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Chaplain Love recalls era of unfair racial treament in Sonoma County

  • Jesse Love at his home Friday in Santa Rosa. Love first came to Santa Rosa while in the military in World War II. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

Love. Where in the world did the family name Love come from?

That I dont know, said Jesse Love, a son of sharecroppers and grandson of slaves, his brow furrowed in thought. The creases smoothed and a 10-megawatt smile lit his face as he added, I know its not from Africa.

Wherever its from, the name sure fits.

Love, who came to Santa Rosa in 1942 as one of the first African-Americans to settle in the town, is about as benevolent and gracious as a man can be despite the way he was treated through much of his 87 years.

The Navy relegated him to cooking for officers at bases and shining their shoes, although hed hoped to serve at sea as a full-fledged sailor. Institutional bigotry was why, in Santa Rosa in the 1940s and 50s, a government clerk refused to issue him and his fiancee a marriage license, a landlady evicted him and an ex-Navy colleague whod opened a burger counter near downtowns former Greyhound station told him, Im sorry, Love, I cant serve you.

Ive had some bad experiences, Love acknowledged, some I will never tell. He could dwell on them and he could despise the people who minimized him because he is black, but thats not what he chooses to do with the life he considers a God-given gift.

Tears came to his eyes as he said, I dont have any time to ... I just cant hurt anyone.

Love is a founding member of Community Baptist Church, a Pearl Harbor survivor, a chaplain for veterans organizations, and former longtime head housekeeper at Sonoma Countys community hospital. Above all, he is a counter of blessings.

He believes the best way to live is to treat everyone with cheer and respect and to trust that the people who hate will one day come around. You just have to be patient and do whats right, he said at his home in the South Park neighborhood.

His family was dirt poor when he was a kid in Grace, Miss., in the 1920s and the 1930s. His parents, Roosevelt and Irene Love, worked 20 acres as sharecroppers and hoped each year that the sale value of their yield would exceed what they owed to the landowners store.

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