By Megan Carter
A single white dove representing the life of a great man followed by a symbolic flock of doves representing the people whose lives have been touched by him were released as a remarkable likeness of educator and founder of Tuskeegee University, Booker T. Washington was unveiled at the Mission Inn in a momentous occasion last Friday, April 2.
Nearly 200 people attended the unveiling and brunch that followed. It was to commemorate the 90th anniversary of a visit he made to the Inn at the invitation of founder Frank Miller March 23, 1914. It coincided with a visit of the National Park Service, Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.
The Inn will never be the same for many community people who, with their donations to erect the bust, can now feel they are a part of the historic hotel that many times defines the city. That definition will now always recognize the man and will serve as a beacon of light for the life of Frank Miller the Inn’s founder, who in our country’s turbulent times, after Reconstruction invited Washington to be his guest at the Mission Inn.
“It is a wonderful bust of my grandfather,” said Margaret Washington Clifford as she and her sister Gloria Washington Jackson Baskin joined the youngest members of the family sisters Jenna and Nicole Douglass Morris, Douglass Washington Morris II, and sculptor Bernard Edmonds in pulling off the veil. Seventeen family members, most of them direct descendents, came to be a part of their family legacy. They traveled from Atlanta, Denver, and northern and southern California.
With Brown declaring, “it’s a great day in Riverside. It’s a great day in the Inland Empire, the unveiling program began. Rev. Jane Quandt, pastor of the First Congregational Church, the same church Washington spoke in during his visit. “One million people a year will see the beautiful bust,” said Joe Wancha, General Manager of the Inn as he and Councilman Ameal Moore both gave welcomes. Museum Director and Frank Miller scholar Dr. Vince Moses told the rest of the story.
He told of Miller’s humble beginnings and of his relationship with Riverside founder abolitionist John North. Guy Washington spoke on behalf of the National Park Service, saying that this is an important day. It is a national story with a local focus. A story that ties the Park Service-run birthplace of Washington and the historic site of the Mission Inn together.
Margaret W. Clifford set the record straight as she spoke for the family. Kenneth Morris, the great-great grandson of Booker T. and great, great, great grandson of Frederick Douglass, read an excerpt from Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech.
“Look at the times and look at what Booker Washington was trying to do. He had been a slave, he had a thirst for education and he knew the best way for the Negro to succeed in this nation was to be educated in business, in the trades and to be self-reliant,” she said. She did not dwell on the difference in opinion that continues by scholars today. She suggests there is a motive for it.
She said that his approach was different than that of W.E.B DuBois, who felt that the focus should be on the education of the talented tenth. We must remember DuBois was not born enslaved. He came from privilege. Her last comment at the brunch was “there is no either/or both were necessary.” Today more than ever the story must be told for it is still important.
Michael Teer was masterful as the master of ceremonies. The brunch invocation was given by Imam Marshall M. Abuwi, Washington’s eldest great grandson, and Rev. Will Edmonds, a longtime associate pastor at Second Baptist Church, a church Washington visited while in Riverside.
Chief Financial Officer for the Inn Cliff Day gave a warm welcome.
From the city council Ameal Moore, Art Gage and Dom Betro spoke and presented plaques to the Booker Washington family, the National Park Service and the Black Voice Foundation for making the day possible.
Representing the Assembly, and especially the Black Caucus of the Assembly, was San Bernardino Assemblyman John Longville.
Phalia Louder sang the powerful, Never Walk Alone, and her husband Rev. Jerry Louder, President of the U.S. Pastors’ Association, gave the benediction.
Press Enterprise Vice President, Joe Fredrickson, the event co-sponsor, gave brief remarks as well, saying how pleased they were to participate. “I can always come into the Mission Inn and know that we helped to put that bust there,” he said proudly.
Some of the family members met for the first time and were pleased to see each other. Others attending were: Nettie Washington Douglass, the great granddaughter of Booker T. and great great granddaughter of Frederick Douglass; her daughter Nettie IV Douglass Johnson (also a committee member) and husband Gregory; son Kenneth Morris, his wife Diana and daughters Jenna and Nichole; and their cousin Douglass W. Morris II; Eric Hughes and his wife Nhi; Gloria Yvonne “Bonnie” Jackson, James Lyle ONeal, Jr. and son Tyler; Sarah O’Neal Rush and husband Tony.
The Inland Empire connection continues. Booker T. Jr’s wife lived and worked at the School for the Deaf in Riverside for many years. Their great grandchildren Kenny and Nettie live and work in the Inland Empire.
The bust is absolutely beautiful. It captures his light colored eyes, his ears, widows peak, and his chin and it is slightly turned to the side, as he never took a picture looking straight on, said Cheryl Brown.
Edmonds said, “a little part of me will always be in the bust because the jacket on the bust belonged to me.”