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Welcome to the memorial page for

Albert Johnson Sr

February 27, 1942 ~ July 9, 2017 (age 75)

The Piano Brothers

My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people. Turns out he couldn't his plan was busted when the ship he hired to import them was caught entering Mobile Bay and dumped its human cargo onto a parcel of his land where they began their community, keeping their language and customs, and nurturing a community, a family.


Every day the weather allowed my Pops would get up and get his running buddies. Names like Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee you would recognize from the miracle Mets of 68 ish. They would first go to a field and participate in a dirt clod battle with White kids from the other side of the tracks, and after the battle they would play baseball. If you're curious how those two men were so good they made it to the pros they played with bottle caps instead of balls. One thing people may not know is my Pops was fast. Real fast. I can recall one of our older neighbors and the number one sprinter at John Muir High School at the time trying him after he'd had his nightly beer. He smoked him, Pops ran by him and turned to back look at him. He was a better ballplayer than his friends, but when the recruiters came for his friends. His mother told them to keep it moving, Pops was going to college.

I've shared the flavor of Pops academic performance on my wallpaper, it continued through college, that was a man who never got a grade below an A in his life. I hope one of the last things he remembered was when I asked him if he wanted to pay me for the A's I got in school. I don't think I've ever made him laugh harder.

I know the last thing he remembered with me. He was waiting for me non responsive in the hospital. He wanted to be sure I and my children and grandchildren would be ok, which is why I started this story on the baseball field cause that's where he was. He was in the dugout and he wanted to play. He was young and fast and nothing hurt. I told him that we were fine would be fine and there was nothing outside of his company on this plane he could supply because he had already done it.


He passed away peacefully about 3 hours later, and you know what? He stole home.

 

My Pops was a talented musician. He had offers to study music in the finest Black institutions of learning available to him in his time, Grambling, Florida A&M etc. He was a really enigmatic cat in that he'd tell you the stories, but in a way you didn't really appreciate the impact, like his music. I knew he had studied. Anyway right after More Better Blues came out he went out and got himself a horn. He played the trumpet although to that point, get this, I did not know it. Anyway he breaks it out and hits the opening bars of Land of Make Believe like putting it hard on the 2 and 4 like we do. I called him Bleek for a few years after that. I hope he's playing his horn.

 

 


I think of the campus where my parents met like an idyllic European college town stuck in the middle of Bum Out of Hell Talladega Alabama. Maybe because of the mostly Jewish faculty who survived Hitler’s hell to find out the land of the free didn’t like Jews as much as they thought it did and the institutions that were happy to have their knowledge and skill were Black.

Like the prototype Hillman from A Different World where the students really were some of the first to be able to go. 

My Pops sought it out. He researched, he applied his intellect to evaluate his available choices and make the elementary decision. As I’ve sat the last couple of days enjoying my Pops life I’ve tried to figure out a few things that made him tick, to make sure I remembered well and took good notes. When Pops was quite young he was stricken with viral meningitis. He almost died. In his confinement he read the entirety of Sherlock Holmes with his Bobbi outside his window. My Aunt is named Thelma although it still doesn’t register. I know her as Bobbi which as Pop’s attempt to say “my baby” changed into “my Bobbi” in his mouth.

So, when he made his choice of college to attend he looked to that town full of the excellent faculty because he sought a world made malleable and plastic to his desires through the strength of his intellect, putting down his horn and baseball glove. 

Pops spent his freshman year studying and working. The students were not allowed to seek work or actually go off campus. Suffice it to say Talladega Alabama was not the friendliest place for Black college students in the early 60’s. Pops worked in the dining room where every student had to attend every meal and were served by waiters from the student body like civilized human beings. Pops was one of their wait staff, and in Pop like fashion he picked an activity that supported his academic pursuit. The line of men of distinction formed from Alpha Phi Alpha Incorporated.

By the middle of his time there he’d crossed over that line and became a Big Brother to Alpha Men, and began serving a beautiful teacup human also of uncommon intellect but also outgoing organizing and fierce. Pop’s confinement left other things in his personality besides his propensity to read voraciously, he was weirdly shy. Not like he had problems meeting people, but more like he was out of phase. She was not. Fully popular she immediately became active in the burgeoning civil rights movement upon the shoulders we stand. She attended the protest classes and because of her small stature was a favorite operator. The media of the police tossing around what looked like a child was something they sought and she was down for. The brother was smitten. He looked for ways to hang out with her including trying to join in the protest. He went to the classes where they were trained to be non violent, and all the time he wondered if he could do it. He was a veteran of those battles of dirt clods I talked about before. His Ancestors had gone to France in WWI and defended their peace with the pieces they brought back.

