Larry Ukali Johnson-Redd
My Deepest Affections Are Yours /
Journey to the Motherland
To Destiny Through Afrocentric Poetry /
to Destiny Through Afrocentric Poetry
* * *
Remembering Chinwe & Teaching in
By Larry Ukali
I cannot think of
Nigeria during the time I lived there without thinking of Chinwe,
my late wife who was with me in mind and spirit every day I was
most of my meals while I lived in Nigeria.
Chinwe was born in Madison, Wisconsin because her father
and mother were in the USA studying in the early 50s during the
time that Nkrumah became President of Ghana.
Chinwe as well as her three brothers were born in the
U.S. Her three younger sisters, however, were born in Nigeria.
speaking, Chinwe was 100% Nigerian, by conscious choice.
As a woman and wife, she felt it her duty to fix my
meals, like an African woman in Africa feels it’s her duty to
make her husband’s food.
Unless we went out to dinner in one of many Nigerian
restaurants or to one of our friends’ houses, Chinwe always
made my food. Every
now and then I would cook something special like spaghetti or
hamburgers or chili made from scratch.
Chinwe was a
native of Nkwerre, because in Iboland like most of Nigeria, your
roots come from your father.
Chinwe's late father was from the Uzoma family in Nkwerre,
a village/town in Imo State.
When she and I
arrived in Zaria, in November 1977, her brother and sisters,
Father and Mother welcomed us into their home in staff housing
of a High School in Zaria (Kaduna State Nigeria).
Mr. Uzoma, my
father-in-law; had earned his Masters of Science in Biology
while in the USA. Chinwe
was attending high school in Lagos at Queen’s College when the
Nigerian Civil War broke out.
Chinwe managed to get back to meet her family in what was
now to be called “Biafra.” Chinwe lived out the war in the
war zone; however, after the war, Mr. Uzoma took his family up
north to Zaria to help build the peace in Nigeria.
Mr. Uzoma was a great Biology Teacher.
After the war
Chinwe and eventually her brothers who were born in the U.S.A.
came back to the States. I
met Chinwe in San Francisco where she was attending City College
of San Francisco and eventually graduated from San Francisco
State University. We
met at a Nigerian party in San Francisco; however, my father-in-law
suggested we say we met in a library whenever the subject came
up in his hometown, jokingly, but we knew he meant it seriously.
We fell in love, and the rest of the world disappeared.
I always knew
we was down no mater how many changes we went through so I
married her in 1974, December 20th.
and I arrived in Zaria for the first time, she slept in her
sister's room and I was assigned to share this huge room with
her brother who was 15 or 16.
We had our own room in Kaduna about 75 miles away but we
had been married about 3-plus years so I wondered what was going
on but I went along with the flow.
morning I spoke with her father, man to man.
Mr. Uzoma was a nice and pleasant man and Anglican by
religious preference. Mr. Uzoma understood African-Americans and
whites in a way most Nigerians did not know, unless they had
lived in America.
He told me
that although I am his daughter’s legal husband according to
U.S. law and even Nigerian law, I had not yet completed the
Nigerian customary marriage, called the "Native Law and
My father-in-law explained the importance of the matter
this way. He said
that unless I do the Native Law and Custom Marriage, he would be
severely looked down upon in his native village of Nkwerre.
He also said that he and his wife could become social
outcasts in Nkwerre if we slept together in his house without
having completed the Native Law and Custom Marriage.
He said that
was why we must sleep separately in his home at least until the
Native Law and Custom Marriage occurred and the elders in his village
had drunk the wine of the native marriage would our marriage be
complete in the eyes of Nkwerre and Iboland.
This is the way it was in Nigeria, very cultural in its
completed the Native Law and Custom Marriage in Nkwerre in 1980.
Sensing we would soon leave Nigeria, we drove our car from Benin
City to Kaduna in 1981 during the Easter break or early Summer
after school was out. I was a Government Teacher in a Benin City
We left when school
was out of session in one of our two cars. We had a Volga that looked like a long 59 Ford, although it
was made in the 70s, and a Volkswagon Beetle, that Chinwe drove
to work. When we
left Benin, we headed towards Auchi, in the northern part of
what was then Bendel State and probably is now a part of Edo
State. We passed a
giant cement factory that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a
When we were
not reviewing maps and directions or talking about road safety,
we talked about my school and students or her job as an
Education Officer in the Bendel State Ministry of Education.
between Ilorin, Capital of what was Kwarra State and Minna
Capital of Niger State, Chinwe fell asleep.
So here I was driving in the middle of Nigeria. Beside my
lights, it was pitch black!
an African Brazilian brother; I met in Benin City.
He was a soccer coach.
He was a very nice brother, but I do not remember his
name. He had lost his wife in Nigeria in a crash while traveling.
