HAROLD BELL AND RICHARD NIXON: BLACK HISTORY IS AMERICAN HISTORY!
By Publisher Gary A. Johnson, and staff of Black Men In America.com
Posted March 14, 2017
Hattie and Harold with President Nixon in Oval Office (1969) Hattie and Harold in the Oval Office at the Richard Nixon Library (2017)
This is NOT a Fake News Story.
Harold and his wife Hattie recently returned from the Richard Nixon Library. They were invited to visit the museum on President’s Day weekend (February 21, 2017 Black History Month). Harold wrote about his trip for a chapter in his upcoming book (The Richard Nixon Library: A 60-Year Journey Back When a House Was Not A Home) that he has agreed to share.
I’ve spoken with Harold about his relationship with Richard Nixon for several years now. I would have NEVER, EVER, EVER, pictured Richard Nixon in the way that Harold has described him. I don’t think I’m alone in this view. So let me share some background information about Harold and Richard Nixon before you read Harold’s summary article about his trip to the Richard Nixon Library.
In 1957, Harold Bell was a student-athlete attending Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington. He caddied on the weekends to help his mother a single parent make ends meet for their family that included his two brothers (a 4th brother lived with their grandmother).
He was a caddy at the Burning Tree Golf Course in Bethesda, Maryland where he carried golf clubs for Vice-President Richard Nixon and Attorney General William Rogers. As Harold tells the story, the first outing took place about three weeks after he started to caddy at the course. As they headed for the first tee the Vice President asked if he was ready for an “adventure”? Harold said, “Yes, sir.” Later, he explained that he did not fully understand what Nixon really meant when he said “adventure,” but after three holes, he clearly understood. Nixon’s golf balls spent more time in the woods and trees than most birds and bees. Mr. Rogers was a pretty decent golfer and he was teaching the Vice-President how to play.
It turned out to be a long evening, Nixon and Rogers played 18 holes of golf instead of nine as was intended when they left the first tee. It was now late and it was dark outside and Harold needed a ride to the bus stop to get back home. Here’s his account of what happened next.
“The likelihood of him getting a ride to town before 10 p.m. did not look good. He would probably end up catching a ride with the help (cooks or locker-room men). But suddenly the Vice President and the Attorney General came bouncing out of the clubhouse, and before he could say, “Good night,” the Vice President had offered him a ride into town. It had never crossed his mind to ask for a ride, even though members routinely gave caddies rides into town to catch the bus. The “adventure” became many more adventures and the development of a lasting friendship with then Vice-President Nixon. During the evenings of golf and the rides to the bus from 1957-1958, Mr. Nixon and Harold talked about The Game Called Life. He wanted to know where he lived, how many brothers and sisters he had, what school he attended, what sports did he play? Harold was caught completely off guard. Here was the Vice President of the United States taking an interest in a poor little black kid from a housing project in Northeast Washington, DC. The one thing that he wanted to brag about was how great an athlete he was. He bragged about how he played three sports at Spingarn High School in NE DC and was a starter in all three. That first conversation was kind of awkward. As Harold bragged about his athletic feats Mr. Nixon turned and looked him in the eye and said, “That’s great, but how are your grades?” He saw Attorney General Rogers peering in the rear view mirror waiting for his response. He put his head between his legs and said, not good sir, not good. Mr. Nixon’s response was, “Harold, you have got to do better. Your education will take you further than football, basketball or baseball.”
It would be 10 years later before he would see Mr. Nixon again. This time he would be President of the United States and he was touring the riot-burned streets in the Shaw neighborhood, where coincidently, Harold was now working as a Roving Leader for the DC Department of Recreation & Parks. His work was with at-risk children and youth gangs.
His chances of getting a chance to speak with his friend did not look promising. Now there were two to three Secret Service men deep, he remembered the good old days when there were no Secret Service. He tried to get one of the Secret Service men’s attention and yelled “Tell him its Harold Bell I use to caddy for him at Burning Tree Golf Course.” According to Harold, the Secret Service man’s response was, ‘Write him a letter’ and he did.
Two months later Harold received a letter from the White House and President Nixon. Mr. Nixon extended an invitation to Harold and his wife Hattie, to join him and then-Secretary of State William Rogers at the White House for lunch. In 1969, Bell received a presidential appointment to become the first civilian to head a Domestic Actions Program on a military facility in the United States (Bolling AFB in NE DC).
Harold could not remember Mr. Nixon ever asking him if he was a Republican or a Democrat. Richard Nixon accepted Harold Bell for who he was. Nixon also cared about Harold Bell as a person and mentored him during their walks around the golf course and the rides to his bus. He was more interested in him becoming a decent human being instead of a pro athlete.