The first time Pop was sent on an action of protest they were met by not only the Sheriffs but the fire department as well. As they turned a hose on the protesters the stream just kind of pissed out, and Pops laughed at the dude who clocked him upside the head with the nozzle. Pops must have had an ancestral flashback because that non violent training failed. The bookish dude went back to the fields of clods and hit the fireman back. That was not the discipline the protesters of his era demanded so he got benched, but with the brilliant little lady he chased onto the protest fields with the heart of fire he got to start.

Pops had great flourishes, he would have the young men of the lines below him sing to his woman every night, and he won her. They were married in his senior year and I was created on that European campus. I asked Pop what his line name was either big brother on waiting to cross, and if such things are secret they remain so, but the answer he gave me was Albert Johnson. Like his name there was all the nick needed and instead a talisman of respect. I Am Albert Johnson Jr.

 


My family was really started by two men, and no they weren’t gay. My Pop got a job as a computer programmer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in around 1968 when I was four years old. This was a tremendous opportunity for him. The list of professions that a Black man could hold wasn’t that long then, and although he had secured a great job as a social worker after college computers seemed the wave of the future.

That’s where he met Jim a man who loves me like a father. He is a White man from Iowa. His eldest sibling was born in the 1800’s. He grew up on a farm the last of 15 children, I can never remember exactly how many. I think my Pop was the first Black man he ever had more than just a brief conversation with, and he is the first person I can remember that is not a member of my biological family. He and my pop shared an office and became like peas and carrots. I used to fantasize and think of them as Bill Cosby and Robert Culp from the old TV show I Spy.

One day my pop comes home and tells me that he and Jim had gotten jobs with the Borroughs Corporation, and not only were we moving to sunny Southern California but we were going to be moving in with Jim and his family. That was nothing but gravy to me. I’m an only child and my very best friend in the whole world was Jim’s son Brian, it was going to be like a permanent sleep over. Plus my pop had just bought a brand new Chevy Camaro with the 396 and we were going to drive across America.


"Once riding in old Baltimore,

Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;

I saw a Baltimorean

Keep looking straight at me.


Now I was eight and very small,

And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out

His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."


I saw the whole of Balimore

From May until December;

Of all the things that happened there

That's all that I remember."


Countée Cullen

That poem has always stuck with me because I had similar experience on our trip west. We stopped at a motel in Oklahoma City that had a pool brimming with white kids. Now for a kid who had grown up in Ohio Oklahoma City is plenty hot and a pool is quite a treat. We checked into our room where I changed and then raced for the pool. I jumped in, and 3 different moms grabbed their kids out of the water. That's right it emptied out from maybe 10 kids to none in like 3 minutes, and as one kid was crying at his mom that he still wanted to swim she looked at me and said you can't go swimming with that nigger.

Although I obviously do remember the incident I can’t say it left a scar on me or anything. I told my mom what happened. This lady was one of thousands of warriors in the battle for civil rights. She did multiple sit-ins and took several arrests, so she was well trained. She changed into her suit and took me back to the pool and we played in the pool until the sun went down. None of the other kids came back to the pool but I don’t remember caring.

Well five days in the back seat of a 1970 Camaro didn’t turn out to be exactly the most fun thing in the world. In order to calm the- are we there yets? my pop hyped a trip to Disneyland to the point I was afraid to even move in the back seat of the car. After we got to Pasadena we settled into a motel and after two weeks that seemed like four months Disney day came. My parents woke me woke up bright and early on a Saturday and we headed for Anaheim. Jim’s family had come west 4 months earlier to scout a house big enough to hold two sets of parents and four kids, and they were there as well, so my brother Brian and I were going to have a funky good time. We got there right when the park opened and went to the Oscar Meyer pavilion for breakfast. Ten minutes later I erupted in a blinding fever. To this day it is the sickest I think I’ve ever been. They took me to the infirmary where I went to sleep. When I woke up the park was closing. All I got to see was Mickey waving goodbye and all I got was a picture with him and a whole pack of unused E tickets.

