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S P E C IAL 2 0 0 8

YEARS OF THE
CALIFORNIA

MUSEUM EXPERIENCE
THIRTY YEARS AGO a group of art and history enthusiasts met to formulate a plan for
creating an Afro-American Museum in the State of California. Commitment to this goal resulted
in the passage of a bill by the
1977-78 California Legislature
authorizing the establishment
of a museum for preserving the
history, culture and contributions
of Afro-Americans. It was
scheduled to open in Exposition
Park in 1984.
The primary goals were to
preserve, display, and conduct
programs on the contributions
of Afro-Americans to the arts,
sciences, religion, education,
literature, entertainment, politics and sports and to educate, promote awareness of and to create
a climate for understanding the global effect on the world’s culture by people of African descent.

FAST FORWARD THIRTY YEARS and the name is where everything moves at a snail’s pace, where paintings from old
of the museum and the wording on its mission statement dead artists hang centered on the wall, needs to think again when it
have been slightly altered. Now named The California African comes to CAAM. Currently on exhibit, “Black Chrome,” a look at the
American Museum (CAAM), the mandate is to collect, pre- evolution of motorcycle clubs in California, includes several million
serve and interpret for public enrichment—the history, art and dollars worth of real motorcycles belonging to club members. There’s
culture of African Americans. also “A Moment In Time: Bingham’s Black Panthers,” “Of Tulips
It has fulfilled that mission in hundreds of ways—from the epic and Shadows, the Visual Metaphors of dewey crumpler” and the
in size like Artis Lane’s larger than life Emerging First Man to Permanent Collection called “The African American Journey West,”
ways as small as the laughter of a child discovering an image in which includes items from Ella Fitzgerald and other legends.
an African mask. One of the most important aspects of the mod- CAAM is bursting at the seams and plans for needed expansion are
ern day CAAM is that it engages underway. In a time when it’s never been
people of all ages and interests more important to preserve and protect
because there is always something our culture, CAAM is moving at warp
to do—from the Conversations speed to keep alive that mandate set by a
at CAAM, children’s workshops, bunch of dreamers thirty years ago.
Target Sundays--most recently Celebrating that 30-year anniversary
celebrating the life of Bob this year at CAAM’s annual gala, the
Marley--lectures, receptions and museum is saluting three whose con-
ever-changing exhibits, plus its tributions to our culture and history
Permanent Collection. are what CAAM finds so important to
Anybody who thinks a museum preserve and protect.
2 0 0 8 www.BREmagazine.com

