John Redfud, a dedicated teacher who uplifted the lives of thousands of students.
“No niggers allowed.” This characterized John Redfud’s life being black in segregated Louisiana where he was born in 1915.
He was unwelcome in “white” schools, “white” neighborhoods, in “white” hotels or restaurants, nor could he vote, serve on a jury, be a police officer or hold most top level jobs, which were reserved for whites.
And if a black man didn’t “know his place,” he could be assaulted and beaten into submission.
Segregation and the abusive treatment that went with it crushed the spirits of many black people but not John’s. He got his Bachelor’s Degree from Southern University, a “black” college in Baton Rouge and taught black students in various segregated Louisiana schools.
Black public school facilities were modest and teaching materials were in short supply, but John refused to accept low expectations and encouraged his students to excel. He was proud of them and would tutor them and offer kind words to make each one feel special.
Seeking a better life than Louisiana offered black people, in the 1940’s; John uprooted his family and moved 2,000 miles to Los Angeles, the land of opportunity. He applied for and was accepted to graduate school at the University of Southern California, where he earned a Master’s Degree.
His career was now ready to skyrocket. Already a veteran teacher, John had an advanced degree from a prominent university and was better educated than most teachers of that time. Also, Los Angeles was growing rapidly, opening one school after the next and needed teachers.
John Redfud had worked hard for what he attained and was on top of a teaching world flush with opportunity. His family was proud of him and looking forward to his success.
Then reality hit home. Los Angeles in the late 1940’s had no formal segregation like Louisiana but in that city, he was still a “nigger” as he would be anyplace else in America at that time. No school district would hire him as a teacher or in any other position of authority. He could be a janitor.
It was terribly disappointing. But John refused to quit and kept applying for teaching positions.
Then one day in 1950, he finally got his chance to teach again. Marian Wagstaff, a white principal at Willowbrook Junior High School in Compton, then a white community, decided to integrate her staff and she hired him and two other black teachers.
“I wanted the best teachers,” Marian told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. “It was a matter of hiring the best qualified.” This was four years before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed public school segregation.
A few years later, John and some of the other black teachers Marian had hired began teaching at the new Centennial High School. As time passed, and blacks moved to Compton, the whites fled and Centennial became a low-income black school. In a sense, it was Louisiana all over again.
“I spent 14-hour days creating learning experiences,” John told the Times in 1998, “to expose my class to things other people would be getting. I made sure they learned how to compete.”
John would take his students to Beverly Hills to compete in high school debates. He wanted them to see how sharp the top debaters were and he challenged his students to think on that level and he helped them rise to those standards.
In Compton money was often scarce, so out of his own pocket, John paid for school supplies and provided other support his students needed. He assured them they were as good as anyone else and opened their eyes to the possibilities for achievement.
What was the result? Many became judges, lawyers, doctors, business executives, government officials and engineers and some of them wanting to be like him became teachers.
For 33-years, John was actively involved with Compton students, until in 1983 at 68; he ended his career at Compton Adult School as its principal. His professional life had been lovingly invested in working with students and in guiding new teachers.
But his retirement didn’t remove him from their hearts nor take them from his heart.
Fifteen years later, 600 of those students came together at the elegant Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles in a black-tie dinner to honor John Redfud and 26 other caring teachers of that era who made such a wonderful difference in their lives.
The Pavilion was filled with people hugging and sharing heartwarming stories. It was a splendid expression of gratitude to teachers who had played such an important role for them.
The humble Mr. Redfud relished this occasion to see how successful many of them had become and to hear the wonderful stories of others who were successful but not in attendance that night.
These joyful moments lasted the rest of his life. Four years later, at 87, John passed away. He was survived by his wife of 58-years, Genevieve, and by their three children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
John Redfud was a dedicated and loving family man as well as a devoted teacher. To him family included the thousands of students whose lives he was fortunate enough to uplift.
Success Tip of the Week:
If your children have as caring a teacher as John Redfud was, please express your gratitude to that person. Knowing you appreciate their work will help to uplift them and reinforce their dedication to a profession that is vital to the success of any society.
In the next KazanToday: A dirty little secret and the life it changed.
A dedicated teacher who helped uplift the lives of thousands of students.