Many blacks for decades question Richard Nixon’s civil rights record as did the Shaw/Cardozo residents who seemed to be in shocked when he paid them a visit in 1969. There was little doubt in Harold’s mind about his visit—he knew Nixon cared. Harold said, “President Nixon was not born with a Silver Spoon in his mouth.”
Harold and his wife Hattie have spent over 50+ years working with inner-city youth in the Washington, DC area through their organization “Kids In Trouble.” The benefactors are in the thousands. He was the first to encourage pro athletes, judges, entertainers and media personalities to give back to the community.
In 2016 he put the Nixon Library on his “Bucket List,” February 2017 would mark the 60th Anniversary when he first met the Vice-President and his golfing partner Attorney General William Rogers. They first met in February 1957 at the Burning Tree golf course.
Harold has never forgotten President Nixon provided him with a platform to become a legendary youth advocate and a pioneer in radio and television sports talk shows in Washington, DC. His “Inside Sports” talk format not only changed the way we talk sports in America, it revolutionized the way we talk sports. It was on his sports talk show he coined the phrase, “Every black face I see is not my brother and every white I see is not my enemy.”
In 1969 President Nixon would introduce him to his White House mentor, the late Director of Communications, Herb Klein. Mr. Klein and his staff of Mary Ann Snow and Stanley Scott would help open doors for him he never thought possible.
Mr. Klein left the White House in 1973 a year before the resignation of President Nixon. Years later he came back to DC for a newspaper conference. He had returned to the newspaper business (the business that he loved) with the San Diego Union Tribune as its editor. He invited Harold to have lunch with him at Union Station.
Herb Klein was a man of integrity, honesty and a class act. He encouraged Harold to send his DVDs (especially, the one on one interview with Muhammad Ali) and CDs, photos, newspaper and magazine clippings to the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda so that they could be added to the Nixon archives.
Mr. Klein said, “Harold your outstanding accomplishments during and after the Presidency of Richard Nixon should all be on display in the library, I am not aware of anyone in the White House matching your accomplishments in the community and sports media”.
The one thing that President Nixon, Herb Klein and Harold had in common was—sports. During his rounds of golf the Vice-President would give him an earful as it related to updates on current events taking place in the world of sports. Harold was surprise when he found out Nixon was on the football team at Whittier College, he never mention he had once played the game himself. Mr. Klein was just as knowledgeable when it came to sports. He was the sports editor of the school newspaper for the University of Southern Calalifornia.
He was instrumental in getting Harold his first ever NFL press credentials. The credentials were for the historical matchup between the Washington Redskins and the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Los Angeles in 1973. The undefeated Dolphins won 14-7 and they are still today the only team to go undefeated in league history.
In April 1994, when Harold discovered his mentor and friend President Richard M. Nixon had gone home to be with the Lord, he wrote a thank you column in the Washington Post (see link below).
In October 1994, Harold would receive a letter and invitation from Nixon Library Director John Taylor. The letter read, “Needless to say, we are honored to have your papers in President Nixon’s library, and although he has surely heard your “Thank you” from his present vantage point, he would definitely direct us to add that this building is not only his “home” but yours to. Whenever, therefore, your paths lead to the Los Angeles/Orange County area, enabling you to make a homecoming to the Nixon Library, please let us know so that we can have the joy of welcoming you and thanking you again in person.”
The common thread: Nixon wearing jersey No. 12 Whittier College and Harold wearing No. 82 Winston-Salem State
Here’s a letter written by the 37th President to his friend Harold Bell
It was good to hear from you again after so many years and I am glad to know you have almost completed your college program, and are working here in the District with the Department of Recreation.
Your reflections on our late evening golf at Burning Tree brought back wonderful memories, and I well remember our discussions at the time. Like too many youngsters you had to begin your working career early and were forced to bypass the good times and games that most boys and girls your age were able to enjoy. What makes me very proud of you is that you have returned to the young people whose lives today resemble your own early years, and that you are dedicated to giving them help along the difficult road of life. They sorely need the inspiration and the example that you are able to give them.
It is my prayer as President that the hope for something better will always be with all our boys and girls as it was with you. You may have been suffering, but you were determined not to let it get you down. I am glad you are there to help maintain the spark of hope for these youngsters and I promise you I shall always work to keep that hope alive and to make progress possible for all of our people.
I would enjoy seeing you again and I hope it will not be too long before we have a chance to say hello.
With warm personal regards,
[Mr. Harold K. Bell, 1204-42nd Place NE., Washington, D.C. 20019]
Note: The letter was dated June 25, 1969, and released July 11, 1969. Mr. Bell, accompanied by his wife, Hattie visited the President at the White House on the afternoon of July 11, 1969.
