Many Inland Empire residents today do not know that in 1914 Booker T. Washington made his last visit to the Inland Empire. He spent a busy day speaking at various venues to tremendous crowds all over Riverside and Redlands. His first presentation was Sunday morning at the new First Congregational Church in Riverside. He spoke of his birth and early childhood on a Virginia plantation before emancipation. He recalled his life as a free youth working in coal mines while attending night school to learn to read and write.
And he spoke of his adult mission to provide quality education for his students at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama after he graduated from Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Hampton University). His next stop was Riverside's Second Baptist Church on Twelfth Street. According to reports, crowds of people from the Black communities of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Redlands crowded into the church to get a glimpse of the great orator and educator.
He spoke of a recent visit to Europe and made comparisons between the literacy rates in certain European countries and those of Blacks in America so shortly after emancipation. According to Washington, when Blacks were freed only 3% could read and write, and in only fifty years that number jumped to 70%.His final presentation, given at the Mission Inn (then known as Hotel Glenwood) Music Room, was again crowded with Inland Empire residents eager to hear Washington speak on the importance of education.
He was introduced by Frank Miller, the owner of the hotel and prominent member of the community, as "the wisest man of the age." The two men shared a mutual admiration, as evidenced by the correspondence between the two men and later the letters written between Miller and Booker T. Washington, Jr. after his father's death.In 2001, the Black Voice Foundation organized our first event exploring the legacy of Booker T. Washington and his connection to our local history.
The event featured Washingtons granddaughters and included 500 school children from Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Three years later, the Black Voice Foundation, Inc. once again spearheaded the effort to erect a bust of Washington as a public acknowledgement of this history. Duane Roberts, the current Keeper of the Inn, graciously offered a prime location at the front entrance of the hotel and The Press-Enterprise supported the project as co-sponsors. In April of 2004 the bust was unveiled and hundreds of community members were present to join Washingtons descendents for a first look at the bust.
This year, the Riverside African American Historical Society has joined The Black Voice Foundation, Inc. in celebrating Booker T. Washingtons birthday. The Black Voice News and its co-sponsor The Press-Enterprise are sponsoring the commemoration.
The Brown Family
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