Todd Forrest Hooks
Todd Forrest Hooks was strong and well disciplined and fought hard for social equality. Born on November 28, 1923 in Los Angeles, California, he was a family man and determined citizen who overcame obstacles of racial bias and discrimination. He was the fourth of Toddie and Ada Hooks’ five children, one of the earlier African American families to settle in Monrovia. Forrest grew up at 224 E. Maple Avenue in a house built on land purchased from the Adams, the first Black land owners in Monrovia.Forrest attended Monrovia’ s public schools - Huntington
Elementary, Ivy Avenue and Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte High. In 1943, after graduation, he was drafted into the United States Army, sent to training at Fort MacArthur in Arizona, and served during WWII in the 37th Special Services Company. PFC Hooks was stationed at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. He served in a racially segregated military that assigned Blacks to battlegrounds but would not train them for combat or give them guns to defend themselves. He was honorably discharged on January 31, 1946. He returned to Monrovia and sent for the lady from New Jersey, Rebecca, who became his wife. On October 18, 1947 Forrest and “Becky” were married in his parent’s Maple Avenue home by the Rev. George Godfrey Bailey, the pastor of Second Baptist Church. The young couple faced discrimination and bigotry but raised their two sons, Rodney and Todd, to rise above it. Rodney, the elder son of Todd Forrest Hooks, recalls that home ownership ran in the Hooks family. As did the name ‘Forrest.’ Generations before, Warren Hooks, slave-owner and father ofan elder Forrest Hooks had acquired 5,000 acres of land in northeastern Texas, known today as Hooks, Texas. Warren gave some of his land to this son Forrest and his grandson Rutillius, who had become freedmen. He gave additional land to these two freedmen for a church and school. Reverend Forrest Hooks was one of the trustees of that land on Aug. 11, 1867; it was used for the the Rebank Church and the first African American public school in northeastern Texas. Rutillius's son was Toddie. Toddie's son was the Todd Forrest Hooks about whom this story is written. Forrest never went to see the family land in Texas. He pursued his own American dream – a family and home in Monrovia. Their modest home was located on South Canyon just south of Walnut Avenue from the time they were a young married couple until they moved to Duarte when Mr. Hooks was 75 years old. The practice of “red lining” had kept them from buying a home north of Foothill. To provide for his wife Becky and their two sons, Forrest gave up his first love – music. Rodney still has the clarinet his father played in a jazz combo while in the Army. A musician’s lifestyle was risky and musicians were thought to be unsavory characters. Mr. Hooks was actually an artist, with a deep bass voice and an appreciation for both instrumental and vocal music. Every Sunday morning at breakfast Rodney remembered him turning on a little stereo and the whole family listening to Bach, Beethoven or Michael Jackson. They never talked about it. They just listened. Without the money to go to live concerts, their dad shopped at Safeway Market and used that store’s specials to collect the classics. Forrest made a choice to embrace the majority culture and not back down. He was not an overt activist, but rather a community partner the members of other cultures could not deny. He was always at meetings, spoke up for himself, and helped older people and children, especially those of his own race, and those who needed care. Mr. and Mrs. Hooks are listed on the donor’s plaque at the Santa Anita Family YMCA in Monrovia. A number of people from the South migrated to Monrovia in the 1950s and early 1960s. His son Todd recalled his 2nd and 3rd grade classes doubling in size at Huntington Elementary during that period. The Hooks boys and their cousins were all told, “You must go to college.” They learned how important having a stable family was from their dad. Todd recalls eating dinner with his parents and brother Rodney every day - praying and being a family. Lois Gaston describes their house with its white fence. “They were like the ideal Caucasian family you saw on television back then.” His uniformed presence reflected his status with a federal job that paid benefits and built toward a pension. He was a powerful role model when other Blacks found it hard to get work other than manual labor or janitorial jobs. Forrest’s son Todd remembers his dad was positive in spite of the racial biases and segregation he and other people of color experienced at Huntington Elementary School, in the army and in the workplace. After his Army stint, Forrest pursued a civil service job. He went to school to be a tailor but then along with his brother, Arnett, he applied for civil service jobs. Arnett wanted to be a sheriff and got a Training Assistant job in Los Angeles. Forrest was hired by the U S Postal Service as a mail carrier in Los Angeles. He had learned the federal civil service system was “color blind” and applied for a position in Monrovia. Local postmasters did not like that, as Forrest told his sons, because legally they could not prevent hiring minorities. Forrest met the federal job performance and seniority standards and waited for an opening in his own town. Monrovia’s postmaster was quoted as saying, “No Negro will carry mail out of my post office.” But he had no choice, and thus Forrest was one of the first African Americans to work at Monrovia’s post office. Forrest told his son he felt his coworkers hated him because he was Black and that the Office Manager and employees tried to run him off. His workload was unequal. He had no back up on heavy mail days; he simply had to keep working until he finished his route by himself. There was no technology or motorized delivery carts so he carried mailbags on his back for years before he got a pushcart. His workday started at 5 a.m. and did not end until he finished his route. During the busy holiday season he worked double shifts. In the all-White male locker room at the Post Office no one talked to him. He was excluded from joking and social activities and ate lunch alone. This treatment was not new to him. He had gone through the same in the military. But he felt that he had a family to provide for and he got paid and that was what mattered. Eventually, two postal workers befriended Forrest. His son, Todd, remembers Ernie Koch and “Uncle Cliffy,” who lived on Lemon or Lime Avenue who had a back yard full of all kinds of rocks he had collected. These two White men became his dad’s close friends. They spent time together away from work. The Hooks kids and their kids grew up together, reminding Todd of the Jackie Robinson story. After Ernie and Forrest retired, they had a handyman business together. Over time Monrovia’s postal supervisor had to accept Forrest. They never became friends, but he came to respect Forrest because he was an