Monique: What was your childhood like?
Walton: what was my childhood like? I was born in Alabama, stayed there till I was almost 7 years old. My childhood was during the time of Jim Crow, segregation, and when we went to school everyone made faces. Back in the south in the 1940’s the porch was critical. The porch is where people gathered because there was no air conditioning. Your uncles, Aunts, friends, and everybody gathered there because it was too hot to stay in. So the porch was where we saw a lot of culture. When a bus passed, when people passed, it would signify a lot of things. When I was 3 years old my grandmother taught me how to read on the porch. At school there were tables, and each table represented a class. This meant I was in high school by age 12. This is no time to be in high school because you’re not developed physically or emotionally. So I had no dates in high school because of my childhood experience. The only good thing is I went to my 50th class reunion two years, while I was embarrassed in high school, I felt great now. Everyone was old and fat, and I was the youngest one there. For the first time I felt good about going back to high school.
Monique: Was your grandmother a big part of your experience growing up?
Walton: Well I got to meet Richard Right at a convention, and got to hold his daughters hand. He was the most significant personal in literature to me. I was able to escape my life through literature, and he was a big part of that. He was very much like myself, we both started in the south, both did not have a biological father, and we both had dominant seventh day Adventist grandmothers.
Monique: Did you have any male role models?
Walton: The closest thing would have to be my uncle. He use to take my brother and me with him walking across rivers, even though we couldn’t swim. We trusted him and held on to him to go over the river on tree branches and back. He was my favorite uncle, so he would be the closest thing to a role-model, except more like a big brother.
Monique: As a young boy, what was your perception on a healthy relationship? What did that look like to you?
Walton: I didn’t know anything.
Monique: What was your idea of what a true man was? Did you have any aspirations of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Walton: This happened with me and some of other folks in my generations. We had to recreate yourself and what you want to be. I have a stepson, and I try to not do anything like my step-father did to me. He was crazy. I also have a daughter, she’s a UC graduate with her masters. I did nothing with her that my parents ever did. We had to recreate everything. Tiffany probably has had too much freedom. We had no models, we had to re-create everything.
Monique: As a kid, what did you want to be as an adult?
Walton: My goal back then was to be an artist. I majored in art in college. I did photographs but Kodak took me out. Art became abstract.
Monique: As of now, how do you feel you are contributing to the community and/or your students?
Walton: Well, when I think of my highlights I think living in south was significant because I am able to speak and read the language. I can read Richard Wright, I can read Hearton, and Chester Hymes. And Since living in the south I can interpret the language and literature from the south. I actually supervised a doctoral dissertation here at Fresno State. I am one of the first professors who has done it. That was a contribution, Twice I’ve flown with students to conferences where I was in a session, and they presented papers. For me that would be a unique contribution among my highlights. I’ve presented in Paris, for MLA in San Francisco, and brought students to national conferences to preset papers. Those things stand out as contributions to students. I was also the keynote speaker for the Fresno City African American month, among speaking on Dr. King day. I’d say those things were community contributions.
Monique: In what other ways have you been a positive role model in the African American community?
Walton: I serve as co-adviser to African American committee. I’ve also been keynote speaker of a number of events. I served two consecutive terms as chair of English, which is unprecedented. I have never known anyone to get emeritus in two different areas.
Monique: Do you have anything else you want to ad?
Walton: My only regret is that even after two consecutive terms as chair I was not able to attract more African Americans to major in English. Black just don’t major in English. I think Professor Hasan can speak to that. I went to his presentation and read some of his stuff, and I agree with what he says about African Americans in English and writing. I think its true that English teachers turn off minority students. He’s probably right. I guess there’s a stereotype with English majors. Although, there is only one Nobel Prize in literature and it is by an African American, Toni Morrison.
