Class’ First President, Cllr. Winston Tubman, Delivers a Challenge
The Booker Washington Institute Alumni Association in North America (BWIAANA), on June 29 to July 2, 2017, convened a highly successful 26th Convention in Dallas, Texas, United States of America.
The Convention, which also commemorated BWI’s 88th Founder’s Day, had as its distinguishing feature the honoring of the Class of 1959. BWIAANA President Eric Harris told the gathering that the Class of ’59 was being singled out as one “whose fingerprints have been seen in many places.”
The Class of ‘59’s glowing ‘Fingerprints’
Three members of the Class of ’59 traveled to Dallas, Texas for the grand occasion. They were Counselor Winston Tubman who, along with his brother Robert Tubman, also a member of the Class of ’59, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Robert served in the Liberian government as Finance Minister and Winston as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
Robert was also once Director General of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Fund in Lomé, Togo. Winston served for many years in senior legal positions with the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya and at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
The second ’59 classmate present at the BWIAANA in Dallas was Captain Prince A. Page, Liberia’s first airline captain, the first African air pilot to have flown twice solo (meaning alone in an airplane) across both the North and South Atlantic Ocean. This means that he surpassed Charles Lindbergh, the American pilot who in 1921 became the first person to fly solo over the North Atlantic, from New York to Paris.
Captain Page first flew from New York to Monrovia non-stop Liberian President William R. Tolbert’s propeller plane, a Cessna 402, which the Liberian government had purchased for presidential travel. The second was a Piper 28, also a twin engine propeller plane belonging to Minister Phillips, which Captain Page flew solo from the US through Brazil via the South Atlantic to Liberia.
Captain Page has flown jets, including the Airbus and jumbo jets in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, England, the USA and Iceland.
An Honor Delayed
Captain Page’s great accomplishments in aviation have never been acknowledged nationally as the Americans greatly celebrated Charles Lindbergh’s solo feat across the Atlantic. But it is not too late for Liberia to give Prince Page the honor due him. Maybe the coming administration will do so, at last.
The third ’59 classmate who attended the BWINAANA Convention was Kenneth Y. Best, who, along with his wife Mae Gene, founded two daily newspapers in West Africa, the first, the Liberian Daily Observer (1981) in Monrovia; and the second, the Gambian Daily Observer (1992), during the Best family’s exile in that country, 1990-1994.
The Best family experienced severe persecution in both countries, including imprisonments in both countries, three government-contrived arson attacks in Liberia, the last of which totally destroyed the Liberian Observer. Mr. Best was also deported from The Gambia on October 30, 1994 by the now ousted Gambian military dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Following 11 years of exile in the United States—1994-2005—the Bests returned to Liberia in 2005 to re-launch their Liberian Daily Observer.
Other eminent members of the BWI Class of ’59 include Dr. Elijah Taylor, son of the celebrated Foya Paramount Chief Tamba Taylor. Dr. Taylor served for eight years in the 1970s as Liberian Consul General in Hamburg, later as Director General of the General Service Agency and also as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs.
Eric Eastman, member of the Class of ’59, who took a Master’s degree in Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Philippines, has been teaching for over a half century at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture and Forestry since he obtained his Bachelor’s degree from there in 1964 and is still teaching there at age 78.
Another distinguished ’59 BWI classmate, Abayomi Glover, who trained in Business Management in Germany, served in the 1970s as Director General of the Airport Catering Service at Roberts International Airport, which supplied food daily to all the airlines landing there. These included Pan American Airways, Swiss Air, KLM, Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways, British Caledonia and Britain’s Supersonic Aircraft.
Sneh Gurley, who was the football captain when the class beat every team on campus and won the tournament that year, became a German-trained electrical engineer.
Classmate Reginald Dolopei was a budding architect but unfortunately died young.
Another classmate lost to the cruel hand of death was M. Richelieu Dennis, who obtained the Master’s degree in Insurance and spearheaded the founding of the West African Insurance Institute (WAII). The WAII has since the 1970s trained insurance executives and entrepreneurs throughout West Africa. It was first headquartered in Liberia, but since the war it was relocated to The Gambia, where it is still located.
Booker T. Washington’s Fatal Mistake
In his keynote address at the Dallas Convention, Counselor Winston Tubman, who was the Class of ‘59’s first elected president in April 1956, recalled how Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to train black men and women with their hands. Mr. Washington, said Counselor Tubman, “advocated inferior roles and jobs in America for African Americans who, still living in a hostile and oppressive environment in the South, nevertheless believed that blacks should not expect much advancement too soon.” Thus, on September 18, 1895 Booker T. Washington delivered his “Atlanta Compromise” speech at the Cotton States International Exposition in Atlanta. There he referred to the “Accomodationist” strategy of black response to southern racial tensions.