He told me a car was left in the middle of the road and
he ran into it and his car landed in a ditch killing his African
Just as I was
thinking of that situation, I noticed a vehicle right in my
path. I moved over easily and luckily for us I missed that car and
continued on to Minna, in what was then Niger State. We stopped in the Motorpark and bought gas, or as the Nigerians
called it, "petrol."
directions and a full tank of gas and headed for Kaduna City,
which is in the next State to the North, Kaduna. Clearly another
danger on these Nigerian roads at that time, before the Nigerian
Highway Patrol was established, was cars passing on a two-lane
highway. These days Nigeria builds four to eight-lane highways,
I am told. We
continued on the Minna -Kaduna Road until we got to Kaduna and
then we knew we only had 75 more miles to go to reach Zaria.
Zaria and found my father-in-law’s house on his school campus.
Once again the whole family came out to greet us.
However, her brother was gone, I believe "Chi Chi"
as we called him was en route to the USA.
The big room was empty and my father-in-law said, “You
and Chinwe will be here," pointing to that big room.
You see, since
we had completed our Native Custom Law and Custom Marriage in
Nkwerre, Imo State and the elders of this village had drunk the
wine in a way of speaking, meaning we had married by Ibo tribal
customs and in literal terms it was now okay culturally and
morally proper for me to sleep in their house in the same room
with my wife.
fell into a deep, deep sleep after my 800-mile journey through
the middle of Nigeria. Although
we rested the first day, my father-in-law, Mr. Uzoma and I had
hours of conversation. As
classroom teachers, we told teaching stories about me
introducing government as a subject during the military
government's administration until 1979.
My father-in-law, Mr. Uzoma had many stories about living
in Madison, Wisconsin in the early 50s, life in America, life in
Nigeria, in Iboland and in Zaria.
I also heard these stories of classroom experiences.
Mr. Uzoma was a Master Teacher. and you could tell by his
professional and academic manner.
Mr. Uzoma had
prepared for our visit by purchasing a case or two of Nigerian beer. It was Star Beer and 24-large bottles were chilling in the
fridge. We drank so
much while sharing our conversations that one of Chinwe’s
sisters started ranting and raving saying, “Dad, you don’t
buy beer like this normally.” She then let off a loud hiss that was disrespectful.
Mr. Uzoma ignored the hiss, focusing on me with his
charming smile, and continued telling stories that revolved
around how he taught students who had trouble learning Biology. I realized Mr. Uzoma was a Master Teacher, as a senior
teacher on Nigeria’s highest pay grade, like 14.
I also told many stories about growing up in California.
Mr. Uzoma and
I lounged, drank beer, and told more stories between meals for
two days. On the
third day we began to prepare for the journey back to Benin
City. We stayed
three days and headed back to Benin City by car.
our directions and managed to see areas during daylight we had
passed on the way. We
passed many private mines in Niger State. Dave’s Mine.
Michael’s Mine. John’s Mine. The real informal signs would
say in the middle of Niger State.
Chinwe and I wondered aloud about what these mines
contained and what was being taken out of Nigeria and at what
costs to Africa.
We passed the
24-7 Cement Factory in a fully lit up section of Auchi on
the way back to Benin City.
back in Benin City in time to go to bed.
I was sleepy most of the weekend.
On Monday I returned to my school in a routine type of
way. Many times
during school we would report to school if we were not on
I drove up to
Eghosa Grammar School, parked, and got out of my car. As I emerged from my Russian Volga, I noticed six
Benin-Edo Teachers who were on my school‘s staff.
The oldest of the group came to the front of the group as
though he spoke for the group.
He asked me if
it was true that I drove to Zaria and returned by road?
In a fatherly voice this gentleman spoke saying loudly,
"I am a Nigerian, born in this Benin City." At which
point the other five joined in stating where in the Benin area,
each was born. Then
the older staff member began speaking loudly and the other
quieted down. The
older guy said, “We
were born in Benin City, here but we
would not ever drive
by road that far in Nigeria because it is to dangerous on
They then said individually "Thank GOD you returned
We all took turns shaking hands as we walked over to the
were showing me a hearty welcome with a strong dash of caution
about life in Nigeria in Benin City, Bendal State in West
Felix Ide Egualbor
I met Felix
when I first arrived in Benin City, when I moved to College Road
my crowded duplex apartment, moved from the Edo Guest House on
Apakapava and New Lagos Roads. It
was a small two or three bedroom apartment.
This was a great improvement over living in guesthouses
and hotels. Chinwe
and I decorated our place and made it cozy.
Felix was a
new high school graduate and so I was a little older than he
was. But Ide turned out to be a real good friend.
Ide showed me around Benin City.