Dr. James Walton was born in Alabama and grew up in Cleveland Ohio, where he lived with his mother, and an unloving stepfather. He did not have any male role models in his life since he had never met his biological father, so he was mainly cared for and nurtured by his mother and grandmother. Growing up in the south, James faced racial discrimination during the Jim Crow era, and was not expected to have a promising future, but rather expected to continue on as a low-waged, poor black man. His stepfather constantly reminded him that he would not spend a “dime” on him, and he wouldn’t go to college. Walton assumed either the navy or making it as a professional athlete would be his only ticket for a future. During the interview, Dr. Walton stated, “ I knew I didn’t want to be anything like my step-father. And since I had no biological father, I had no male role-model to look up to.” (2013). This absence of male role models resulted in Walton being forced to discover what manhood truly meant on his own. Dr. Walton imagined making it big as an athlete since his parents were not going to fund is education. He spent a lot of his childhood indulging in books and literature, which provided him with an alternate reality that allowed him to explore different subjects. Walton was able to find an unexpected mentor at his church who got him into college in Michigan. He struggled while in college barely making it by. He was able to complete college, become a teacher for several years, and eventually move to Fresno California where he now is a professor of English as well as the Chair of the English Department and the Africana studies department at Fresno State. Dr. James Walton has faced several disparities that have negatively affected his progression, yet has overcame social, economic, and racial injustices perpetrated on him, and has become a successful progressive black male in the community.
Dr. Walton exemplifies characteristics of a progressive black male, because not only did he overcome his life obstacles, he excelled with prestige in the community. He identified his passion in literature at a young age, and ran with it, creating a successful future for himself. From a young age Walton discovered his passion for literature, and allowed him to create this intellectual space for himself. Literature, reading, and books gave him the opportunity to visualize a life for himself, and escape the harsh environment that was his reality. While many young men in today’s world look to music and athletic figures as their role models, Walton found his in literature. His constant indulgence in literature exposed him to a diverse range of characters, topics, and lifestyles that provided him a framework of the family and life he wanted to create. I would argue that his passion was a blessing in disguise, and led him down a successful pathway. When I asked Dr. Walton about his family now, he describes being very different from how his stepfather was, and is very involved in his son and daughters lives. He stated, “ I am nothing like my step-father, and I made sure my kids were able to get an education.” (2013). His daughter is now a graduate of UC Berkeley, and he expressed his proudness and love towards her accomplishments. Rather than forcing his kids to be on their own like his parents did, he encouraged them to pursue their dreams and supported their achievements. This difference in parenting is significant in breaking down the parental-child role barriers. In future generations, his children will probably make for very loving parents as well; resulting in a shift in the familial cycle. I would argue that contrary to popular beliefs and stereotypes of black males being “absentee fathers”, Dr. Walton is a very involved and loving father to his kids. Even though he was lacking a fatherly figure, and progressive male role model in his own life, he has chosen to live a different life, and be a positive father figure to his children. As we discussed in class after watching the film “Tired Black Man”, when there is a lack of father in the home, young boys tend to look up to popular media and/or music as their source of role models. In Dr. Walton’s case, he looked up to characters in literature, and used books as his way to create a new model.
Dr. Walton used his barriers to re-create a positive familial structure, and possible could be viewed as the “weal black man” stereotype, since he put forth effort in his education, and created a positive relationship for himself and his spouse. Contrary to this stereotype of the “weak black man”, Walton’s decision reflects that of a progressive black male, and a progressive relationship. He was able to identify the negative results of a regressive family structure, by experiencing it first-hand himself. His progressive outlook has resulted in positive things within his family. Walton himself has several honors and recognitions throughout his life. Although he was not a “cool kid” in high school, today his life is full of success, accomplishment, and love. He is now retiring from his long years at Fresno State, and this transition will hopefully pave the way for future students in the African American community to have a role model to look up to. He will be seen as a black man in the community who made it in a field that typically is not associated with African American interests, and will guide the way for future students who want to alter their family’s cycle of barriers.