By Ronald Court
Two years ago, (July ’05) when the Society was no more than an idea I was mulling over, I flew to Buffalo NY to attend a Harlem Book Fair. I especially wanted to meet Sarah O’Neil Rush, a great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington who was to participate in a panel discussion on the philosophies of Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois.
Mrs. Rush found herself in a debate with the other three panelists — all ‘DuBoisians’. Yet she acquitted herself admirably. Afterwards, I happened upon one panelist, Prof. Ronald W. Walters alone at a book signing table hawking his most recent book, “Freedom is Not Enough“.
I introduced myself and asked simply, “What do you think of Bill Cosby?” I wanted to know what others thought about Bill Cosby’s recent NAACP speech challenging blacks to take more personal responsibility.
Dr. Walters responded by characterizing Mr. Cosby with a derogatory epithet I shall not repeat here. I was astounded. I asked him how he could say such a thing. Dr. Walters said that Cosby didn’t know what he was talking about… that he wasn’t qualified to…”
I cut him off, telling him Cosby was as qualified as anybody as was Booker T. Washington. Furthermore, he had a degree…”
Dr. Walters then cut me off. “But not a real degree. He…” I cut in again, telling Walters that Cosby held a Doctorate in Education from the U of Mass and earned it after becoming rich and famous (that makes Cos, because he didn’t have to, a double hero in my book).
In retrospect, Dr. Walters may have been referring to the honorary degrees that Booker T. received from Harvard and Dartmouth. I can’t be sure, but surely, even an Honorary Masters from Harvard and an Honorary Doctorate from Dartmouth says more than Walters’ PhD from American U.
He said BTW was a tool of white industrialists, that BTW encouraged blacks to go North to fill the demand for menial labor in their factories. I had to correct Dr. Walters yet again by reminding him that BTW specifically called blacks to stay in the South in his famous 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech to, “Cast down your bucket where you are…”
Dr. Walters responded that he meant BTW in his later years. Then he abruptly ended the exchange by turning away, adding “Perhaps we’ll have a chance to talk again.”
I never anticipated such an exchange. It opened my eyes into a mind-set that seemed to find it too hard to consider even the possibility that accepting a degree of personal responsibility to improve oneself might alleviate some of the distress some blacks experience today.
If Dr. Walters wants to lay primary responsibility for blacks who fail in society at the feet of “whitey,” then it follows that primary responsibility for blacks who succeed in society should be attributed to whitey as well. Such would be the logical conclusion. But here’s a better way. Hear what hero Bill Cosby had to say here.
Meanwhile, Dr. Walters might do well to recall Booker T. Washington’s observation that…
There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well.
(There’s more of Booker T’s wisdom & common sense here. Enjoy.