By Megan Carter
The mayor was there, the welcome mat was laid out with the freeway sign bellowing "Welcome Booker T. Washington Family: June 19-22, 2008," heads of organizations, community members, and the Booker T. Family were all there to celebrate the great educator's visit to the Mission Inn in 1914, a year before his death.
The Washington family has been interested in their ancestor's travels in California since being made aware of them some years ago. But it wasn't until 4 years ago that the group voted to make 2008 the year to follow in his footsteps and visit The Historic Mission Inn.
Just as Frank Miller did in 1914, Gary Roberts and his daughter represented the current owner's family Duane and Kelly Roberts at the community reception to welcome the group.
Forty seven direct descendents and a handful of friends and others gathered for three days of family bonding and learning about Washington's history in California and in the Inland Empire in particular.
Guy Washington, of the National Park Service, and Cheryl Brown, Black Voice News Publisher and leader of the Booker T. Washington movement and bust located at the Mission Inn presented the history of Dr. Washington in his travels in the state.
In his presentation, Guy Washington focused on Booker T's first trip to California in 1903. He had dinner with Charles Young in San Francisco, who was the third Black to graduate from West Point. Young was also the first Park Superintendent and he and his Buffalo Soldiers built the road that gave access to the big Sequoia trees. Upon finishing the work, he was given the honor of having a Sequoia named in his honor. Young refused and said the man who deserved the honor was Booker T. Washington. The tree was named and in 2002 another tree was named in Young's honor.
Brown said that Washington arrived for that 1903 trip in Los Angeles. He was welcomed at the train station by many people. Everywhere he went while here there were crowds. Before speaking to the California Teacher's Association, he boarded a train and came to Ontario, CA where he spoke at a Methodist Church. Three of the town's only Blacks joined hundreds of other citizens to hear what he had to say. There were so many people that young people climbed on the building to hear him speak. Others waited in their buggies because there was no room. Word came that at Pomona College, his next engagement, the capacity crowd had been waiting for two hours.
At some point Frank Miller, who has been linked to the abolitionist movement, met Washington. The two corresponded and Frank Miller invited him to return. This time Washington came a little farther inland.
His first stop was Redlands, CA where he spoke to a capacity crowd at the Contemporary Club. He was introduced by Edgar Williams, Publisher of the Redlands Review and an old time friend of Washington. His story was his history and the story of pulling himself up by his bootstraps was one that was eagerly accepted. His sole purpose for traveling was to raise money for Tuskegee Institute. Apparently he did well because a month before his death he sent one of his teachers to pick up where he left off.
It was a busy day in March of 1914 when Washington spoke first at the First Congregational Church in downtown Riverside, then Second Baptist Church addressing a mostly Black audience of 500 and then on to Mt. Rubidoux and finally speaking in the Music Room at the Mission Inn.
When he died in November 1915, memorial services were held at the Mission Inn and at the Redlands First Congregational Church.
In welcoming the family at the community welcome reception, Mayor Loverige told the family that our city was a better place because Washington came and his visit adds to the historic diversity that is so important to Riverside.
Another welcome came from Gary Roberts, brother of Inn owner, Duane, who gave a warm welcome on behalf of the Inn family and in remembering the memory of Washington said he hoped this wouldn't be the last time that the family came.
Moving the program along was the masterful emcee, Dr. Jim Erickson, CEO of the Community Foundation. He gave a tribute to Rev, Jerry Louder who always came out for the annual luncheon and because of illness was unable to be there. Invocation was by Rev. T. Ellsworth Gannt II and drummers, A. Majadi and Dr. Kennon Mitchell set the tone for the program and for the unveiling of the new plaque which is affixed to the bust.
The family wanted to join Black Voice in recognizing people in the community who every year give their time to keep the memory alive through the Annual Luncheon, they were: African American Historical Society, Dr. Lula Mae Clemons, Norma Archie, Alicia Lee, Bernard Edmonds, Sylvia Martin James, Ola Faye Stephens, Rickerby and Paulette Hinds, Michael and Deen Teer, Kenny Morris and his sister Nettie DouglassJohnson (Both are also great great great grandchildren of Frederick Douglass).
Unveiling the new plaque on the statue was Margaret Washington Clifford, and Gloria Washington Jackson Baskin both granddaughters of Washington. Joining them were the children of the family, who released balloons in his memory, before revealing the statue that many in the family had not seen before.
The family also enjoyed a dinner where Duane Roberts and Cheryl and Hardy Brown were recognized for their work in commemorating Washington's memory and helping the family learn more of the history of Washington.
The last activity for the family was attending the church that Washington spoke at so long ago. The family was in for a treat. Second Baptist had friends and family day and the winner of bring the most guests was Pastor Gantt who racked up the family. The speaker was none other that Clifton Davis, of "Amen". His outstanding message was about taking time in the dark seasons of your life to rest. "God will never tempt you but he will try you and bring you through whatever you are going through, he will help you through the night season."
A reception followed in the fellowship hall and the family all introduced themselves after a history lesson by Mrs. Clifford, the oldest family member. Benediction was performed by Pastor Lacy Sykes of Cross Word Christian Church.