was born Dec. 25, 1915 (Woodrow Wilson was president, William C. McDonald was in his third year as the first governor of the state of New Mexico and World War I was raging in Europe) on Solisberg Road in rural Surry County, Virginia.

Flowers was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. He joined the Army Air Corps and was assigned to officer candidate school in Tuskegee, Alabama. Flowers became part of the highly decorated 477th Medium-Bomber Group, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the Army’s first black pilots.

After the unit was transferred to Freeman Field near Seymour, Indiana, Flowers was part of a group of more than 100 black officers who tried to enter an all-white officers club there on April 5 and 6, 1945. 61 of the black officers were arrested and court-martialed on minor charges, with one officer convicted. President Harry Truman ordered the integration of the military in 1948 – in part because of the Freeman Field incident. All charges from the incident were dropped in 1995.

Flowers left the Army as a first lieutenant after five years of service.

He became a housing contractor, working with his brother, Fred, and their father, who came out of retirement to help. The three laid bricks for a New York City housing project for Fred Trump, father of former President Donald Trump, but couldn’t live there because they were black, Flowers said.

Like his father, Flowers became a successful bricklayer, but he had to give that up when he developed tennis elbow. Flowers left the family business to return to school, becoming a math teacher.

He married Evelyn Lorraine Church, a Michigan native who was also a teacher, on Aug. 11, 1951 in New York City. The couple settled on Manhattan’s lower east side. They raised three children and started traveling the U.S. and Canada after the birth of their first grandchild. The Flowers moved to Deming and then to Las Cruces in 1984. Evelyn Flowers died on Valentine’s Day 2008 at age 88.

Flowers attributes his longevity to a tolerance for others and their beliefs. And, although Flowers said he has “always been a talkative person, I’m not really obsessed with myself,” he said.