sharecropper’s son in Depression-era South Carolina to hearing coordinator for
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bowman shares his inspiring life story.
Born in Summerton, SC, in 1931,
young Bertie was raised by his stepmother and strict father to do his share of
the farm work, in the spirit of molding a man’s character by “hard work,
determination, and keeping your word,” as taught by Booker T. Washington. After
meeting South Carolina Senator Burnet Maybank at a rally, Bowman ran away at
age 13 to Washington, DC, and got a job with the kindly senator. He swept
the Capitol steps, shined shoes and started a taxi service, before being
drafted into the newly integrated Army in 1951. Things changed with the
election of Strom Thurmond in 1954, but the dedicated segregationist also
professed to be a personal friend of all blacks. He writes candidly and without
irony of the typical Southern politician’s accepted “personal versus political”
views. As an “invisible” on the downstairs African American staff, Bowman
overheard a great deal, and he shares some delicious gossip about Lyndon
Johnson and others. Eventually he landed a plum position under William
Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who remained his
friend and ally until the senator’s death. Bowman also gushes over fellow
Southerners Jesse Helms and Bill Clinton.
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