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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  



Books by Larry Ukali Johnson-Redd

My Deepest Affections Are Yours / Journey to the Motherland  / History To Destiny Through Afrocentric Poetry / Loving Black Women

History to Destiny Through Afrocentric Poetry

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Remembering Chinwe & Teaching in Nigeria

By Larry Ukali Johnson-Redd


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 in Nigeria. Chinwe made 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. 

Culturally 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.

When Chinwe 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.

The next 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 Custom Marriage."  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 moral foundations.

Well, we 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 High School.  

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 week.  

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.

Somewhere 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!

I remembered 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 Brazilian wife.

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."

We got 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.

We reached 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.

I immediately 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.

We reversed 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.

We arrived 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 vacation.

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 Nigeria’s roads."  They then said individually "Thank GOD you returned safely."  We all took turns shaking hands as we walked over to the staff room.

The Brothers were showing me a hearty welcome with a strong dash of caution about life in Nigeria in Benin City, Bendal State in West Africa.

Remembering 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.

After about 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..

The compound 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.

Ide Eguabor 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 Magazine (1979).  

I wish I could hear from Ide Eguabor again so that we could catch up on twenty-something years.

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.

We were 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.

After talking 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?

Pictures were 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.

Overall, 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.

However, I 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 like here.

Conclusion:  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 Nigerian.  Other 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.

Most 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 African conversation.

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Larry Ukali 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 1976 (MPA).

During his early University days he met Chinwe, a Nigerian woman who was also a student, whom he eventually married.

After being 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.

While in 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 Teacher.  

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 -05/31/85)

Larry Ukali Johnson-ReddReport on Third Annual African-American Spoken Word Festival-- Listen to Conversations of Africa  by 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 347-215-7831! Remember this segment will begin at 8 PM Pacific Standard Time!  Conversations of Africa

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Remembering Chinwe & Teaching in Nigeria—Your Tribute

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 Volga!!!!

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 Olokun

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Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro

By Barbara Foley

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: 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 his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of 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, “globalized” entity.

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.

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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” . . .

The 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 most loved.” 

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.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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