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Archie Boston's book draws from previous generations and his own convention-defying life.
Published Sep. 22, 2009

Uncle Doug was a migrant farmworker who visited his family from Lakeland during the winter growing season. He had his nephew, Archie Boston, help him roll Prince Albert tobacco.

When he drank moonshine, he preached fire and brimstone and told stories to Boston and his siblings.

"He once told us that he drove a truck from St. Petersburg to Hawaii," said Boston, who grew up in segregated St. Petersburg and is now a retired graphic design professor at California State University - Long Beach. "My uncle was a great storyteller."

That scene and others are in Lil' Colored Rascals in the Sunshine City, which is about Boston's childhood in the Robinson Court housing project between 1948 and 1958.

At a book signing Monday night at the James Weldon Johnson Branch Library, Boston said there were hard times but that he and his siblings and friends mostly had fun.

Boston explained that everyone and everything back then had a nickname. Robinson Court was The Neck. He was called Flea Parrot because a friend joked that he attracted fleas and because of his fat lips. His best friend, who had a tendency to stutter, was Billy Billy Goat Goat.

Boston, a defiant child, also spoke about getting into his first fight (over a marbles game) and sneaking off to go skinny dipping in Booker Creek.

Bill Newmon, or Billy Billy Goat Goat, traveled from Bellingham, Wash., to read part of the book with his best friend. Newmon said that even though St. Petersburg was segregated, it was more racially progressive than other cities in the South.

"The book gives you a sense of what a lot of the black kids were experiencing in the Deep South," he said. "We could do things that kids in a lot of cities in the South couldn't do."

After graduating from Gibbs High School, Boston left for California to begin his career in graphic design. He later married Juanita, whom he had met at Gibbs.

Boston wrote, designed and published Lil' Colored Rascals. He has also written a memoir about his design career, Fly in the Buttermilk.

That book discusses some of Boston's early, provocative work such as a picture of him dressed in a KKK robe or wearing a "for sale" sign.

"My work sort of defied convention," he said. "I've always tried to stray outside the box. The box is boring."

Boston plans to write a book and produce a photo exhibit about the Watts riots of 1965. He wrote his college thesis on how the Los Angeles race riot began. He hopes to have the book finished by the event's 50th anniversary in 2015.

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