We would charter taxis for two or three hours at a time
and drive around Benin City, looking at the ladies and the rest
of the city.
We became good
friends and I met his father and mother in the beautiful three-bedroom
house in the Ekenwa area on the other side from College Road. I also introduced Ide to my late wife, Chinwe.
one year or so we moved to 3 Jemide Drive about four or five
blocks away. The
house was great. There
were three bedrooms, a front yard, a small back yard and a
bedroom and bathroom in the back called a "house help's
room" in Nigeria. My school continued to pay three-fourths
of my rent and I the other quarter..
had another house twenty feet away but most of the time I got
along well with my neighbor but sometimes I had to draw the line
of demarcation with my Itsako neighbor named Omoh.
I also set up
all four of my huge speakers and played music mostly Reggae
loudly when relaxing or entertaining my friends or our friends.
I will never forget my house at 3 Jemide Drive in the
Ekenwa section of Benin City.
got a job at the Nigerian Daily Times newspaper in 1978
and he relocated to Lagos to become reporter with that newspaper.
Ide would return to Benin, but we never had the time to
hang out like we did initially.
In 1979 Ide wrote the article I summarized in the front
of Journey to the Motherland.
The article was published originally in Nigeria’s Spear
I wish I could
hear from Ide Eguabor again so that we could catch up on twenty-something
I had two
other friends, the twins; Achere and Magnus.
I think their last name was Ugbesia.
These brothers were Ishan, from Ubiaja in Northern Bendel
Sate, Nigeria. Aachere
was a T.V. newsman anchoring the news nightly in Benin City from
1978 until I left at least.
The guys were
very good friends and we spent a lot of time together in their
places in Upper Mission area of Benin City.
Magnus was a university lecturer.
I traveled to
Ubiaja with Achere a couple of times and we drove up into the
mountains so he could show me his area.
The Ugbesia twins told me they studied in Chicago,
Illinois, where both graduated from one of Chicago’s universities.
friends until the day I left Benin City, so it would be great to
see or hear from the Ugbesia brothers again also.
There are so
many more interesting and exciting areas in Africa that I would
like to venture out into parts not spoken much about here in
America. There are
many people here in America that will probably never be able to
finance a trip to the Motherland, the home of the creation of
life, only read stories others have written and dream of
touching the soil of our great and wonderful continent.
As for the
individuals that take the time to write about their experiences
in Africa, African-Americans and others are so hungry for the
dream of Africa and
information about Africa.
with people that have never been to Africa, I noticed that
questions are thrown at me like a running river.
For instance, my sister Sharon would often ask, how is
the weather there on a daily basis.
Is the air full of the sound of Africa?
Are there streets there just like the streets we have
here? Is the food the same? And the people, what are they the
Nigerians like in Nigeria in general?
I have also heard many stories of corruptness. Is it so
obvious or is it like every country, only a few individuals who
try to avoid the system?
so very important, just to have a picture of the street that I
lived on was one thing that she wanted to see. I remember
receiving letters from her asking to take pictures of inside and
outside of the house, and
take pictures of the roads and trees, etc.
Africa is a place that can be captured through camera and
writing. So should I have the opportunity to go back I would
definitely purchase a good quality camera to take many, many
pictures of the city, rural and unseen areas of Africa.
really wished I could see a movie based on my book Journey to the Motherland,
From San Francisco to Benin City be made by Danny Glover,
or Spike Lee or John Singleton or even all three of them.
A movie of this type would close the information gap
about Africa in the minds of African-Americans and most white
Americans as well as people of color in America and the world.
Yes, there are streets in Africa with stoplights just
My Life In Africa
My life in
Africa was the most meaningful and eventful time in my life.
In the four years I lived in Nigeria from 1977 to 1981, I
cannot count the number of times that a Nigerian walked up to me
and spoke their native language to me thinking that I was a
times, I was saluted only because I was an African-American
visiting our homeland.
I will never
forget the concern for African-Americans expressed by well
meaning Nigerians. I
will never ever forget the great hospitality the Nigerians as a
whole bestowed upon me. I
remember the rough edges of some of the bureaucrats I
encountered; however, the hospitality of the general population
outweighed by far the challenges posed by some of the
bureaucrats. I will
never forget the many times I appeared on Nigerian television in
Benin City and the beautiful people of Benin City.
importantly, African-Americans must know the power of our
identity as Africans while we visit our live in our homeland.
If you are an African-American and you ever get a chance
to visit or live in Africa, I say experience Africa.
If you visit Africa, you will feel the unique feeling of
African empowerment while living and walking on African land.
