Author Archives: Ronald Court

A Glaring Omission

By Ronald Court

On Christmas Day, George Will wrote of a “Small Successful Government Program“ that purports to tell America’s story through some forty American works of art – primarily paint and sculpture. However, Mr. Will failed to note a glaring omission of this otherwise commendable governmental effort.

Yet again, as with so many liberal interpretations of American History, Booker T. Washington is treated virtually as a footnote–and controversial at that, for how else would interpreters of American History find a place to interject WEB DuBois in it? The fact is, the only notable role Du Bois plays in our history today is only as a footnote to Dr. Booker T. Washington’s significant, productive and immensely more constructive one. Indeed, if not for Washington, DuBois arguably, would have been dismissed and forgotten decades ago.
A Ladder For Booker T. Washington (1995)

Herewith is my comment to George Will’s article:
“Any attempt to tell “America’s Story” by “Picturing America” in forty or so images is bound to omit a significant chapter or two.

However, selecting Puryear’s 1995 sculpture “Ladder for Booker T. Washington” does this country’s “other great American named Washington” a disservice.

A better, more instructive and evocative sculpture would have been “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance” (below) sculpted by Charles Keck in 1922.

“Liftting the Veil of Ignorance”

The opportunity to engage students in discussion over differing viewpoints on Dr. Washington’s role in advancing civil rights, given the time and place of Dr. Washington’s efforts, would still be there without reducing Dr. Washington’s legacy to an abstraction that some choose to misinterpret as a ladder leading nowhere.

That American historians have accorded the honor of naming an era (1895-1915) “The Booker T Washington Era” should have clued the designers of this program into BTW’s positive impact on American history. Booker T. deserves much better.

The Exact Moment I became an American

By Ronald Court.
It was 11:35 in the morning, seven years ago today, September 11, 2001. As I was driving home – classes at the local college where I taught were cancelled for the day – I found myself muttering, then loudly with determination, “I am not French-Canadian, I am an American, dammit , just as I turned off Route 15 to head towards a local flag shop.
Even then, so soon after we had been attacked, a few others were already ahead of me, purchasing U.S. flags in a shared spontaneous impulse to explicitly demonstrate our love of country, come hell or high water.
It occurs to me, as an American (of French-Canadian descent) that the age of hyphenation is over – or should be. It has done little to bring us together, and may contribute to keeping us apart. This is not so say we must set aside differences and disagreements. Indeed, entirely within the spirit of being an American is to celebrate each individual’s freedom to disagree.
Ever since the founding of the Booker T. Washington Society, I’ve refrained from using the term African-American. To my mind, it does more to divide than to define. As fellow Americans, our legitimate struggles are over values, not external characteristics.
Booker T. Washington never lost sight that his role was to improve the people of his race. He did not see alienation as advantageous to anyone’s interests.
So, don’t expect to find “African-American” bandied about on this site. If necessary, you’ll see “black” instead.
Which reminds me, can you tell me which of the two in the photograph below is African-American, and which is American?
A-A photo

On Getting Along

By Ronald Court

And so, ‘Black History Month’ begins. To me, it’s a bit patronizing to say, “give” blacks due recognition for a month but then… back to normal.

However this year, we may be on the cusp of a defining moment in our Nation’s history. A moment akin to shortly after the War Between the States: these United States began to be referred to as the United States. Sectional differences certainly weren’t erased, but a stronger sense of shared identity began to be forged.

This year, a person of color may become a major nominee for the very office that Lincoln held while waging the “Civil” War. This time, race wasn’t… rightfully… a big deal until s/he who professed to “feel your pain” made it so.

But it really isn’t about race. It is politics in its pure, simple and ugly form. Politics is about power. Now, race is being used as a tool by people without good character to pit one group against another. This time, the nation saw it for what it was: mean-spirited, immoral and disgusting.

Whether or not Sen. Obama becomes a Presidential nominee will not alter the fact that the public response to his candidacy,at least up to this point, demonstrates that our nation is, more resoundingly and strongly than ever before, firmly and finally affirming that race does not … and should not… define or limit the ability of any American to pursue success in any endeavor. Drs. Washington and King must surely be smiling right now.

Maclin Horton’s blog, Light On Dark Water respectfully shows us that ‘We Got to Live together’ … which does not mean giving up our identity, but does show how we — together — can be all the richer for it.

On Leadership

By Ronald Court

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I was about to share some thoughts on his leadership. But many have already said much. I may only repeat.

Instead, I want to share the gist of a recent article on leadership in Chief Executive magazine highlighting the Best Companies for Leaders.

For the last three years, Proctor & Gamble has been rated #1 or 2. Here is what P&G’s CEO A.G. Lafley, has to say:

“We focus on individual leadership… How can you personally become the best leader that you can be? … We talk about inspirational leadership because we want courageous and inspiring leaders. The days of command and control are over.”

“We are a pure meritocracy. We don’t care where you went to school, whether you have an MBA, or what your country of origin is.” Lafley continues. “All we care about is that with character and integrity, you deliver outstanding business results… Do that and you move ahead.”

On this day, let us remember that Booker T. Washington had a dream also. A dream that MLK Jr. embraced and honed and clarified with his own powerful rhetoric. Let us also remember that even as today’s politicos pontificate, there are hundreds, thousands of companies, big and small, who have already proven that the dreams of Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. are already a reality to those who would pursue them.

On Ownership

By Ronald Court

I want to see you own land.
BTW’s signature

It’s almost Christmas Eve and instead of talking about Giving, I’m thinking about Owning. Then again, the two are inextricably linked. You can’t give away — contribute to others — what you don’t own. Booker T. knew that.

