May 15, 2012
Dr. Hasan Johnson
Black Elder Project
Interviewee: Dr. James Walton
Dr. James Walton was born in Alabama but raised in Ohio, in a home that did not encourage an education. His parented divorced when he was 2 and he never had a male role model. His grandmother taught him how to read at the age of 3 in which from then on he had to sneak and read books. His mother remarried and he never had a good relationship with his stepfather. The stepfather not being able to read only had a grade school education and didn’t allow books in the home. He was never given lunch for school and how a brief allowance of 25 cents. Walton entered high school at the age of 12 and upon his graduation, things changed for Walton. A city champion in the 880-yard run in 1960, Walton was sure athletics would get him to college.
In an excerpt taken from an autobiographical article written by Dr. Walton, he says:
My grades were excellent, yet a partial scholarship to a local college was the only offer I received. So I gave up the idea of going to college. I graduated from high school at age 16 with no job prospects, no plan for further education and my allotted time to live at home had expired. The U.S. military offered the only hope, so I signed up for the Navy.
However, Walton’s view on education was changed when he met one man:
Two weeks prior to shipping out to Cleveland and eventually Viet Nam, I agreed to take my pastor’s place in a church play performed across town at a “white” church. After the play, I was downstairs trying to arrange a ride home when a foreigner who I didn’t know congratulated me on my role in the play and innocently asked, “How’s school going?”“School?” I responded with some indignation. “I graduated!” “Well, why aren’t you in college then?” the stranger shot back. I had no response to that impossibility. A week later I received a phone call. “You have been on my mind,” the stranger I’d met at the church said, “so I looked up your number.” We talked for several minutes then he asked to speak to my mother. As I feared, my mother mentioned to the stranger that I had signed up to join the Navy. This news spurred the caller into action. One week later, the stranger—having only met me once—called again to ask directions to my home. “I think I can get you into the college in Michigan that I attended,” he told me. “I’ll be at your house in about one hour. Can you be packed by then?”In sub-freezing temperatures and tall, drifting snow gusts, the stranger and I headed into the darkness toward a private university hundreds of miles away from Canton, Ohio in Berrien Springs, Michigan. I had not applied to attend the university. I hadn’t even taken the SAT or the ACT. Three dollars, left over from the five-dollar bill a relative had given me for graduation, was all I had to cover room, board and tuition. On the long, treacherous drive to Michigan, I learned that the stranger’s name was Dr. Joseph Nozaki, a young physician serving out his residency in a local hospital. He hadn’t slept for three days and was having difficulty staying awake. We stopped the car several times and ran in the snow to stay awake. During one of our runs around the car, he lost his wallet, but we decided to continue on to the university anyway.
Because of this man’s persistence, Walton completed his education and is now one of the most prominent members of the English department at Fresno State. Walton says he was disciplined in school, focused, and constantly studying to receive top grades. James Walton is an example of a progressive masculinity. Though his parents were discouraging, he prevailed against incredible odds. He understands that he has achieved a lot compared to the hegemonic masculinity that many men live up to. Walton says:
So many men I have known have be taken by silent killers: high blood pressure, diabetes, and prostate cancer (in which black men are hit hard by). They don’t have access to medical treatment thru proper employment and are less encouraged to take care of themselves medically.
It is important to understand why a healthy lifestyle is important for a man and Walton frequently checks his health. This is progressive because many men do not realize the impact of a constant doctor routine. They may let the costs out way the need. Also, something special about Walton is his motivation.
Walton: I understand the pressure but you got to be stronger and say no. You can’t be tempted by everything. Find 1 reason to keep going, there’s so many reasons not to.
This progressive attitude is an encouraging mindset that many young men do not benefit from. Just as Walton’s parents were, parents are not always encouraging. Walton encourages people to find motivation within themselves. Walton has inspired several young men by being there for them in their time of need. He has housed abandoned teens, provided monetary tributes to the tuition of a student, and advised BSU’s and other Africana boards. Walton is not only progressive in thought but in body.