KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"
This week we hear from realtor, husband and father Virgil Covington:
"I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, on January 4, 1971.
"My grandparents on my mothers' side were sharecroppers. They had a farm in Duson, a city on the old railroad line between New Orleans and Houston. Theys had sixteen children -- twelve boys and four girls, all except for two born to a midwife. The last child she had at age 50. It's such a large family. There is still a real strong closeness between us. We are a very faith-based people. Everyone believes in God.
"My grandparents' names were John Abraham Montgomery and Mary Agatha Montgomery. The funny thing about them, believe it or not, was that living here in the United States, English was a second language for them. Their first language was Patois, which is a broken French mixed with various other dialects.
"How did I wind up living in L.A.? In 1951, my Aunt Dorothy (or, "Dot") left the farm and moved out to Los Angeles. My Uncle Walter soon followed her, and then my Uncle A.B. Eventually, my Uncle Cliff came and so did my Uncles Eugene and Oran. Uncle Jack and Uncle Wes came intending to stay, but didn't. My Uncle Leeward came as well and did high school here but then went into the Air Force.
"When she was around sixteen-years-old, my mom, Shirley, started coming out to visit her brothers and sisters. She'd go back and forth between L.A. and Louisiana.
"My dad, Virgil Covington Sr., when he got out of the service, he wanted to start a new life, so he decided to move from Ohio to California.
"My parents met when my mom was out here staying at the house of my Uncle Oran who at the time lived on Harcourt Avenue in Los Angeles, near Adams. She happened to be walking down the street wearing, as she describes it, a pretty pink silk dress that caught his attention.
"I guess my dad was coming from work with a friend of his and he tried to talk to my mom. But back then you didn't really approach a girl directly. It had to be through a family member or something like that.
"So, he actually drove back to my uncle's place and he knocked on the door. My uncle answered and my dad asked about the young lady that had walked inside. You know, 'I would like to meet her.'
"My dad offered to get my uncle a drink. He asked my uncle what he wanted and my uncle said Chivas Regal. So my dad went and got him a half-gallon of Chivas Regal and he gave it to him.
"That sure got him invited inside. And from that point on my parents dated maybe for a couple of years and then got married in 1968. They were married until my dad passed away from cancer in 1999.
"I've been married to my wife, Michelle, since 9/9/09. We have a beautiful daughter, Mila. The Ironic thing is that both our moms come from Louisiana and both our dads' sides have roots in Ohio. [Read Michelle Covington's Arrival Story HERE.]
"Michelle and I met in Los Angeles and it's still hard to believe that you'd meet your soul mate in the same city you've been living in most of your life. In 1972, when I was one-year-old, my mother, my older sister, Catherine and I traveled back by plane to L.A. from Louisiana.
"My father had come out to Louisiana when I was born but went back since he only had a little time off work. We lived in Inglewood when the city was still quite segregated; we were one of the first Black families to move in the area. Then slowly but surely it began to diversify. Our community was really tight knit. I'm still friends with most my childhood buddies. All the neighbors kind of looked out for each other.
"I graduated from Inglewood High School in 1989. I started working at age 11 doing landscaping and paper route, etc. and had my first formal job working at a theater at age 14 because I looked older and I got my height early on. Then as an adult I would have several jobs until a neighbor and family friend encouraged me to go to school for real estate.
"He showed me his checks and how lucrative the field was -- real estate was booming at the time. I looked into it and ended up going to school and got my real estate license. It was around the same time my dad was sick, so I was happy that he had a chance to see me working in the field prior to his passing. I ended up going into the financing aspect of it.
"In December 1970, my grandfather told a few family members that he was going to California and he wasn't coming back. He said that he was going to pass; that he was going to be there for only two weeks. And he died in exactly two weeks.
"My grandfather didn't go to the doctor; this was just something he knew. He knew a lot of things before they happened -- kind of like something would come to him and would tell him exactly when something would take place.
"But my grandfather asked my dad prior to him passing, would he bring my mom back to Louisiana? He wanted her to be there with her mom, so they would be there for each other. So my parents did that, and that's why I was born there not here.
"My grandfather was an incredible person. When he was about sixteen-years-old, he was working out in the field and he heard a voice. And this voice told him that he was called to be a healer and told him exactly how to heal. And the way my grandfather described it was, 'A voice of God.'
