When Legrand H. Clegg II was in 10th grade at Centennial High School, his counselor suggested he abandon his idea of becoming a teacher.
“He said you don’t do as well in math and science as you do in English and reading. He said why don’t you become an attorney,” remembered Clegg, who said the thought had never occurred to him, but he knew it was something he could achieve.
Ironically Clegg recalls that his teacher, B. Lilliquist, a Jewish man, made that suggestion at a time, when many other African American students were being discouraged away from such careers.
“At the time the Civil Rights movement was very much in existence, and there were a number of lawyers both black and white championing the rights of African Americans, mainly in the South. I went home and told my mother about it, and she said I could be one of the civil rights lawyers some day.”
Clegg said he would be forever grateful for that career suggestion, but acknowledged walking that path was not necessarily easy.
He particularly remembers what a counselor told him during the one year he attended Cal State Los Angeles. “I spoke to a white woman counselor, and told her I wanted to be either a teacher or attorney. She said ‘you cannot achieve either’,” recalled Clegg, who knew she was basing her decision on his test scores and his background.
“I told her I’m leaving now, and I know I can achieve both,” said Clegg, who credits his church, family and the multi-ethnic collection of supportive teachers at Centennial for his confidence.
Clegg would go on to get that law degree from Howard University, but it was not easy because there were so very few African American attorneys he could look to as role models. Those he did look to included Thurgood Marshall, and Johnny Cochran who was one of the few local black attorneys.
After attending Compton Community College, UCLA and then Howard, Clegg began working as a private sector attorney at the firm of Edelen, Meshack, Clegg and Calhoun in 1974. In addition, he served as co-counsel to the Compton Unified School District from 1976 to 1977. He was appointed to the position of Deputy City Attorney for the City of Compton in 1977 and served as Chief Deputy City Attorney from 1981 through 1993, when he was appointed City Attorney.
Clegg was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Wesley Sanderson Jr., who won the election in April 1993 and died the next month.
He would go on to win on his own several years later and would spend 15 years in the position before retiring this month.
One of his passions while in office was giving back to youth, the way others gave to him.
“While I was city attorney, I met once a month with students who wanted to become attorneys, then I converted it to students who wanted to go to college. It was Dine and Dialogue at Compton College, and it was for (African American) and Latino males,” explained the Compton-raised attorney.
His work with youth went beyond what he did as part of the job and filtered into what he did in life. And Clegg recalled the comments of one young man, who spoke during the special presentation the City of Compton recently held to recognize his 30 years of service.
“He looks like he’s about 18, but is 23 and lives in the townhouse complex where I live. He got up and talked in his youthful slang, and that’s what made it all so authentic,” said Clegg. “He said he had seen me a lot, and thought I was a mean man.”
But one day Clegg said he talked to the young man (something the youth said no one had ever done) about his interests in life, which turned out to be music. “I said why don’t you go to Compton College and get a music degree, and then when they held my reception (at city hall) I invited him and his grandmother because I knew people from Compton College would be there. I wanted to introduce them.”
Spending more time working with youth is one of his goals now that he is retired, and the other is pursing his passion for researching and disseminating the history of people of African descent.
In fact, Clegg credits his discovery at age 18 or 19 of the contributions Black people had made to the world with helping him be able to dismiss the discouraging words of that Cal State L.A. counselor who said he could not be a lawyer.
His discovery of those accomplishments as a college student eventually led Clegg to create and distribute the video series “When Black Men Ruled the World” in 1991. He has sold some 6,000 copies, and the tapes have been viewed by thousands of people; a number of whom told the attorney the information changed their lives.
What Clegg particularly wants to do is share the many new discoveries about what people of African descent have achieved (such as the Thomas Brophy work on the Nubian’s map of the universe) with the world.
“There’s a lot of historical, academic, archeological, and astronomical information they are suppressing with respect to the history of black people, and I have tried my best working part time over the years to help reveal it,” Clegg said.
But with retirement, his part-time passion can now become a full-time avocation.