This particular time is a good opportunity to tell a story that should be told. This is the story of the first day I met Bertie Bowman.
The training program for the US Capitol Police is rigorous and includes among other subjects, Constitutional Law, DC Code, Federal Code, Capitol Hill Regulations, Gathering of evidence, Courtroom Procedures, High Speed Auto Pursuit, Weapons, First Aid, Arrest Procedures, Handling of disturbed persons and anything else they could think of which causes you to believe do they intend anyone to graduate. My first roll call, resplendent in my new blue uniform, ready to face whatever given assignment, I heard my name called followed by “Foreign Relations Committee.” My razor sharp thought was “Just what was I supposed to do there?” Law enforcement training coming out of my ears and I had been assigned to something completely new at a risk of what I knew promised disaster. Making my way to the committee room, I ask a staff person in as quiet way as possible, just what I was supposed to do and was directed to a tall black man who was directing other staff members. This was my first meeting of Bertie Bowman and what a story lay behind him.
Beginning as 1 of 14 children to a family of sharecroppers, he heard the then Senator Mayback saying to a gathered crowd, “If I can ever help you, just come to my office.” Taking Senator Mayback at his word, a while later Bertie, keeping his secret from the rest of his family, late one evening, put his personal effects into a flour sack, pinned what little money he had managed to put to one side and left for Washington, DC. I can only imagine the look on Senator Mayback’s face when the young black kid presented himself at his office, “I’ve come to take you up on your offer to help me find a job.”
After he had recovered, the Senator gave the young Bertie Bowman a job sweeping the front steps of the US Capitol for $2 a day, paid out of the Senator’s pocket and also found him a place to live with persons, like Bertie, who worked “behind the scenes” in Washington – messengers, porters, elevator operators and the like – and Bertie over the years progressed. Senator Mayback died and was succeeded by Strom Thurmond with Bertie making certain he knew of his “South Carolina connection” and in turn Mr. Thurmond assured Bertie of his help as well as anyone from “home” that needed it.
On Capitol Hill, seniority has its rewards and Bertie with his natural abilities and organizational skills honed by years of experience rose to become the hearing coordinator for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and yet with all of his duties, he took the time to explain to me just what was expected in my assignment to the Committee by the Capitol Police.
Over the years we did have contact time and time again and he remained the same helpful, professional person he had been the first time we met.
As Rev. King said “judged by character,” Bertie Bowman would be at the top of my list.