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John Redfud, 87; Teacher Inspired Compton Students

Obituaries

August 29, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Redfud, one of the first three black teachers in the Compton Unified School District and a founding teacher of its Centennial High School who inspired hundreds of students to become judges, lawyers, principals, surgeons, engineers and executives, has died. He was 87.

Redfud died Sunday in Kaiser Permanente Hospital in West Los Angeles after a long illness, said Wini Jackson, a singer and child advocate and former student. Redfud lived in Inglewood.

It was Jackson who organized a 1999 "Pioneers in Education" dinner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to honor Redfud and 26 other former teachers who encouraged and challenged the students attending Compton's Centennial High in the mid-20th century to assume leadership roles in a country undergoing integration.

More than 600 alumni gave Redfud a rousing ovation as Jackson sang "Unforgettable" and "You Are the Wind Beneath Our Wings."

Redfud, who was born in Louisiana, graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge and taught at schools in Bogalusa and Minden before moving to Los Angeles to earn his master's at USC.

He qualified to teach, but couldn't get hired in late 1940s Los Angeles because he was black. That changed when the unassuming white principal of Compton's Willowbrook Junior High, Marian Wagstaff, became concerned that she had no black faculty members in a school where more and more black students were enrolling. The Supreme Court mandate to desegregate schools would not come until 1954, but Wagstaff wasn't waiting.

"I wanted the best teachers. It was not a matter of hiring Negro teachers," she told The Times in 1999. "It was a matter of hiring the best qualified."

She selected three blacks, including Redfud, in 1950. A few years later, as Wagstaff moved to Cal State L.A. to train future teachers, Redfud and many of the other people she hired helped open the new Centennial High School.

Formal but friendly, Redfud greeted his history students at the classroom door, treated them as employees with himself as the employer, demanded a steady stream of homework and advised them if they called in sick to send the assignments by taxi. He worked long days and weekends, used his own money to provide supplies, took his debaters to watch the Beverly Hills High School competition and challenged them to top it, and otherwise inspired students to be self-disciplined and become self-sufficient.

"I'd hear people talk about what good schools they had in Beverly Hills and Fairfax," he told The Times in 1998. "I didn't want to be teaching anywhere that wasn't competitive with the outside world. I spent 14-hour days creating learning experiences, to expose my class to things other people would be getting. I made sure they learned how to compete."

Redfud ended his career as principal of Compton Adult School before retiring in 1983. In recent years, he lamented the declining quality of the Compton school district, which became so riddled with failure that the state assumed control in the mid-1990s.

Asked three years ago for his recipe for classroom success, Redfud said: "Discipline. Every time they walked in, my boards were filled with work for them to start doing."

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Genevieve; two sons, Duane and Damon; one daughter, Yolanda; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at St. Eugene Catholic Church, 9505 Hass Ave., Los Angeles.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made in Redfud's name to the Los Angeles Alumni Chapter of the Southern University Scholarship Fund, Box 19612, Los Angeles, CA 90019, or to St. Eugene's School, 9505 Hass Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90008.

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