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Cliff Redding: Family Legacy the Lifeblood of My Own Black History Month

Aging, delicate photos provide a vibrant picture of the heroes of my history

This month, February, is Black History Month.

And it chaps my ass to see young blacks with pants hanging so low theirs is all out for the world to see. I mean, come on! Pull up your pants!

I was in a Starbucks the other day and a young brother came in and ordered a mocha-frappa-whatchamacallit. I mean, the guy’s pants were so low, I could see the labels on his underpants. And I didn’t want to see that. Believe me. Watching him made me want to go up to the young man and say, “Youngblood, PULL UP YOUR PANTS!”

I didn’t, though.

Instead, I thought about my regular coffee — with room for cream. But it hit me.

This is Black History Month. I should be doing something to recognize this. Why was I tripping on what the folks in the office think of me recognizing my roots and my history? Why should I be upset about the young man with the way-too-low jeans?

Then, after the Starbucks clerk gave me my drink, I thought about the Middle Passage and what my high school history teacher, Mr. Barnaby, told me and the rest of my class back at West Side High School about it. What he said back then seemed quite relevant through the years, since it took between 30 to 180 days to make the trip. And, to be brutally honest, if a slave was sick during the journey, the slavers had no problem throwing them overboard. Later, I learned that sometimes, when the slave ship was overweight, or if provisions ran low, slaves were thrown overboard. Healthy or not.

Back in my “militant” days, I took solace in this. “Don’t even call us lazy, because if we are here, then someone in the family survived the Middle Passage, so you are probably trying to negate someone who is a descendant of someone else who survived the journey ...”

Now, I’m looking at this kid with his pants down on his ass. And I’m thinking about some of my heroes, many who have done much more than what we’ve done ... often with much less:

» Martin Luther King Jr., champion of civil rights, needs no introduction whatsoever.

» And before there was Oprah, there was Madam C.J. Walker, who made her fortune working on black women’s hair with the hot comb.

» Frederick Douglass was a fantastic orator, who was a runaway slave, taught himself to read and spoke out against slavery during a time when it was potentially fatal to do so.

» Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was the first female pilot of African-American descent.

» Oscar Micheaux was the first black to produce a feature-length film.

» Harriet Tubman was the abolitionist who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

» George Washington Carver came up with hundreds of uses for the peanut.

» Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award, for her portrayal of a servant in Gone With the Wind. She told NAACP members, who criticized her portrayal of maids and mammies, “I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7.”

» Garrett Morgan invented the traffic signal, later selling the patent to General Electric for $40,000.

» Althea Gibson made her mark on the tennis court when she broke that sport’s color barrier.

» Alain Leroy Locke was a writer, philosopher, patron of the arts, educator and the namesake of my elementary school.

» Opera singer Marian Anderson planned to give a concert in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1939, but the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform because she was African-American. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was so outraged, she resigned her membership.

» Crispus Attucks was the first American to die in the Revolutionary War.

» Wilma Rudolph was the fastest woman on the planet during the 1960s, becoming the first American to win three gold medals in the Olympics.

» Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was the first African-American general in the Air Force and led the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.

These are just a few of my heroes from history. All of them are gone. But they are not forgotten, so they live on. Some of them you may have heard of.

But there is a whole other list. This list includes my maternal grandmother, Julia Mae Gadsen, who came up with an interesting plan to leave the South for a better life for her and her daughters in the North. Then, there’s my grandfather, Albert Redding Sr., who also decided to head north from Macon, Ga., and get to South Bend, Ind., where he could raise a family. His wife, I learned recently, was one of the first black schoolteachers in Macon.

Then, there’s the host of aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives — real and “play” — who add to the mix of what is my Black History Month.

Mine.

— Former Noozhawk copy editor Cliff Redding is a news desk editor at the Los Angeles Daily News and a part-time Santa Barbara resident. His blog, ReddMeat, is featured on Noozhawk. Click here for previous columns. Follow Cliff on Twitter: @CliffRedd

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