MUHAMMAD ALI: Forever the Greatest


By Ruth A. Robinson

MUHAMMAD ALI HAS BEEN honored many times in his life. Then Ali challenged George
He was named “Sportsman of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated and Foreman, who had taken the
“Athlete of the Century” by GQ, was the central figure in two films--the title from Frazier while Ali was
Academy Award-winning documentary “When We Were Kings” and his bio, in exile. Ali was received by the
“Ali.” He was the first fighter people of Zaire as a conquering
to win the world heavyweight hero, and the screams got louder
championship on three sepa- when he knocked Foreman out.
rate occasions; he successfully Retiring from boxing after his
defended his title 19 times. loss to Trevor Berbick, Ali has
At the California African continued his study of Islam.
American Museum’s In the mid-1970s, he began to
annual gala this year, he is study the Ou’ran more deeply
being honored for “more and became a Sunni Muslim.
than his boxing,” observes He also became an activist for
CAAM’s Executive Director peace around the globe. He
Charmaine Jefferson. “Here is went to Beirut to help negoti-
a man who stood up against ate the release of four American
wrong and by doing so hostages. He met with Saddam
changed our society.” Hussein before the Gulf War to
Such a thing couldn’t have successfully secure the release of
been imagined in 1942 when 15 American hostages. Ali was
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., also appointed United Nations
was born into the very seg- Messenger for Peace.
regated Louisville, Kentucky. In 1996 he was chosen to light
His father, Cassius Sr., sup- the Olympic flame at the start
ported his family by paint- of the 24th Olympiad in Atlanta,
ing billboards and signs. His Georgia. President Bill Clinton
mother, Odessa Grady Clay, admits to crying when he saw
worked as a household domes- Ali take the torch, his hand
tic. trembling from his Parkinson’s
At 12, he took up boxing syndrome, but his champion’s
under Louisville policeman heart intact. President Clinton’s
Joe Martin. Then he won a sentiments were echoed around
gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and began a professional the globe by three million view-
career supported by the Louisville Sponsoring Group, a syndicate composed ers. There is no doubt that his
of 11 wealthy white men. status as one of the most beloved
In his early bouts as a professional, Clay sought to raise public interest in athletes in the world remains
his fights praising his own prowess and offering predictions on winning. He intact.
told the world that he was “the Greatest.” The United States
Clay challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the Government passed the
world. No one thought Clay had a chance against the fearsome Liston-- Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform
except young Cassius. In one of the most stunning upsets in sports history, Act to prohibit unfair and anti-
Clay knocked out Liston to become the new champion. competitive practices in profes-
Two days later, Clay shocked the world by announcing that he had become sional boxing, the same year
a Nation of Islam convert and would forever after be known as Muhammad that the film “Ali” was released
Ali. For the next three years dominated boxing stunning the world in his by Sony. He was also pre-
first-ring knockout in the Liston rematch and then beating eight challengers. sented with a star on Hollywood
Then he shocked everybody by refusing induction into the U.S. Army at the Boulevard, the first star ever to
height of the war in Vietnam. He could have run away, but he didn’t and was be displayed on the wall instead
publicly vilified. He was stripped of his championship and blocked from fight- of on the sidewalk.
ing in the United States. His passport was taken away so he couldn’t fight Ali’s place in boxing history as
anywhere outside the country either. In addition, he was criminally indicted one of the greatest fighters ever is
and convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. It was four long years secure. His final record of 56 wins
before the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction. He and 5 losses with 37 knockouts
had risked everything, lost much, but stood his ground in order to ‘stand for solidifies his hero status. Outside
something.’ the ring, he has proven his
Ali was allowed to return to boxing, but having been away during his prime greatness as well, determined to
years, it was not easy going. He did win two comeback fights, but then came stand his ground in the face of all
the “Fight of the Century,” against Joe Frazier. Frazier won a unanimous obstacles, able to take a punch
15-round decision. wherever that blow was coming
After that, Ali won ten fights in a row, eight of them against world-class from. The skinny kid from
opponents. Then Ken Norton beat Ali and broke his jaw, but Ali won their Louisville who called himself
rematch. His rematch with Joe Frazier was a unanimous 12-round decision “The Greatest of All Time” was,
in his favor. and remains, all that.

PAGE 13
S P E C IAL 2 0 0 8

HOWARD BINGHAM: Tom Bradley Unsung Hero Awardee


By Coy L. Oakes

HOWARD BINGHAM IS ONE of America’s most highly the call, and soon he was cover-
regarded photographers. His work has appeared in hundreds of national ing racial unrest across America,
magazines, newspapers and books, including Time, Sports Illustrated, Life, recording yet another remarkable
Newsweek and Ebony. The extraordinary qualities in his work have always chapter of the nation’s history with
been honored, but not so much the person behind the camera. his camera. That continued until
Lately the man himself is being acknowledged in a major way. There are he was assigned to cover a KKK
galleries in his name, exhibits of his work and scholarships in his honor. He Rally in Los Angeles. Even with
was just celebrated at the National Black Caucus and now is being hon- armed guards, it was not anything
ored by the California African American Museum with the “Tom Bradley Bingham wanted to experience
Unsung Hero” award. He was chosen to receive this honor, according to again.
the Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson, because, “Howard is a true He’s unable to choose favorite
artist. He does much, much more than just take photographs. Almost subjects or favorite photographers,
everybody has seen and appreciated one of his photos, now it is time to but he is fond of those taken of
salute the artist behind the camera.” Nelson Mandela, Bill Cosby and
The photographer is being honored at CAAM’s annual gala, along with Bill Clinton. One of his choices,
Muhammad Ali and radio station KJLH in Los Angeles. It is fitting that though, does include two of his most
both Bingham and Ali are being honored on the same night, as Bingham iconic subjects. In 1996, he captured
has taken more than a million photographs of Ali, which reveal the 40-plus President Bill Clinton embracing
year friendship between the two. Muhammad Ali moments after Ali
They became pals almost by accident when Bingham was a struggling lit the torch at the Olympic caul-
young newspaper photographer and Ali was still Cassius Clay. Bingham dron in Atlanta.
was assigned to cover a news conference for an upcoming boxing match There is a gallery named in his
in Los Angeles when he first encountered the young boxer and his brother honor at the Ali Center in Louisville,
Rudy. a scholarship in his
Bingham soon had a name has been fund-
ringside seat to history ed by Kodak at the
as young Cassius became Rochester Institute.
“The Greatest” and was Another Bingham
there with his camera to gallery is in the
capture Ali’s ascension to works at the Watts
true cultural icon. Labor Community
Another professional Action Center, where
milestone came with the photographer
the 2004 publication does “lots of work
of “GOAT,” a book of with kids,” he says.
Ali’s life story told in Bingham’s many
three thousand stun- exhibits include the
ning pictures. The title- one currently open
”GOAT” is an acronym at the California
for “greatest of all time,” African American
Muhammad’s nick- Museum’s Theatre
name. The signed and Gallery: “A Moment
numbered edition of the in Time: Bingham’s
Tachen-published book Black Panthers,”
is one of the treasured which runs now
items up for auction through April,
at the CAAM gala on 2009 and coincides
October 18. with the release of
Bingham didn’t seem Bingham’s new book
destined for photographic on the same subject
greatest in his early matter.
beginnings. He flunked Bingham’s sub-
his one and only photo jects range from
class at a community hungry and home-
college in Compton. But less to giants of
Howard soon became a politics and enter-
master behind the lens, tainment. “Knock
learning his craft work- on wood, I’ve been
ing during what he calls “on the job training” at the Los Angeles Sentinel. a blessed human
Being there proved another stroke of good timing. being,” Bingham says. The world has
In the mid-60s, Los Angeles was still reeling from the aftermath of the been blessed also with the images
Watts riots and back in the day many major news magazines such as Bingham has captured through the
Life had almost no African-American journalists on staff. Bingham got vision in his lens.

