I was born in the South, specifically, in Oklahoma. By the actions of my dad, I got out and ended up in California, the so-called Promised Land. It was here that I was beaten and arrested by the LAPD, in front of my house. It was also here in the so-called Promised Land that my brother was beaten and arrested. I was arrested in 1968, in Los Angeles, after returning home from my Spanish tutoring session. At the time I was a senior at Pepperdine College.
In July 2003, my brother who was a college professor with a Master’s degree was arrested in Palo Alto, California for sleeping in his car in a white neighborhood. I have three sons. they have all had their negative experiences with cops, including an experience by one of them at the age of ten when they stopped him, emptied his book bag and saxophone case out, and left him to clean up the mess. Today he holds a Ph.D. He never told us about the incident until much later.
Growing up, I soon learned it didn’t matter where I was, in Oklahoma or California. I was still a nig*er, according to my white school mates. But it didn’t matter to me. Even though I was young, my folks had somehow made me wise to the ways of the world. I always fought when called the N-word, no matter who called me out of my name. Once a boy much larger than I called me out of my name, and took off running. I chased him and he ran to the principal’s office. When he got there, I kicked him into the office and I went in and sat down. After that incident, we became friends.
I had learned that when I was called out of my name, it was a signal to fight. My mother taught me about black poets and writers such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and her favorite, Paul Laurence Dunbar. They were her people and my people too.
My mother’s cars were Buicks, and she didn’t need to get white people’s approval to own them. Daddy bought the Buicks but he couldn’t take them where he worked at the car lot because the white people would want to know how we could afford a new car on the little money they paid him for polishing and detailing their cars.
My teachers didn’t treat me like they treated the white kids. I talked. They would slap me in the face or on my hand. Mama would come to the school and dare the teachers to slap me again. The teachers were all white. Once a teacher pushed me. I told Mama. She came to the school, and in full view of all my classmates demonstrated a push on the teacher and told her not to push her boy again. She never pushed me again.
In the summer, I would work with my dad at the car lot, or he would get me a job at the local car wash, or I would work at my mother’s second-hand store. The white employees of the car lot would get to work in the business office. I never even dreamed of working in the office.
Mama had started her store after working as a maid for white folks. The white folks would give her hand me down (second hand) clothes and furniture from their family. Mama took the clothes and furniture and began to sell them. The clothes and furniture became HOPKINS USED CLOTHES AND FURNITURE STORE on Cottonwood Road. The clientele was the black folks who came to Bakersfield to pick cotton or other crops. I had my job at the store, though the kids at school called me “second hand Joe”. I hated it, until one summer. I told mama I was going to go out with a labor contractor to work. I went out with the labor contractor. They were picking cotton. I lasted until about 11:00 a.m., then I was looking for a ride back to town to get my job back at mama’s store. After that, I didn’t care what they called me. I always had money in my pocket.
On frequent trips back to Oklahoma, I watched my Dad’s face as he would buy gas, as he informed us the restrooms were out of order. They were always out of order. We all, including my mother, sister and aunt, if she was with us, had to go to the toilet in the fields, squatting among the weeds.
A life-changing event happened when Daddy decided he was going to start his own business polishing cars. Hoppies Car Polishing was born. It died soon thereafter when Daddy’s boss at the car lot went to the landlord who rented Daddy a place for his business and talked the landlord into raising Daddy’s rent so high Daddy couldn’t afford to pay it. He had to go back to work at the car lot. I decided never to work for “The Man” at that point. On finishing high school, I went directly to Barber School. I went to work in a shop where I made $25.00 per week. The next shop I worked at, I earned $45.00 per week. By the time I was twenty, I opened my own shop, I was making $100 per week. I met that girl named Ruthie in March 1962 and married her in June 1962. That was the best thing that ever happened to me.
A customer named Gabriel Solomon was Bakersfield’s only black lawyer. He and my uncle suggested that I run for School Board. There had never been a black School Board member. During the campaign, Gabriel, we called him Gabe, suggested I go to Law School. He convinced me I could make it. As a note, his law school classmate was Willie Brown (who became a California State Assemblymember and mayor of San Francisco).
I went on to Bakersfield Jr College, finished with my AA degree. Bakersfield only had a Jr. College, so I headed to Los Angeles where I got a BA degree from Pepperdine. Then I was off to Law School, where I graduated and I took the bar ten times. While at Pepperdine I started the first Black Student Union. I got arrested, beaten by two LAPD officers, ended up in the hospital and, charged with BATTERY ON A POLICE OFFICER. The case dismissed at the preliminary hearing.
After I passed the bar, I started practicing law using marketing and advertising tactics that I had learned while working at Mama’s second-hand store. We started the Journal on a fluke because there was no black newspaper at the time, in 1989, where we could advertise our son’s businesses (a silk-screening business, an Attorney service, and a barbershop).
The Journal has been a struggle over the years. When Magic Johnson opened his 24-Hour Fitness and bragged that it would help black businesses. Well, his managers helped his black business, but definitely not ours. We were sought out to provide publicity on their opening and were promised advertising which never came. Our salesman attempted to seek advertising and was told that we were not a Los Angeles business. Did they think they were in Los Angeles? They were from New York and obviously ignorant about local black businesses in the Pasadena, Altadena area.
My hat’s off to the Black Lives Matter group who have called for the Defunding of Police Forces and moving some of the money to Social Services, Mental Health training, and other services. It’s sad to know that lynching is still not illegal. However, It was uplifting to see the House of Representatives take a knee and to hear Senator Mitt Romney marched saying, “Black Lives Matter”. General Colin Powell, the son of immigrants said his parents got here in a Banana Boat. Other Military Generals objected to actions taken by the guy in the White House.
I’m amazed at the movement and diversity of marchers in nearly every single city in the United States and all over the world. Everything that was hidden and underground is coming out of the closet. All kinds of ills and wrongs are bubbling to the surface, the racism, the bigotry, hatred, and discrimination. All races of people are coming together and having revealing, truthful, meaningful, and uncomfortable conversations. The good thing is that they and coming to a new understanding of themselves as well as people of other races and backgrounds. When we know better, we do better. It’s good to know who you are. I’m glad I know who I am.