More than 400
million Africans around the world must continue this worldwide
* * *
Johnson-Redd, born 1952 in San Francisco, graduated from
Balboa High School in 1970 and attended the University in San
Francisco where he received a Masters in Public Administration
early University days he met Chinwe, a Nigerian woman who was
also a student, whom he eventually married.
disillusioned by the racism encountered while seeking a career
in corporate America, he decided to seek alternatives.
In 1977 he and his Chinwe moved to Nigeria where he took
four-year appointment as a lecturer of Government at a Boy’s
High School in Benin City.
Nigeria he appeared on Nigeria Television on many occasions,
wrote poetry and in his leisure time worked on
his 1982 Novel, The Black Expatriate in Africa.
In 1981 Larry
and his wife Chinwe, returned to the U.S.
His wife subsequently developed health problems in 1984
and passed away in May 1985.
Since then, he has mourned his wife, worked as a
Community Services Executive in the OMI Community of San
Francisco (twelve years)) and an Elementary and Secondary
Larry is a
Professional Educator in the Bay Area.
Ukali completed Journey to the Motherland,
from San Francisco To Benin City and it was published in
2002. Between 2002
and 2004 Larry completed History To Destiny Through
Afrocentric Poetry and a Master’s of Education.
Chinwe, Rest in Peace (09/19/52
on Third Annual
African-American Spoken Word
to Conversations of Africa
following this link:
You are invited to
listen to this and join in
the conversation and make it
a discussion by calling in
and participating at
this segment will begin at 8
PM Pacific Standard Time! Conversations
* * *
Remembering Chinwe & Teaching in
Hi Larry, Just reading your tribute
to your late wife, Chinwe. probably written many years ago. Please
accept my heartfelt condolences. It must have been a very painful loss.
Your pain oozes through in the write up. It must be hard.
I remember you from the picture at
the top of the page as Mr. Larry Redd, an American who taught me the
beginnings of a subject called Government, at Eghosa Grammar School,
Benin City, in 1977/78. Then as soon as we saw him, he vanished and
another teacher called Richard Omokoh, took his place in class. Yes, I
also remember sometime seeing your late wife come to pick you up from
school in a volkswagen Beetle car. And of course, your rather large
Now to a couple of the names you
mentioned in your tribute, like Ide Eguabor who incidentally taught me
Literature in English briefly in Class 4. He went on to be an
accomplished newspaper reporter and editor. The last I know he was at
Thisday Newspapers. Dont think he is still there.
The Ugbesias of Ubiaja. Magnus
Odion is two term Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Akhere,
the other, is now an Attorney in Benin City after having been a state
congressman and television newscaster.What about me. I am an Attorney in
Abuja, Nigeria. Incidentally, Akhere and I graduated from the University
of Benin Law Faculty.
To bring you up to speed. The 24-7
cement factory on your way to Zaria is located in a town called "Okpella"
in present day Edo State. That's my home town. Sadly that factory has
only recently been resuscitated after being comatose for over 15years!
The roads are in worse shape than they were back then. And certainly not
as safe! The warnings from the Edo teachers in your story are more
poignant now than ever before! I hope I have helped to brighten your
day, as I screamed to my wife that at last the mystery of the American
teacher has been solved! Hope to keep in touch.—Ismaila
* * *
Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the
Making of the New Negro
* * *
* * * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus, in which he
provides a sweeping and provocative
examination of North and South America
prior to the arrival of Christopher
Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer),
Mann has written nothing less than the
story of our world: how a planet of what
were once several autonomous continents
is quickly becoming a single,
Mann not only talked to countless
scientists and researchers; he visited
the places he writes about, and as a
consequence, the book has a marvelously
wide-ranging yet personal feel as we
follow Mann from one far-flung corner of
the world to the next. And always, the
prose is masterful. In telling the
improbable story of how Spanish and
Chinese cultures collided in the
Philippines in the sixteenth century, he
takes us to the island of Mindoro whose
“southern coast consists of a number of
small bays, one next to another like
tooth marks in an apple.”
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato,
tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have
disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue
to do so until we are finally living on one
integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth.
Whether or not the human instigators of all this
remarkable change will survive the process they
helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago
remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and
revelatory book, an open question.
* * *
The Persistence of the Color Line
Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about
The Persistence of the Color Line
is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the
positions about Mr. Obama staked out by
black commentators on the left and
right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel
West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley.
He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr.
Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism
regarding whether blacks should back
Obama” . . .
finest chapter in
The Persistence of the Color Line
is so resonant, and so personal, it
could nearly be the basis for a book of
its own. That chapter is titled
“Reverend Wright and My Father:
Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”
Recalling some of the criticisms of
America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s
former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with
feeling about his own father, who put
each of his three of his children
through Princeton but who “never forgave
American society for its racist
mistreatment of him and those whom he
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently
called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father
“relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called
him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in
sympathetic historical light.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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* * *
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update 6 March