PAGE 14
2 0 0 8 www.BREmagazine.com

A STATION FOR THE PEOPLE: Radio Free KJLH


By Antoinette R. Banks

BACK IN 1965, when L.A. businessman John Lamar Hill started a choose and it’s not one of these
little radio station using his own initials as the call letters, the owner of the situations where they just deal
Angelus Funeral Home wanted to be sure everybody could hear church with a select few. It’s like they say
services. He added a community forum and a source of church news. Hill to the community: this is your
bought the radio station right after the Watts Riot with the help of Civil station, your voice, your mouth-
Rights activist and future FCC Commissioner Benjamin Hooks. Soon the piece.”
station became the voice of the people and a place to address community The original impetus behind
issues. John Lamar Hill’s tiny station
The station became more commercial when Hill hired Rod McGrew as is kept solidly in place with the
PD and then station manager. McGrew played further on Hill’s initials and on-going commitment to the
created the slogan: Kindness, Joy, Love & Happiness. spiritual empowerment of the
The station kept growing and making money and Hill soon got offers community. All day Sunday is
to sell. He declined them all until finally Hill decided he’d sell the station dedicated to church services, gos-
to the only person he couldn’t resist. In 1979, Stevie Wonder bought the pel music and topical discussion
station and solidified KJLH as the rock the community could count on. from a decidedly biblical perspec-
Stevie’s never wavered from that position. Other stations have come and tive. The annual Gospel Showcase
disappeared, boastful start-ups have slid into oblivion, but KJLH has sur- at Knott’s Berry Farm is known
vived to become Los Angeles’ only African-American owned radio station. as one of the largest gospel music
When Stevie adopted the slogan “We Are You,” it further solidified the events on the west coast, attract-
legacy of culturally relevant programming. The outstanding mix of music ing upwards of 20,000 people and
was anchored by the intimate connection the station maintained with the providing families with a day of
community. wholesome entertainment and
Now some 30 years later years later, the station still takes to the streets thrilling rides.
promoting Kindness, Joy, Love and Happiness by way of true connections These days Stevie’s “Radio
with the people. When there’s a crisis in the community, immediately Vision” keeps the station focused
KJLH moves to effectively put in place town hall meetings that bring on the empowerment and posi-
together politicians,
clergy, activists and
everybody else with
input to look for a
resolution that serves
the community.
Throughout the
year, the station
organizes and host
events that provide
vital information
for the wellness of
the community. For
instance its annual
Women’s Health
Forum attracts more
than 2000 women
to the Los Angeles
Convention Center
for a day of valuable
health information,
testing and demon-
strations.
John Mack, chair-
man, Board of Police
Commissioners,
former head of LA’s
Urban League and a
cancer survivor, says
the station jumped
on the education bandwagon “to alert men to the dangers and signs of tive promotion of the community
prostate cancer.” while his Radio-Free format pro-
Mack praised general manager Karen Slade “who served on the Urban vides a diverse musical presenta-
League board during my tenure and any time and every time we ever tion that embraces the complete
called upon KJLH, they have always been there and not just for the Urban Diaspora of urban/soul/black
League--not just for me--but for the entire community whatever the music. It’s community radio at its
cause.” Mack hastened to point out, “Another thing. They don’t pick and finest: 102.3 Radio-Free KJLH!

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