But, according to Counselor Tubman, “W.E.B. Du Bois and other African American leaders and civil rights activists criticized Booker T. Washington’s ‘Atlanta Compromise’ as a betrayal, tragedy and sell-out because it embraced segregation and denounced black political agitation. What Booker T. Washington basically said was that blacks should be encouraged to become proficient in farming, mechanics, commerce and domestic science; that they should dignify and glorify manual labor. He further assured whites that blacks were loyal people who believed they would prosper in proportion to their hard work and that agitation for social equality was simply silly.”
Counselor Tubman continued, “What Booker T. Washington painstakingly failed to understand was that his characterization of black Americans was a counter-productive scheme in which black people were to remain forever inferior and subordinated. To have our beloved alma mater still named after a man who compromised the black liberation struggle and advocated inferior roles for black Americans is still unfathomable and unacceptable. But we should not get ahead of ourselves.”
Counselor Tubman recalled “that Booker T. Washington’s agenda was similar to the reality in Liberia between the indigenous Liberians and the settlers from America, where the indigenous people were marginalized and disenfranchised; while the country’s rulers stood idly by and watched without doing much. This was until President William V.S. Tubman added a new luster to a name already made famous by Harriet Tubman, the African American liberator, through President Tubman’s Unification and Integration Policy embracing the Liberian hinterland.
“Contemporaneously, the African Americans in their Civil Rights struggles shattered the limits advocated by Booker T. Washington; and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing at the base of President Abraham Lincoln’s Monument in Washington, D.C., … orated eloquently about the future of the black man in America. Forty-six years later, standing on Dr. King’s shoulder and proclaiming “Yes, we can,” Barrack Obama became the first black man to ascend to the Presidency of the United States of America.”
Counselor Winston Tubman and his brother Robert had long left BWI to continue their high school studies and successfully go on to pursue higher education at several of the world’s leading universities—the London School of Economics, Cambridge University and Harvard Law School—when their BWI classmates, at the beginning of their senior year, made a momentous decision that was to shape their pristine destiny and lead them to become the first class in the history of BWI to be honored at an Alumni Convention.
In his History of the Class of ’59, Classmate Kenneth Y. Best recalled that at the beginning of their senior year in 1959, the class was told by the BWI leaders, including President C.D.B. King, that the whole class was expected after graduation to proceed to work at Liberia’s farms and industries. But the class promptly resisted this, and told the school leaders that they (the class of ’59) were bound for college.
And, according to class historian Kenneth Yakpawolo Best, because BWI had failed to give the class Math, either in their junior or senior year, the class appealed to one of their former Math teachers, Professor Nelson, to “Please teach us trigonometry.” Professor Nelson willingly obliged. The result is that Class of ’59 members who were bound for the University of Liberia, topped the UL’s entrance exam in January 1960 and were admitted. The four classmates who applied to Cuttington were also admitted.
So the Class of ’59 President Winston told the Dallas Convention, “We, too, must reject the inferiority advocated by Booker T. Washington and go on to excel in all aspects of human endeavor.”
True to that calling, as Best said in his Class History, there was a tremendous payoff in the Class’ academic and professional achievement.
The Payoff in Academic and Professional Excellence
Following their departure for England in 1956, we never saw Winston and Robert Tubman again, until they returned to Liberia in 1965, by which time many of us had earned our first degrees and were now professionals serving in Liberia.
Jerry Sauser earned the PhD in Agriculture (USA); Elijah Taylor, doctor of Economics (Italy); Dionysius Williams, a Master’s in Mathematics (USA); Sneh Gurley, a degree in Electrical Engineering, (Germany); Sam Ricks, a Bachelor’s in Hydrological Engineering (USA); William Aquilla Cox, qualifications in Architectural and Construction Engineering (Germany); Eric Eastman, a Master’s in Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering (Philippines); Harwene Tyee and Winston Gibson, both also of Maryland County, the Master’s in Telecommunications Engineering (USA); and Abayomi Glover, qualifications in Business and Management (Germany); Ayi A. Ajavon was pursuing his medical degree in Germany when, most unfortunately, he died in a car accident.
And already in their freshman year at UL, two of our classmates, Prince A. Page and Elijah Taylor, won admission to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, one of America’s top ten universities – Elijah, Agriculture and Prince, Structural Engineering. “I wanted to build the country’s roads and bridges,” Prince told his classmate Ken Best and friend of over 70 years. But fate changed all that and Prince went on to become Liberia’s first airline captain and first jet pilot, and the first African pilot to fly solo over both the North and South Atlantic.
Counselor Winston Tubman, in his address, urged BWI Alumni to continue to herald their alma mater as a popular and prestigious institute—and this will increase the value of the BWI diploma.
He further urged BWI alumni to continue making donations to the institute, and grant scholarships to deserving students, enabling them to gain quality education offered at the school.
He called on alumni to contribute to the operating budget of the institute to expand its quality of education.
When alumni contribute with fanfare and openly to their alma mater, Counselor Tubman said it is easier to attract funding from outsiders, including organizations and philanthropists.