My daughter Amira urged me to spend Xmas in Fresno with my 85 year old father in law, Mr. James Hall, who lives alone on five arcres in Fresno, not far from the 2 1/2 acres of land once owned by my mother before she joined the ancestors. I hesitated before agreeing to ride down to the Central Valley with my attorney daughter and her children, Jah Amiel, 5, and Naeemah Joy, 1, but I finally packed my bags and joined Amira for the ride to Fresno, 2 1/2 hours from the Bay Area.Why the hesitation to visit the land of my birth, childhood and teenage years?
What about the land where I was almost crucified by the State of California under the Gov. Ronald Reagan regime, 1969, while trying to lecture at Fresno State College, now University? What about the land where my beautiful son walked into a train to take his life?
Well, shall I dwell on the negative or the positive, after all, I still have three children born in this land, Marvin K, Nefertiti and Amira. Only Muhammida was born in Berkeley and grew up in Philadelphia. The others are Valley children and so I should be thankful, thankful for the mothers who raised them, mostly without my help since I was so busy fighting for that abstraction called freedom. But was it not real when black police officer Jack Kelly said, "Marvin, when you were fighting to teach at Fresno State University, you made it better for everybody. Before you came to FSU, black police officers could not patrol the white side of town!"
Should I not be thankful for growing up with my beautiful soul sister and fellow comrade in the arts, ancestor Sherley A. Williams? And those other Valley girls, Patricia, Sharon and Cynthia, who made a profound difference in my life!
And yet I can never forget how this town murdered my comrade, Winfrey Streets, Black Panther leader and choir director of Your Black Educational Theatre, 1971; how they made a handyman shoot him in the back with a shotgun then blamed me for my friend's murder that smelled of Cointelpro, the FBI's counter intelligence program that targeted any leader or potential leader in any town, large or small. And then the Negro newspaper did a character assassination in a full page article saying I was the self-appointed savior and was responsible for all the town's social ills. Such is the hesitation as we neared this town halfway between Los Angeles and the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area, that used to host the West Coast Relays, a ritual for socializing between the bloods from south, central and northern California.
As a member of the Edison high basketball team, I played against Tommy Smith before he raised his
black power fist with John Carlos in Mexico City. I was astounded Tommy had found black consciousness since he was the only black member of the Lemoore High basketball team that we beat.
We finally arrived in Fresno and my daughter dropped me off at her grandfather's house. I must admit I was blessed with the coolest mother and father in laws any man could want. They were so gracious and understanding with me, even while I was abusive to their daughters. Well, my father in law once told me, "If my granddaughters didn't love you so much, I would have killed you long ago for physically abusing my daughter." Of course, I didn't fully appreciate his words until I had three daughters, then I felt the same as my father in law, yes, the very one whose house I was entering. Time is a mother!
Elder James Hall has been long known as a story teller. His granddaughters are often amazed they are caught between their storyteller father and grandfather, two self-admitted crazy nigguhs! It was a blessing to be out in the country area of Fresno where Mr. Hall raises greens, goats and a horse, even though most of Fresno is now a big city with traffic jams, and the Blacks live all over town, no longer proscribed to the West Side where I grew up from the projects to the 2 1/2 acres my mother bought after becoming a successful real estate broker.
During the late 40s and early 50s my parents were in real estate and also published a black newspaper the Fresno Voice, where my writing career began sitting atop my father's desk pecking on his typewriter while he set type spelling words backwards. But my father had a gambling habit (with other people's money) so he had to give up real estate and move to Oakland where he became a florist on 7th Street (see my first play Flowers for the Trashman, San Francisco State Drama Department, 1965).
If I were not a good listener as well as a storyteller, I would not have been able to stand Mr. Hall for five minutes, but imagine the stories an 85 year old black man has about his sojourn in America? And so I listened to his stories until it was time for us to go have dinner at his son's house, president of a local bank. After dinner, Mr. Hall dropped me off and made a run. The next morning I got up early and walked the five acres, eating oranges off the tree, talking to the black dog, the horse and goats, checking out the field of greens.