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John Rambo's Ancestry and Olympic Journey
The 1964 Olympic Bronze Medalist, John Rambo, works with author-journalist and documentarian, Sunny Nash, preserving his cultural heritage, life story and athletic career, to create a museum exhibition, repository digitization project and book.
By: Sunny Nash
Rambo's mother and father told him he was too big to be born at home like his sisters and brothers.
"My tall gene kicked in early," Rambo said. "So, I had to be born in the hospital. I didn't stop growing until we had moved to Long Beach, California, where I reached six-foot-eight. That was fine with me. Height gave me sports advantages."
Rambo's family moved from Rambo, Texas, to Long Beach, California, when he was eight. He graduated in 1961 from Polytechnic High School with honors and was one of the highest scoring basketball players in the school's history. His athletic and academic achievements earned him a Utah State University scholarship to study Pre-Med and play basketball. Cold Utah weather and longing for his mother's cooking convinced Rambo to transfer home to Long Beach City College (LBCC), where he set basketball records that earned him a scholarship to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). While studying History at CSULB and spending summers as a Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper copywriter, Rambo became one of the highest scoring basketball players in CSULB history. In 1964, Rambo graduated with honors and delivered a commencement speech. He was inducted into CSULB Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, and LBCC Hall of Champions in 2002.
John Rambo won an Olympic Bronze Medal for "High Jump" in the 1964 Tokyo Games.
NCAA High Jump Champion twice, Rambo was the 1965 sixth-round Hawks draft pick, becoming the first NBA-drafted athlete from Long Beach when he joined the Hawks in St. Louis, Missouri, before they relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. After one season, injuries forced Rambo's early retirement. He returned to the High Jump. With Southern California Striders Track and Field Club, Rambo won three Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Indoor Championships, and was named 1967 AAU Alumnus of the Year. Among National Jaycees 1971 Outstanding Young Men in America, Rambo was honored in 2006 by the Century Club for the most memorable moments in Long Beach history.
"As I researched John Rambo," Nash said. "In addition to his athletic career, I found unexplored, hyphenated genealogy--Native American, Scottish-American, French-Swedish-
To organize his archives required Nash to use her training in advanced research methodologies, library sciences, journalism, technology, new media production, digital capture, photography, digital and museum curation, genealogy, oral history and law. Nash studied Archival Data and Digital Preservation at the University of London; Biomedical Research Data Preservation at Harvard; and Intellectual Property Rights at the World Intellectual Property Organization Academy in Switzerland. A distinguished graduate of the University of California, San Diego, in Educational Technology & Teaching Online, Nash also holds an Honors Diploma in Media Law from the London School of Journalism.
Nedan Rambo, John's grandfather, who died at 104 when John was 17, told him what he knew. Reading books, diaries, old newspapers, chat rooms, message boards, ancestral sites and other sources, Nash learned Rambo, Texas, was in fact named for John's family. Research revealed Nedan as part African American and French-Swedish. Rambo, originally Rambeau, is a name associated with the 1600s French Hugenots, who escaped persecution by fleeing France and going to Sweden and other countries. In the 1700s, some Hugenots migrated to the New World, formed enclaves on the East Coast, and migrated inland, buying land and slaves.
Colonel Gale Rambo, son of an Alabama planter, freed Lydia and their sons, his father's former slaves, after his father's death. Gale married Lydia in Ohio, where interracial unions were legal. By 1849 the wealthy interracial family lived in Louisiana, while buying land in Texas. Leaving a large sum of money with Lydia, pregnant with Nedan in 1856, Gale and oldest son, Alonzo, 13, went back to Alabama to settle the estate. Alonzo returned alone with money. Gale had died in Alabama, as Nedan was being born in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. In 1867, the grieving family did what Gale had instructed. The four brothers went to Cass County, Texas. Nedan was 11. There is no record of Lydia in Texas. Perhaps she died in Louisiana. With money Gale left, they started a town he would never see, and named it Rambo.
Nedan, married Susan McIntosh, after his first wife, Cora Holt Rambo died. John's grandmother, Susan, is a direct descendant of Creek Chief, William "Tustunnugee Hutkee" McIntosh, also known as White Warrior, whose Scottish father, Captain William McIntosh fought in the American Revolutionary War. White Warrior's mother, Senoya, was the daughter of the Chief of the Creek Wind Clan. Susan McIntosh's heritage is Creek-Choctaw, based on her Choctaw grandmother's registration in the Choctaw Nation.
"I didn't know most of this about my family," Rambo told Nash. "I'd heard stories when I was a boy, but I had no idea. I was just living my life with the people I knew and loved, doing what I could with the abilities I inherited from them. Then I raised my family and tried to set a good example. What I wanted from this project was to gather and organize my artifacts to let people know I did some things. But now I have all this to add to my legacy."
Sunny Nash is author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (https://www.publishersweekly.com/