Proof of his wisdom on this point indeed on so many of his points) is everywhere. all you need do is look.

Years ago, Chicagoan Phil Donahue created the afternoon TV talk-show genre and became a star. Along came Oprah: a copy-cat. Same town, same format. Only difference: Oprah insisted on owning her show. You know how Oprah’s doing. But we haven’t heard from Phil Donahue for years.

Even a tiny idea (below) can blossom into large profits. Think about that.
Then think about lifting others up. That’s the Booker T. way.

chipmunks

Sad News

By Ronald Court

Sadly, I must report that Mother Theora Richards, the 1st recipient of the BTW Society’s Wright award for long and dedicated service in keeping the flame of Booker T. Washington alive, passed away Saturday morning.

I went to her home with Bill Craft in August ’06 to present her with the award personally. Though she was in her 90’s, I was struck with her clarity of mind, sparkling eyes and strong, forceful disposition.

I wasn’t prepared for the sense of loss I felt when her son called me Saturday afternoon, for I had only met her just that one time and spoke with her by phone only a few times after. But it hit me that if it were not for Mother Theora, the Booker T. Washington Society might never have come about.

It never ceases to amaze me to see the Lord work in surprisingly and incredibly unforeseen ways. Several years ago, Bill Craft, a Bronx resident and a long ago graduate of Norfolk Virginia’s Booker T. Washington High School, happened to tune in to a New York City evening talk show. The guest, “Sister” Theora Richards, talk about the “Booker T. Washington Appreciation Circle” and the many good things BTW had dedicated his life to bring about. Founding Tuskegee University was just the beginning.

Years later, when I met him, Bill Craft told me he was amazed and then angry when he realized that no one at his own high school (“named for Booker T., for goodness sakes”) had even mentioned him or a single thing he did to help so many people. It was as if he did not exist.

As a result of Sister Theora’s appearance on that show, Bill went to the NY Public Library to research Booker T.’s life and discovered out-of-print book by BTW, Character Building. He took it upon himself to publish it. That book and Bill’s friendship continues to inspire and motivate me for the good of the BTW Society and the students we endeavor to help and encourage.

I hesitate to think how much less my life would mean if Sister Theora hadn’t gone on that radio years ago. Now she has gone on to be with the Lord… to be embraced as warmly by Him as she embraced so many of us here.

Head, Hands & Heart

By Ronald Court

To help yourself
And your fellow man,
Train your head,
Your heart, and your hand.
       Langston Hughes

Mr. Hughes paid tribute to BTW in 1941 with The Ballad of Booker T..

Booker T. may even have coined the phrase “heads, hands & heart” for I can’t find anyone using it earlier he in the 1880’s. BTW surely made it famous… and years before any “4H” Club came into being. For the record, Booker T. also widely preached the 4th “H” (Hearth…Home).

Among Booker T’s many abilities was a rare ability to express in plain and simple terms, his refined and sophisticated philosophy. He “connected” with people everywhere. Today, to become “self-actualized” in fancy-shmancy psychological terminology, one “engages the Mind Body & Soul” (read… Head Hand & Heart). Booker T. was here way before “New Age” came along.

To be a whole person, you cannot divorce training the heart or soul from the mind or body. By heart, Booker T. clearly meant living a moral life. with character… and faith. I’d like to believe that Langston Hughes, darling of the Harlem Renaissance, got that.

Lincoln on Thanksgiving

By Ronald Court

“It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year…to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health.

“He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our working men in every department of industry with abundant rewards.

“Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage and resolution sufficient for the great trial … into which we have been brought by cause of freedom and humanity …

“Now, therefore, I …. do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the universe.

“And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”
(with thanks to Geoffrey Norman at VermontTiger.com)

Sticks & Stones

By Ronald Court

I let no man drag me down so low
as to make me hate him.

BTW’s signature

It seems that especially lately, a lot of people have gotten upset over the “n—” word. It is a reprehensible word. But the recent incidences brought to mind a response I was taught as a child. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s not entirely true, of course, for words can hurt… and also heal when said sincerely.
Why do some words cause our blood to boil, and others cause us to collapse in laughter or weep in joy? How did they get to wield such power over us? I believe the answer’s simple, if uncomfortable. It’s because we let them. We forfeit our own personal power over our emotions.

Easier said than done, I’ll admit. I’m sometimes offended, but it’s because I let someone get to me.. It’s not business. It’s personal.

“Sticks & stones” serves as a first line of defense to give us time to get back control of our emotions.

“I let no man drag me down so low as to hate him.” Booker T. gives not one inch in those words. And what character… showing that love overcomes all. What CharacterPower.

Mt. Vernon

By Ronald Court

I hope the BTW Ambassador Scholarship students, parents and teacher/mentors the Society brought to Washington from New Orleans this April watched the news tonight reporting on the Presidents of the United States and of France touring George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate. It reminded me of the evening the Society treated them to dinner at Mt. Vernon and a special evening tour of its museum.

Actually, we had booked a special private evening tour of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home for them, but were “preempted” at the last minute by Nick Cage and his Hollywood film company shooting scenes to a sequel to “National Treasure,” their film about stealing the Declaration of Independence in order to preserve it.

2 BTW Ambassadors at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate Museum‘/>

Still, the museum was opened up for our group to tour and view an exciting multi-media presentation of the independence of our country. In a way, there are two “Fathers of our Country,” both born Virginians, both named Washington and both inspired millions to become independent.

Inasmuch as all our BTW Ambassador students this year were from New Orleans, a city founded by the French, perhaps having walked the same grounds as the Presidents of the US and of France at Mt. Vernon will hold special meaning for them. I hope so.