BICYCLING ACROSS THE UNITED STATES
Fame came to Moshood Ajala in 1952 when he decided to embark on a lecture tour across the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles, all on a bicycle.
Aged 22, Ajala set out on the 12th of June 1952 from Chicago on a bicycle tour covering an incredible 2,280 miles. He arrived the Los Angeles City Hall on 10thof July, two days ahead of his 30-day schedule.
Upon arrival, Ajala was received by the city mayor Fletcher Bowron. While narrating his experience of the cross-country tour, Mr. Ajala said everything was generally fine and the only nasty incident was a time in Topeka, Kansas where he was jailed for 44 hours after the white YWMA refused him a room and called the police when he protested (kindly note that that was time when the United States of America was bitterly divided with segregation politics gaining ground).
A man not to be cheated, Ajala filed a suit against the Topeka YMCA and its secretary via the Nigerian ambassador in Washington. He was determined no one was going to mess with a Nigerian citizen and get away with it, not even a band of unruly Americans in Kansas.
But what was the purpose of his travel? Ajala was a psychology junior at the Roosevelt College in Chicago and his goal for the tour was to educate the American public on the progress made by his native West African country of Nigeria.
The tour included stops to deliver lectures at 11 major cities. Ajala also did his tour wearing native Nigerian costumes described as ‘elaborately flowered robes with a felt-like head-dresses to match’, to which Ajala said:…will show and prove to Americans that we do not go about nakedly in loin clothes.’
AJALA THE ACTOR
Following his daring bicycle trip across continental United States, Ajala became the darling of many.
Newspaper journalists besieged him and he was made a celebrity overnight. Deals, endorsements and contracts came flying at him.
One of such was the movie contract he signed with Eagle-Lion Studios in Hollywood in August 1955, the deal involved making a series of drama and spy films with European and African backgrounds.
After his deportation from the United States, Ajala proceeded to Canada and spent nine months perfecting his acting skills. It was while he was there that he starred in the stage play Lost In The Stars.
BRUSHES WITH AMERICAN LAW AND THE DEPORTATION
A free-spirited individual known for crashing into movies amongst other interesting ways of expressing his liberty, it was not long before Ajala surfaced on the American security radar. In July 1953, things had taken turn for the worse for Ajala. But what happened?
In March 1953, the police of Beverly Hills, California arrested and jailed Ajala on three felony charges. He was accused on one count of forgery, two grand theft and three, worthless cheque charges.
To add to his trouble, he had also been sued by a former Chicago nurse for refusing to accept paternity of his child. Back to the forgery case, specific charges against Ajala indicated that he made attempts to work a ‘bunko’ game by opening a savings account at a branch of Bank of America under the fake name of ‘Edward Hines’ then made deposits at other branches with worthless cheques. Officials said Ajala made five of such phony deposits of about $450.
He was eventually found guilty of forgery and deported from the United States of America, he was aged 24, an exchange student from Africa and an actor. Ajala was not really deported solely because of the grand theft charges (to which he pleaded not guilty before Judge Orlando H. Rhodes), he became a subject of deportation also because he failed to maintain his studies at the Santa Monica Junior College, thus invalidating his visa.
For the forgery and grand theft charges, Ajala pleaded not guilty saying with all firmness and seriousness that he was duped by Arnold Weiner, a white male ex-bank accountant. Weiner said while it was true that he showed Ajala how to write cheques, he did not dupe him in anyway.
However, it must be stated that Ajala’s deportation was not without drama. After he was convicted of passing bad cheques in Los Angeles, Ajala was ordered by the American authorities to be deported to England from Ellis Island, New York but Ajala resisted and you know what he did? While awaiting deportation at the Terminal Island in Los Angeles after he was given a one-year suspended jail term, Ajala climbed an 80-foot radio tower and threatened to kill himself . From atop the tower, Ajala screamed that he ‘would rather leap to my death’ than be deported. Mr. Ajala was on the tower for almost 24 hours while the immigration authorities pleaded with him.
Finally, Ajala fell to the ground from a height of 15 feet. He was examined by doctor at the island’s hospital and they said all he suffered was just a sprained back. Immigration authorities said Ajala made the death threat because he feared what they called ‘tribal execution’ if he was packaged back to Nigeria.
Immigration officials said Ajala dreaded tribal execution so much so that when the judge sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence, Ajala dropped to his knees two times and touched the floor with his forehead saying he was ‘calling on Allah’ to bless the judge for the ‘mercy’ shown as the sentence might just save him from execution back home in West Africa.
When Ajala noted that his protest at the order of the immigration authorities did not work, he embarked on a 30-day fast which the immigration officials translated it to mean a hunger strike to stop his deportation, while Ajala insisted he was simply observing his Ramadan fasting as dictated by his Islamic faith. Whatever the case, Mr. Ajala was deported and gallantly flown to London. Immigration officer Justin Bennett confirmed his deportation without any fear of any execution and also stated that Ajala’s request to be sent to Canada was rejected because Canada has refused to approve his application.
Upon arriving in the United Kingdom, Ajala said he was going to work on a new movie at the Ealing Studios in London and talked of his plans to return to the United States.
By September 1954, Ajala was back in the United States with his American-born wife, Hermine Aileen. He explained to reporters that the deportation order only banned him from stepping on American soil and his plan was to resume his acting career in California.
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