My Momma Sherry is Jim’s wife and her brother is Uncle John. Uncle John heard this tale and a couple of weeks later as I really was knocked out for days my uncle John showed up at the door at the crack of dawn with Brian in tow. We jumped in his 69 Beetle and he took us to Disneyland. We had so much fun at Disneyland I thought they would throw us out.

My four parents eventually found a house that would hold us and after a few months in the motel we moved in together like a regular hippie commune. We stayed like that for 6 years until Jim and Sherry divorced, but our family didn’t end in divorce. Although our house split up our family did not. I got a new Momma Betsy from Jim a new Poppa Ron from Sherry. When my own parents split up a few years after that I got another set of fantastic parents. All us kids have grown up to be happy and healthy and we’ve even raised some children ourselves.

My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people. Turns out he couldn't his plan was busted when the ship he hired to import them was caught entering Mobile Bay and dumped its human cargo onto a parcel of his land where they began their community, keeping their language and customs, and nurturing a community, a family.

 

 

My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people.

My parents would bus or fly me down south for the summer. The most fun I would have is when I would go by bus with my Aunt Bobbi. I’d return to the city looking like a contestant from those shows where they drop folks in tropical locations without any clothes full of the marks of mosquitoes and fun. When I was younger the neighborhood would swarm me and point to parts of their bodies and ask me what it was. They’d point to their behinds and I’d say buttocks or they’d point to their stomachs and I’d say abdomen, I spoke pretty much the English I speak now, and was probably the only of any of her children to call Mu Grandmother with an almost British accent.

Mobile was a terrific place for a city kid. There was a man Mr. John Robinson, and you better say it all, he didn’t go for that nickname nonsense who built 12 foot fishing boats in a lot in the neighborhood who would tell you stories as he taught you to plane wood. We were taught how to handle guns like we were taught how to handle the wood planes and we would hunt rabbit and other small game. Well they would hunt the rabbit and small game I would shoot at them. Things are surprisingly hard to hit even with a shotgun. Fireworks are legal and they sold them to kids I probably spent full days trying to blow my digits off, But most of all we would fish. Pops hates shrimp, crab, and most food that comes from the sea. When I’d ask him why he’d say son when I was growing up that’s all we ever ate.

In my 10th grade year I came home from football practice to see something I’d never seen before. My Pops was balling his eyes out. I’d seen the man barbecue digits, fall, and strain, argue, but not cry. His father had passed away as a result of being unable to access health care during hurricane Fredrick.

My Grandfather never visited his son in any of his homes. My Grandfather never visited anywhere, I had seen him perhaps a dozen times and most likely less in all my life, and now he was gone and just when I was getting sentient enough to ask meaningful questions.

We flew home to an Alabama that was without power, and a family that had lost its Professor, for like the son he raised Ira Johnson Sr. was primarily a man of intellect, he had been a teacher, his Mobile name was Fess.

Black grief can be explosive. It sometimes has no problem calling up the Holy Ghost to help expel the demon of pain. Some people require spotters. When we pulled up to the house my Grandfather had built behind the house Pops grew up in there was a woman plowing the front yard in grief. She had spotters had brought towels and plenty of water had music and was wailing. I had never seen her in my life. Who is that I ask Pop, he tells me it was my Aunt Judy. I had never heard that name before in my life.

My Grandmother’s home can be described as kind of like Cheers, but with seafood, sodas, auto repair, midwifery, brown liquor, and community. Fess thought nothing of taking a child that had parents not up to the task, and had, several times. Sometimes the parents recovered and sometimes they didn’t but it didn’t matter. Fess would show up.

We buried my Grandfather and turned the lights back on after the shock of his passing, but it made me think of how an only child like myself ended up with about 15 brothers and sisters. Pops never closed his door to family or people in need, and if I ever heard him make a verbal prayer it was to thank God for the resources to be there for family in need. He would show up.

I had my own baby when my cousin Tracey was born with us, I had a cousin I called Beaver right at the time I needed a little sister to torture, I had a homeboy Bob, a lifelong friend Members, so many people.
I have been thinking about the best way for the family to memorialize my Pop Albert Johnson. His own wishes can be paraphrased down to I don't care if you throw me under the house. Rather than ask anyone to fly out to Cali just for the event of his death, we want to make the next family reunion scheduled in Los Angeles an all hands on deck everybody and yes that means you come Jubilee event, to celebrate the priorities of his life.
We are a river of great depth and strength for memorial of Albert Johnson let's be sure to flow together, because that's what he would want. See you in 2018.

