Hidden History

Hidden History: How a Valley heart surgeon started making art for an African-America magazine

FRESNO, California - During the month of February we highlight the contributions African-Americans have made here in the Valley through our series Hidden History.

Reporter Anthony Bailey brings us the story of a man who saw a need to get a positive message out in his community and did something about it.

Frank Johnson's family has been an advocate for education for generations. Seeing a need for a positive message, he took action.

Educator Frank Johnson has always had an interest in informing people in his community. In the late 60s and 70s, he and others in the black community felt there was a lack of a positive message in their neighborhoods. So he created “The Grapevine.”

“I was a teacher, counselor and eventually superintendent of West Fresno School District,” Johnson said. “We decided that we were going to put out a magazine showing positive news … maybe they could be role models for young people in the city.”

Through the years the magazine's following grew.

Later it expanded its reach to Hollywood garnering interviews of the who’s who in black Hollywood like Lou Gossett Jr., Dionne Warwick and even Bern Nadette Stanis of the famed show “Good Times.”

The circulation caught the attention of local businesses who began to advertise – Gottschalk's, JC Penny – Sears.

Flipping through The Grapevine, exquisite artwork flanks its pages. You couldn't tell by looking at them, but they were painted actually created by a man that made his living in an operating room.

Meet Dr. Fitzalbert Marius.

At 96-years-old, the former pediatric heart surgeon still possesses a radiant personality and an infectious laugh.

Marius was born in Panama in 1922.

After his residency at Stanford, Marius made history in the Valley.

“I was the first black surgeon that ever appeared in Fresno, California,” Marius said.

So how exactly does a heart surgeon end up creating art for a community magazine?

“I actually became a surgeon by the flip of a coin,” he said.

It turns out art was his first love.

Had Marius's coin had landed on the other side, he would have had a career as an artist.

“I never gave up my art … the whole back room was my art studio,” Marius said.

Inspiring pieces like these led to an invitation from Grapevine publisher Frank Johnson. Marius was all in.

Marius hopes that his story continues to inspire those that it reaches.

“I was part of influencing black people to be positively productive,” he said.

Johnson has recently started to post issues of The Grapevine magazine on Facebook.


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