"Basically from that point on, he was well-known for healing people of all sorts of ailments. Doctors would send terminally ill patients to him, no matter what they had. If it was cancer, if they were paralyzed, if they were blind, through God's healing power he was able to lay hands on them and they would be healed. He knew, prior to people dying, when they were going to pass.
"He did a lot of good work. And during that time -- for we are talking going back a ways; he was born in 1910 or 1911 or something like that -- they were definitely living in a different era. Racism was definitely high. But because of what he did, many kinds of people would invite him to their house.
"My grandfather didn't just heal strangers. I had an uncle -- Uncle Jack -- who in the early 1960s fell from a building where he was working. The doctor felt that he wasn't going to make it through the night.
"Uncle Jack was an amazing dancer, they compared him to James Brown. In fact, it was said that James Brown even asked him to go on tour with him. Jack could sing and he was a boxer and an incredible guy. Real good looking cat, so he seemed to always get in fights.
"My grandfather already knew, prior to them coming to tell him, that Jack was in an accident. He had already gotten himself prepared. So he went in there and he said, 'Give me a moment alone with my son.'
"So he went in there and he closed the drapes and he prayed for him -- and just like that, my uncle was up and talking. And so the doctors and everyone came out, and said, 'This is impossible! How is this man up and talking? This guy was on his deathbed!' My grandfather said, 'I gave him a special pill.' That is what he told the doctors.
"When my grandfather eventually passed away he had statesmen and people flying in from out of the country to come to his funeral. There was a lot of love for him because he healed from the heart and with the love of the Lord. He would often be working alongside the medical doctors, many of them calling on him when a patient's care seemed to be beyond repair from their medical standpoint. He had helped so many people using medicinal and herbal methods given to him through words of knowledge and prayer.
"What makes it even more fascinating is my grandfather couldn't read or write, but he could read the bible. He could quote scriptures.
"In contrast to my grandfather who stood 6'8", my grandmother was a short, full-figured woman with a heart of gold. Although I don't remember a lot about her personally all the stories shared by my mother, aunts, uncles, as well as her nieces and nephews are alike.
"May May, as she was affectionately known, was very loving, a homemaker for sure. Not only did she raise her own sixteen kids but took in an additional nine children from a neighborhood couple so that the children would not be separated. Everyone talks about her delicious Creole cooking and how she could make anything from scratch.
"Most of the children grew up working hard on the farm starting 4:00am each morning or at the crack of dawn as they recall. There were no excuses, which really instilled a great work ethic, even to this day they all are hard workers with a multitude of skills.
"You know something else that's crazy? When my grandmother passed away, three years after her husband, the family sold her home. Oil companies were interested in the oil rights underneath. The house itself changed hands a few times -- several families purchased it but couldn't last on that property.
"My aunt, she came down with cancer because of the chemical plants in Louisiana and was looking to purchase property and the family home was up for sale again. The people living there sold it to her for next to nothing; they just wanted out.
"Why? Because as the dwellers explained, 'There was a voice that was there in that house, throwing stuff around and telling them to get out.' So she was able to buy the house and brought it back into the family. My aunt restored it and she used it as a place for us to have family reunions. But she has since passed away from cancer.
"I'll conclude here by saying that, basically, we are faith-based and just a real loving family and we look out for each other. A lot of us carried that Southern hospitality out here with us. We also carried a lot of the culture. We love meeting up at Zydeco dances and having family gatherings and we try and continue on with the warmth of the South."
-- Virgil Covington
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
- Arrival Stories -- Michelle Covington, Virgil's wife
- KCET UpDaily archives for columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan, who often writes about Inglewood
- "Mama Hill"
- L.A. Food System -- Backyard agriculture
- Arrival Story: Edgar Arceneaux -- Features another Great Migration family story
- Arrival Story: TiGeorges Laguerre -- More food stories.
- Veronica's Kitchen -- Okra reference
- Arrival Stories
- View the Complete Archive
Photo: Michelle, Virgil and Mila Covington, on the occasion of the 2012 commencement ceremony where Michelle was awarded a master's degree. Photo courtesy Michelle Covington