But, but Lil Al I'm not technically in the family, I just stayed in his home, he just wrote me every other day when I was feeling bad. Guess that goes to show you family consists of those who show up, so you do too.

My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people. Turns out he couldn't his plan was busted when the ship he hired to import them was caught entering Mobile Bay and dumped its human cargo onto a parcel of his land where they began their community, keeping their language and customs, and nurturing a community, a family. I can’t wait to see you all in 2018.

 

 


There was a tradition at John Muir High football that started every game. We would line up by position with captains at the top of every line from kickers to backs and perform a ritual Maori would recognize. With military precision we would smack our pads, face the opposition, and let them know they were about to receive some punishment from everybody. Our crowd would do it to their crowd, our drummers would invoke the spirit of warriors from Africa and we would snap. By my senior year I had graduated from back of the line afraid to make a mistake to the front and captain of offensive linemen. 

My quarterback DeDe Moore didn’t throw too many away. For the most part our opponents never got in the situation where he had to throw as they were subject to being down 3 or 4 touchdowns by the second quarter and by the fourth our coach is trying to show mercy putting 270 pound O linemen in as tailback only to have him bust for 80 yard runs. In our first home game against Verbum Dei though he did trying to hit the lightening we put out as wide receivers on a deep out. Dude picked him and headed up the sidelines gaining speed, and I computed the intercept angle and lit onto him. By the time I came into something’s happening range he cut back, closing my angle of attack, and I accelerated. When he saw me he only had the opportunity to grasp the ball and I hit him with a thunderclap. His ancestors crapped molten lava, time stopped, and the crowd went oooooooh.

As I jogged back to our side of the field I was disappointed. We had given up the rock, we didn’t get a chance to show the magic that John Muir High School offense was, but I saw my Pops. He had the most shit eating grin I have ever seen him have in his life. 

You see, for my youth and formative years can be described in the music you’d hear right before gravity worked on Wiley Coyote. 

I was a child that the ER doctors at Huntington Hospital knew on a first name basis. I once recalled some of my adventures to Sherry’s Mom and she told me she would have traded me in. She’d had 6 children that didn’t add up to half of what I’d gotten myself into.

Pops did you get a load of car parts for you Jim and Brian to come over and let’s build a dune buggy? Nope! Me and Brain are going bike riding and I’m gonna rearrange my teeth. Pops are you a scout parent and let’s go camping? Nope I’m gonna fall off a cliff. Did you try to teach your boy your beloved baseball and the pill pass through the glove like instead of a particle it turned into a wave and clocked him in the head growing light bulb? In Junior High did you make sure he had brand new spikes for track that would make Achilles blush only to see him smoked by girls? Why yes, yes you did.

When Pops dropped me into the care of Coach Sherman Garnett as a freshman I don’t know what he thought, but I know what he did. He came to every practice. I’m not talking about every game I had a full section of family that came to every game, he came to every practice. You know what he didn’t do? He didn’t wait to drive me home. I can see through the lens of my own fatherhood he wanted me to marinate on the late bus. Deal with the crumbing, learn, to grow a family among the young men the coaches had assembled.

I learned so much about base manhood on the fields playing football I’m happy the decision isn’t mine about if my Grandboys play. At this point I’m feeling like the meme of discovery where the brother has the perfect look of oh so that’s why it happened. I can see myself in a sense through perilous channels and fallen off of cliffs steered through the shoals. 

We had a tradition in football at John Muir High School. We adorned the back of our helmets with decals our coaches would award for our exploits. Mine belonged to my Pops.

 

 


My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people. Turns out he couldn't his plan was busted when the ship he hired to import them was caught entering Mobile Bay and dumped its human cargo onto a parcel of his land where they began their community, keeping their language and customs, and nurturing a community, a family.

It had been planned that I be born in that community as well, but I wasn’t. I was born with my Mother’s parents in Gainesville, Georgia. My own impressions of the difference in Georgia and Alabama can be compared to the difference between North and South Korea. They’re the same people but on one side of the border there’s lights and cities and on the other side not so much.  For Moms the difference was a 4 year old boy waking her up every morning with the dire warning that he was going to kill her baby.
Ira Robert Johnson Jr. was born in that community when my Pops was in college his Mobile name was Pokey.

