Booker T. Washington signed it — and the rest is mystery

“On a warm January day in 1903, the most famous and influential black leader in America came to San Diego.

“Booker T. Washington created such a stir that roughly 15 percent of the city’s population showed up to hear him speak on ‘The Negro Problem.’

“Washington’s visit is a little-known episode in the city’s halting march forward on civil rights, and now it has a fascinating footnote, a bit of cross-country serendipity involving an autographed first-edition book, a library sale and a retired law enforcement administrator with a keen eye for what things are and where they belong.

“The book is ‘Character Building,’ a 1902 collection of speeches by Washington. He signed it and gave it to his host in San Diego, George Marston, the city’s most prominent merchant, who in turn cherished it enough to put one of his personal bookplates on the inside of the front cover.

“And then, somehow, it wound up in North Carolina 112 years later….”

— From “Book bought in North Carolina comes home to San Diego” by John Wilkens in the San Diego Union-Tribune (Sept. 5)

It was High Point Public Library volunteer Bill Phillips who spotted the book, paid $2 for it and donated it to the San Diego History Center. But Phillips has not a clue to its puzzling past: “I hope some unsuspecting person will come forward and say, ‘Oh, that was in a batch of books I left there.’ “

Might any Miscellany readers know (or want to speculate) how “Character Building” made its way from San Diego to High Point?