Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas Thinking About Legson Kayira Not Being A Racist Collaborator

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve Elsie Hotpepper sent me some text messages. Elsie and her Gang were at some sort of Christmas event giving goodies to people in need of such.

Among Elsie's Gang was a 9 year old who at one point noted that there were not many light skinned people in attendance, and then added that "I'm not trying to be racist."

Which caused Elsie Hotpepper to text me wondering if she even knew what racist meant when she was 9.

That got me thinking, wondering if I knew that being a racist was an evil thing when I was 9, or thereabouts. I know as far back as my memory goes it has made me extremely uncomfortable whenever I have witnessed, or heard anything remotely racist. I was not very old when I realized that verbalizing such things indicated the verbalizer was an ignorant idiot.

Of late this issue has bothered me, when I realized among my so-called "Friends" on Facebook, were a number of racist collaborators who had absolutely no problem having an extremely racist hate speaker listed as one of their friends.

This sort of appalled me. My already high opinion of Mr. Spiffy went even higher when he was the only one among my Facebook "Friends" who got how wrong it was to have any association with a racist hatemonger, and deleted him. Others, for reasons unfathomable to me, rationalized not doing so. I can no more fathom being a racist collaborator than I can fathom being a Nazi collaborator.

Let me tell you about the first "famous" person I ever met. This may explain why from a young age I have had a positive opinion about people from Africa.

The valley I grew up in, the Skagit Valley, is sort of a Shangri-La special place. I don't know the reason why, but the valley is a very tolerant place where the majority judge people by their character, not their color or any other stupid reason. The valley has a big Hispanic population due to so many Mexican migrant workers eventually deciding to make the valley their home. The Mexico Cafe was my favorite Mexican restaurant in the valley. It was not til I moved to Texas that I realized that Tex-Mex was what the Washington Mexican restaurants had on the menu.

I digress.

So, back to the first black man with whom I  shook hands.

Way back during World War II, on a specific date in 1942 not known, Didimu Kayira was born in Nyasaland, now known as Malawi. Didimu's mother was unable to feed a baby, so she threw him into the Didimu River, from whence he was rescued and named after the river.

Eventually Didimu was enrolled in a school where he decided to add the English sounding name of Legson to his name. When he was a mid teenager Legson made up his mind that the only way he could get a college degree was if he got himself to the United States.

Someone told Legson to get himself to Kampala, Uganda. Once there he found his way to an American agency of some sort. At that agency Legson was looking in a U.S. Information Service Directory when he saw the name Skagit Valley College. He applied to the college, was accepted, with a scholarship.

Now Legson had to make his way, on foot, over 1860 miles to Khartoum, where he could get an entry visa to the U.S.

By the time Legson made it to Khartoum his story had reached the Skagit Valley. People all over the Skagit Valley raised money to bring Legson to Washington. Two years after setting out for America, Legson Kayira arrived in the Skagit Valley to great fanfare.

Legson Kayira went to Skagit for two years, then the University of Washington, then St. Catherine's College in Cambridge.

Legson Kayira wrote a best selling autobiography titled I Will Try, along with several other books.

I did not know til yesterday that Legson Kayira died October 14, 2012, in London.

During his time in the Skagit Valley Legson Kayira visited the various groups who had helped him come to America, including my Sunday School at the Burlington Presbyterian Church. He was the first black man I had seen up close in person. He was so friendly and happy to see all of us. I remember so clearly shaking his hand and feeling like I was in the presence of someone special.

Was Legson Kayira's passing noted in the Skagit Valley Herald? I check that newspaper online daily and I don't remember reading of this. Has Legson Kayira's legacy been forgotten in the Valley? If that is the case, this needs to change. There needs to be a statue in his honor at the college, and one of the buildings named after him.

Legson Kayira's trek to America to Skagit Valley College was an international news story in its day. It made Skagit Valley College known world wide. After Legson Kayira others from other parts of the world, and America, made their way to the Skagit Valley to go to Skagit Valley College. My first two college years were spent at Skagit Valley College. I found it to be a much superior educational experience than what I got when I transferred to a university.

I am thinking that in honor of Legson Kayira, come the New Year, I may be deleting any racist collaborators I am aware of.

It's the right thing to do.....


Loyal Reader in Fort Worth said...

Great story, Durango. Skagit Valley College and the Skagit Valley sound like a great place to live and go to school.

Linda said...

I too was raised in the Skagit Valley, went to Skagit Valley College, and have since returned. It still is the special place you remember, tolerant and open to diversity. I remember Legson very well, his over exuberance to happiness to be in America, despite his trials, grateful for the support of this valley. You have encouraged me to get in touch with the officials of Skagit Valley College, and pursue the proper memorial to this wonderful man. Yes I do remember shaking his hand, and will walk alongside you to delete any hate mongers and racist Facebook encounters. Thank you for your prose.

Georganne said...

At the time of Legson's death family established a memorial scholarship at Skagit Valley College. Legson's second wife, Julie, originally from Burlington, recently died and memorials are designated for the Legson Kayira Memorial Scholarship. Contact Anne Clark at the SVC Foundation for more information. Thanks for remembering Legson!