Those who wouldn’t go

They resisted the Vietnam-era draft and now recount the consequences of their decision

Gregg Reese | 5/30/2013, 6 a.m.
One spring day, some 40 years after the turmoil of the Vietnam Era had died down, Ayuko Babu found himself ...

“I was outraged that that this racist cracker would do something like this, and I was outraged that society would give him license to feel free to kick a Black woman in the stomach! This time, on my watch, this was not going to happen!”

He, in turn, was arrested and charged with a felony. Presiding Judge Charles Carr challenged the prosecution’s case, asking “why are you trying to give this kid a felony for what is essentially a fight?”

Instead, Carr administered a misdemeanor of simple assault and a six-month sentence for attacking an official on government property.

Babu spent his jail time on his bunk, eager to avoid the guards’ efforts to write him up for any infraction and extend his sentence ala “Soledad Brother” George Jackson.

After his release in November (four months and 18 days for good behavior), he immediately received a draft notice—since he’d lost his student deferment while in jail, a coincidence that suggests collusion between the state correctional system and the draft broad.

He, in turn, refused induction, joined the Freedom Draft Movement led by Levi Kingston, and his activities expanded to include passing out leaflets at the Armed Forces Center on Broadway in downtown, which instructed potentially service-bound men on how to avoid armed service. He also counseled draft-age African American men.

The next few years found him being drafted seven times, enduring multiple arrests, and a 90-day stay at the Wayside Honor Ranch in Castaic.

A reprieve came with his 26th birthday, which meant that he was no longer eligible for the draft.

Norman Otis Richmond’s parents, like scores of other Black folks, were taken aback by the brutal murder of Emmitt Till and similar incidents in the 1950s. Militancy was a trait that resonated throughout their family.

Richmond remembers, “My parents feared that I might [grow up to] be one of those Black boys that would be outspoken. Being outspoken is part of my DNA.”

This motivated the Richmonds to relocate with their 6-month-old son from Louisiana to Los Angeles, reasoning that the South was no place for a Black man likely to speak freely in the presence of White people. Life in Southern California was, to say the least, a different world culturally from the one they’d left. Young Norman was, by turns, swayed by the rhetoric of the Black Muslims via his attendance at Temple No. 27, and regular discussions about political events on the African continent. The assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 especially impacted him.

Aside from these challenges to his political consciousness, the transplanted Californian cultivated talents in athletics (running the sprint relays in the Junior Olympics with future L.A. Dodger Willie Crawford) and music (singing first tenor and recording local hits) through his maturation at Fremont High and beyond.

Around this time, Richmond realized that ideologically he was closer to the tenets of Malcolm X than to Elijah Muhammad, whose teachings he’d been exposed to at Temple No. 27 at 56th and Broadway. These sentiments were nurtured by his enrollment at Los Angeles City College where he joined the Red Guard, a Marxist study group, and the presence of future Black Panther Alprentice “Bunchie” Carter, a sharp dresser with a flock of admiring girls, and whose willful defiance and natural charisma made him an icon for all the young Black men in the campus’ social circle.