February 29, 2012
The Aquarium of the Pacific’s African American Festival celebrates the richness and diversity of African and African American cultures, bringing together artists, performers, and other cultural ambassadors to share their crafts, engage visitors, and promote understanding. Each year at the festival, an outstanding leader in the community is honored with the Heritage Award. At the tenth annual African American Festival held in February, the Aquarium recognized a particularly noteworthy community member, Frank Godden.
Mr. Godden has led an incredible life and, at 100 years old, has witnessed a rich period in American history. Through his extensive efforts in pursuit of civil rights and equality for African Americans, he has played an important role in our local culture. Godden attended Tuskegee University in Alabama, a historically African American educational institution. He is the university’s oldest living alumnus. He earned a bachelor’s degree in photography and photoengraving in 1939 and later served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1963 to 1967. It was during his time at the university as a student that he first met and befriended pioneering scientist Dr. George Washington Carver and became one of two tour guides for Carver’s laboratory and office. Godden went on to become a historian of Carver’s life, scientific discoveries, and inventions, and founded the George Washington Carver Museum of California.
During his senior year at Tuskegee Godden was in charge of the photographic department and had the opportunity to meet and photograph several prominent people, including U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, jazz musician W.C. Handy, auto manufacturer Henry Ford, and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, who was also a family friend.
Godden served four years as a sergeant in the U.S. Army and warrant officer chief of a section radar crew. During three years spent in Africa and Europe, he served as a foreign war correspondent for the Associated Negro Press and for the armed forces newspaper, the Stars and Stripes. Last year on his ninety-ninth birthday, Mr. Godden received a phone call from President Obama thanking him for his distinguished military service.
Mr. Godden also played a significant role in the development of the city of Val Verde, California, known in the first half of the twentieth century as the “black Palm Springs.” Until the 1960s when segregation laws in California were taken off the books, Val Verde was a popular resort community for African Americans. Godden is associated with every major development project in Val Verde from 1939 to 1970 and served in the leadership of the Val Verde Improvement Association. He also invested in the community through a career in business, as the president of Del Valle Development, president of Woodlawn Funeral Home, and executive president for Tumast Inc., which built a senior living complex near USC in 1969.
A member of the NAACP and the Urban League, Godden’s efforts on behalf of the African American community include successfully campaigning for hiring minority school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and employees of the City of Los Angeles, and campaigning for the removal of the “restrictive covenant” law, which prohibited African Americans and other minorities from recreating at local beaches and from buying and renting real estate in certain areas of Los Angeles.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is proud to honor Frank Godden with the Heritage Award in recognition of all he has done for the community.