“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?
“In 1931, the popular magazine Collier’s Weekly ran a story titled ‘Dark Discretion,’ which professed to reveal the ‘simple’ truth about that controversial meal [at the White House in 1901]. According to Dr. W. H. Frazier, president of Queens College in [Charlotte] North Carolina, Booker T. himself admitted to eating lunch, not dinner, at the White House. ‘With his plate on his knee, Dr. Washington ate a sandwich and drank a cup of tea while [President Roosevelt] refreshed himself similarly — at his desk. That was all there was to it,’ Collier’s reported.
“One week later, an editor at the Afro-American, a black newspaper in Baltimore, expressed outrage and disbelief and set out to disprove the story….Dr. Frazier admitted that he had never discussed the matter with Dr. Washington and may have read the anecdote in a newspaper several years earlier.”
— From “Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation” by Deborah Davis (2012)
In 1929, after leaving Queens, Frazier managed to make a more useful contribution to political dialogue: It was under his pastorship that Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church first hosted what would become Charlotte’s signature campaign event: the Mallard Creek Bar-B-Que.
“Virtually forgotten today, Joseph C. Price was once internationally celebrated…. W. E. B. Du Bois, who as a college student heard Price lecture in Boston’s Tremont Temple, pronounced him ‘the acknowledged orator of his day.’…. After Price’s untimely death at the age of 39, Frederick Douglass lamented that ‘the race has lost its ablest advocate.’…
“In 1881… a speaking tour of Britain… raised the $11,000 necessary to found Zion Wesley College (later Livingstone) in Salisbury, North Carolina. He served as president until his death of Bright’s disease in 1893….
— From “Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900,” edited by Philip S. Foner and Robert J. Branham (1998)
“Du Bois and others felt that it was the leadership vacuum created by Price’s death into which Booker T. Washington moved, and that had he lived the influence and reputation of Price and of Livingstone College would have been as great as or greater than that achieved by Washington and Tuskegee.”
— From “Dictionary of North Carolina Biography,” edited by William S. Powell (Price entry by John Inscoe)
Price was significantly less accommodationist than Washington, as suggested by this incisive observation in 1890: “The Confederacy surrendered its sword at Appomattox, but did not there surrender its convictions.”
Pictured: A pinback button marking Livingstone’s first 25 years. “A Price Builder”? Maybe a donor.