Category Archives: Recollections

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.

My hero, Bill Cosby

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.

Bill Cosby at the NAACP

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.

The Day I met Booker T.

By Ronald Court

OK. Not the Booker T., but Booker T., just the same. And maybe, because I happened to meet this Booker T., maybe that’s why I clicked a link to a page about the Booker T. a couple of years ago. That random act of curiosity was the seed that gave birth to the Booker T. Washington Society, scholarships for students of character and mentoring plans for students to help them develop into leaders of integrity.

I was 20 (Summer of ’62), and winding up a year of putting myself through school at Boston University, taking courses at night and working days. BU had accepted me full-time for the Fall, so, if I were ever to fulfill my boyhood dream of hitchhiking coast-to-coast around the country, this was the time.

It turned out to be about the most life-altering experiences of my life. I may talk about them later, but on to Booker T.

It was Sunday morning in Lexington, KY. I had already hitched from Boston to San Francisco, camped out in Yosemite, saw the Grand Canyon, dug Dixieland Jazz in New Orleans, and sweltered in Atlanta. I wanted to see “blue grass” and thoroughbred horses. I had been dropped off on a road to Calumet Farms, the only horse farm I had heard of.

A car approached. I stuck out my thumb and held up my makeshift shirtback cardboard sign, “PLEASE.” It worked. A mother and her daughter, obviously dressed as though coming from church, pulled over. As we talked and rode, she told me that horse farms were closed on Sundays, but if I had the time, perhaps I would join her and her daughter for lunch at their home, “and afterwords, maybe we can find a way to show you some horses.”

Sure enough, after a lunch salad made with with the biggest, tastiest tomato slices I had ever eaten, she and her daughter took me to Spendthrift Farm, right up to the picture-perfect stables and introduced me to the gentleman waiting for us as “Booker T.” She asked him to bring out his favorite horse so that I could snap a picture.

He returned with a magnificient creature and, as I positioned myself to snap the pic, he said simply, “OK, Jet. Pose.”

With that, Jet Pilot, winner of the 1947 Kentucky Derby, snapped his ears forward and gave me the shot and a thrill of a lifetime.

The more I learn about the Booker T. and of others named for him, I wonder how many are out there. If you are, or know of someone named Booker T. (in addition to Booker T. Jones, of “Booker T. & the MG’s” fame) , I’d especially like to hear from you.