excellent employee and had a friendly, positive attitude no matter how badly he was treated on the job. In contrast to his own mistreatment, Forrest treated Monrovians on his route with respect and courtesy. Mr. Hooks took the Supervisor’s Exam several times. Even though he was intelligent and prepared, he never passed and watched as less qualified employees were given the position. He endured this injustice and kept going, having learned a painful lesson from his experience as a janitor at the Daily News Post in Monrovia. In that job, when he requested that his supervisor ask employees to stop throwing cigarette butts in the urinal, instead of asking the employees, the supervisor fired him. “Don’t show people how you really feel or pick a fight,” was the lesson Forrest took from that and what he taught his sons. Mr. Hooks ran into similar obstacles in scouting and chose to form a troop for boys who had been excluded, including his own sons and other non-White youth. He became the first African American Boy Scouts of America leader in San Gabriel Valley. To make sure his sons and their friends got the same opportunities and positive experiences that other youth had he took action, e.g., asking that PSA Airlines fly his troop to San Diego so they could go to the zoo. He was successful; they granted his request. “Go another way.” Mr. Hooks said. “Pick and chose your battles. Make things as pleasant as you can.” It was through his approach, his endurance and strength that he prevailed and eventually brought about a change. After he retired from the postal service, Mr. Hooks talked about his feelings about the discrimination he had experienced and how he worked to combat it. He told his children that when he was at MAD (Monrovia-ArcadiaDuarte) High School he realized he was equal academically, but he knew he could not attain his dream because of the racial attitudes. The only person Todd ever heard his dad speak a bad word about was a White classmate who did not perform well academically, was rude, and behaved in a way that Forrest found unworthy of respect, but had achieved success nonetheless. He had all of the privileges and entitlements that minorities were denied then, including easily getting a bank loan to start a business. “My dad never got over being upset about that. We spoke about it many times before he died,” Todd said. Forrest raised his family with these same values and so each of them carried forward their own positive changes to move their community forward. His son Rodney said at first he was terrified in the all-White environment at college, a place that changed his life. But the proper English he spoke at home in Monrovia helped him fit in with his classmates. How the family spoke was important to his dad. Ebonics were not permitted. “During summers when we were young boys we were not allowed to go outside to play until Todd and I did our multiplication tables. Magazines like Life, Saturday Evening Post, Boys Life (a scouting magazine), were our pastime,” Rodney remembered. The boys read for hours while lying in the middle of the floor. He credits his father with stressing the benefits of higher education and building good relationships with everyone. In fact it was a lady on Mr. Hooks’ mail route who recommended Claremont Men’s College (CMC) and helped get the scholarship that allowed Rodney to attend there. At CMC he pursued a degree in Economics and Accounting, before completing a year in Harvard’s MBA Program. He became a highly successful freelance filmmaker and a member of the Directors Guild of America. His film and television projects have included: Debbie Allen’s “Polly”, George Lucas' cult favorite “Howard the Duck” and “The West Wing” from Warner Bros. Forrest’s son Todd was educated at Harvard University, earned a B.A. in Government and a Masters degree in Education from UCLA - the result of the value his father put on higher education and the work ethic he taught his children. Todd has had a 20-year career in Redevelopment and Economic Development for Southern California cities - Monrovia, Pomona, San Bernardino, Burbank, and San Diego. He then became Economic Development Director for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs, CA. For the past 13 years, he has managed and advised the Tribe on nonhospitality/gaming projects - commercial and residential real estate development, land leasing and acquisition, renewable energy development, and golf course operations. Todd said he is grateful to his parents, especially his father, for making the choice for family and stability, for fighting to be the kind of family man that contributed to the community and kept positive in spite of racial inequalities. “He did a lot to improve human relations in Monrovia even if he felt he could never achieve his own dreams there because of the bigotry and obstacles he faced and being treated as if he was not valued,” Todd said. Even with the legacy he left his sons, sadly, Forrest apologized to them for never being able to earn the money he felt he was capable of without having to work long hours or extra jobs. His son Rodney recalled both his sons yelling in response, “Are you kidding me?” They knew it was his persistence and character that enabled them to attend the best schools in the nation. Todd and his wife, Theresa, who is White, have a daughter now in college who is faced with a new form of discrimination. Since she is biracial, Todd said, “When she was younger, through high school she identified herself racially as “Other” on forms giving the choice of “White”, “Black”, or “Other.” Now she identifies as a ‘Black’.” Even so, Todd feels his daughter does not fully understand Black culture, experiencing it more from what she sees in movies or hears in rock music than what her grandfather experienced. Her father has asked her what she will do about racial injustice. She has said that human rights are a priority for her and as a political conservative, she feels that work and accountability should direct one’s choices, not the government. It seems clear that the life preparation and training in the Hooks’ household to move each in their own way through a changing world has shaped the family for generations, When Forrest Hooks passed away in 1999, he left an important legacy that helped move Monrovia a step closer to being an inclusive community. His legacy included a Post Office that finally accepted his presence as a long-term, hard-working Black employee, a Boy Scouts organization that at least while he was alive gave boys of color an opportunity to participate, and a White community that got used to seeing a Black man delivering mail every day in their neighborhoods. There was (and is) a long way to go, but his persistence and his positive, hard-working, dignified, and determined presence in the face of severe prejudice played an important part in helping Monrovia evolve. His values and approach were carried forward by his sons and their families, and the positive impact on their classmates and schools can only be imagined.