The Times’ Angel Jennings tells the story of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Santa Claus (a.k.a. Langston Patterson), quite possibly the only black man working as a mall Santa Claus in the L.A. area. 

He got the job on a fluke. In 2004, Patterson was sitting in the shopping center’s food court when a mall worker approached him and asked: “How would you like to be Santa?”

Patterson had heard the comparison before. Ever since he stopped shaving and a crop of wiry white hair sprang from his face, people would say he resembled St. Nick.

As Patterson considered whether to take on the role, he recalled the elaborate Christmases his parents created for him and his four siblings in Houston during World War II.

His dad would don a Santa suit and let out a thunderous “Ho! Ho! Ho!” in the middle of the night, to the delight of the children. They would rush downstairs, just in time to see Santa sneak out the door.

"We had beautiful Christmases," Patterson recalled, smiling at the memory. "My mother didn’t let us know we were poor."

There may not be many black Santa Clauses working at malls, but there has been at least one other black Santa in the Los Angeles Times. His name was Celes King III, and in 1968 he dressed up as Santa Claus for a party at L.A.’s Wrigley Field.

King, who died in April 2003 at 79, led the South Central branch of the NAACP after the 1965 Watts riots. Among his many accomplishments: He served as an officer of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and in 1983 helped change South L.A.’s Santa Barbara Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"I worked with Dr. King back in the ’60s. [Renaming the street] is an important cosmetic reminder for generations to come," said King, who was not related to the civil rights leader, at the street renaming parade on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1983. He was also a co-founder of the parade, which became an annual event.

Read his full obituary: Celes King III, 79; L.A. Civil Rights Leader

Matt Ballinger

Original published caption, Dec. 24, 1968: WRIGLEY FIELD PARTY — Santa (Celes King III, president of south-central NAACP branch) and some 1,200 youngsters who got gifts. Credit: Don Cormier / Los Angeles Times