Let me see if I can draw a picture of Pokey.  Pokey was wild, Pokey was free, Pokey was insanely talented, Pokey was a little on the cray cray side. When Pokey was growing up Muh and Fess took him to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and finally the Shaman whose arts had survived the trip through the Middle Passage in Africa Town. Why you might ask? He is the reason the schools in Mobile Country went to plastic forks because he decided to make a kid look like My Favorite Martian when he threw up his antennae.
When he told Moms he was gonna kill me, she had every reason to believe him, that and the fact Mobile smells like bad eggs made her bounce.

After we turned the lights back on after the Professor of Plateau passed one thing was apparent to Pops Muh was not going to be up to the task of handling a Pokey who had grown over 6 foot 4 like his father and was the coolest thing in Africa Town.   So, like his Father before him Pops showed up and we took Pokey home with us. 

I could write an entire book of Pokey tales. There was his habit of baiting the Altadena Sheriff to chase him in that Camero with the 396 that Pops supplied for his use he never got caught like I said wild. There was the time after one of the police killings he and I were approached to be interviewed by local media to get the views of some young Black men. I had almost instantly prepared a response that began with Disraeli dipped into Revelations and James Baldwin and was about to let her know. Pokey yelled “FUCK THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS” that was the interview, and actually his was better.

He was also responsible for forging my relationship with Vanessa Brown which came in handy when I courted my Sweetie as I was of such a manish nature only the intervention of a mutual girlfriend who could attest to my actual nature gave me a shot.

In all my days I only remember a single time Pop used violence to discipline me. Right in the middle of puberty when a young man can be quite full of male jelly I jumped bad, disrespectful, wrong with Moms. He smacked the shit out of me and looked at me not so much as a Father who was disciplining his child but like he might of looked at that fireman he smacked back during his protest days, or those White kids he dirt clod battled with.  Albert Johnson did not raise stupid and that was all I needed that day. On any other before or since, what you would be subject to was a lecture.

I used to actually feel jealous of other cousins or friends who would talk about how they’d take a whipping, thinking hell at least it was over after that. With Pops it was not. He would work his corrective speeches like Mozart but also like Mozart the opera took hours to listen to.
One day he was trying to teach Pokey something or other about how not to mess it up, and barring that if you insisted on Fing it up how to avoid being caught, and Pokey tried to push his buttons to throw him off track maybe get a break in the presentation. He told my Pops that he was in essence a sex act that his parents had wasted.

Scratch the record, the party’s over, you don’t have to go home but you do have to get the hell out of here, went through my head  as Pops often delivered our medicine together in case one of us had the same malady but hadn’t developed symptoms. I was pretty sure Pops was going to go back to the fields of clods, but you know what? Fess Johnson didn’t raise stupid either, my Pops had an almost impenetrable shield against that sort of provocation, and he continued the opera which had curtain calls that time because of Pokey’s big mouth.

He also soon after had a truck of sand, mortar, concrete, cement, and rocks and Pokey and I had a nice summer of bag hauling and manual labor. I asked him how come he didn’t get a cement mixer, and I made him laugh the second hardest as he got to explain how Alabama had supplied him with two.
Pokey’s cray finally caught up with him when he finally got back to Plateau. The story as I understand it is in an attempt at playfulness he smacked a woman’s wig off her head at a club and she shot him. The initial wound didn’t kill him, but his lack of care for himself afterward sparked the same kind of infection that eventually delivered his older brother to the Ancestor team.

I mentioned in one of my earlier remembrances of Pops how I was an only child, with about 15 brothers and sisters. Each person that came through our house whether their problem or figurative parents recovered were welcomed, and Pops showed up.

My Pops grew up in a community now called Plateau, Alabama. It has another name though Africa Town. It was begun as the result of a bet between White brothers as to if they could illegally import enslaved people. Turns out he couldn't his plan was busted when the ship he hired to import them was caught entering Mobile Bay and dumped its human cargo onto a parcel of his land where they began their community, keeping their language and customs, and nurturing a community, a family.


See you next year, Show up.

Humbly submitted by Albert Johnson Jr.


 Service Information

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