Here’s a letter written by Harold Bell to Richard Nixon
Mr. Bell’s letter, which was dated May 12, 1969, and released by the White House Press Office along with the President’s letter on July 11, 1969, read as follows:
Dear Mr. President:
It has been a little more than ten years ago since we last met and there might be some doubt as to my identity. Mr. President, my name is Harold K. Bell, I was your golf caddy at the Burning Tree Golf Course. I remember staying out of sight from Mr. Elbin until you and Mr. Rogers arrived for one of your late evening rounds of golf. I would then pop up, hoping that Mr. Elbin would call me for the bags and he always did. I think he knew what was going on, but he never said anything.
Things were pretty tough for me then and I don’t quite know where I got the strength to keep going, but I am thankful that I did. I think that some of the strength came from our conversations as we rode to catch my bus at Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues, NW. I am saying all this because I feel everyone needs to know that there is someone who cares, whether it be the Vice President or the newspaperman on the corner. Mr. President, I was not at all surprised at your recent appearance on Seventh Street. I expected nothing less, because I know that you do care about the welfare of your fellow man.
Since I left Winston-Salem College in North Carolina in 1963, I have been working with youths. My present position is that of a Roving Leader (GS-9) for the Department of Recreation, serving the Cardozo area. At this time, I need only a semester to complete my B.A. degree and I plan to continue my education this summer at D.C. Teachers College. My career has provided me with many opportunities, but the greatest satisfaction I have had is to be able to show other disadvantaged youths that there is a brighter road, and that there are people who want to help them if they are willing to help themselves. I have firsthand knowledge of this, as I can remember the moments of frustration in my life which centered around the agony of poverty.
Sir, I have never been a backslapper or hand shaker, but I felt an impulse to write and let you know that I am pleased to see you back in the Nation’s Capital as our country’s President. Most Negroes in the United States are not aware of your past, which surely was not a bed of roses. If they were, I am most certain that they would come to realize that you, as an individual, have had time to accumulate more of an insight into America’s problems than any Chief Executive before you.
I am writing this letter, Mr. President, to tell you that if the people give you a chance, and I don’t mean blacks and whites, but all the people, they will find out, as I did what a great person you are. Everyone seems obsessed with this racial thing, and talking about black power and white power, but what we need is people power, individuals pulling together to make this a stronger Nation. So here is wishing you all the luck and success there is in the world.
I have enclosed some newspaper clippings which relate to my work as a Roving Leader.
HAROLD K. BELL
- You must be shooting in the low 70’s now (smile) H.K.B.
[The President, the White House, Washington, D.C. 20500]
Citation: Richard Nixon: “Exchange of Letters with Harold K. Bell of the District of Columbia.,” July 11, 1969. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=2124.
The first encounter and the memories at Burning Tree Golf Course would stay with me forever, but the Nixon Library was anything but home. During our visit there in February 2017 there was no trace of Harold and Hattie Bell to found. The only traces of black involvement, was a Black History Month display in the entrance of the museum. In a short video introduction there was also a cameo appearance by Robert Brown, who was a Special Assistant to the President.
Arthur Fletcher, the Godfather of Affirmative Action and Civil Rights, served as President Nixon’s Assistant Secretary of Labor. He served in the Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He was out front and carried the spears during The Philadelphia Plan. The Philadelphia Plan required government contractors in Philadelphia to hire minority workers. John Wilks was a also a mover and shaker in the administration. Another key figure in my association with the President was Rob Odle, who was a Staff Assistant to the President. Rob also continues to serve pro bono as the general counsel of the Richard Nixon Foundation at the presidential library in Yorba Linda, California.
President Nixon is still bigger than life as Harold stands in front of a portrait of his mentor at the Richard Nixon Library
In July 2007, I received a telephone call from a staff member of Senator Bob Dole’s office inviting me to attend a tribute dinner in honor of President Nixon sponsored by “The February Group,” a group of Nixon White House loyalists. The tribute dinner would be held in a couple hours, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I explained that I had plans to play tennis and was on my way out of door. I hung up the phone and as I was looking for my keys the phone rang again, this time it was Senator Dole.
Senator Dole refused to take no for an answer, and said, “Harold, the President’s daughter Tricia is going to be there and she wants to meet you. She read your thank you column in the Washington Post.”
I remembered Senator Dole had inserted the column into the Congressional Record. I relented an agreed to attend. I was the only brother of color on the guest list. Shortly after my arrival Senator Dole invited me to the podium to speak to the February Group and Tricia Nixon. As I started to speak a wave of emotions came over me. I could hardly get a word out. I brought the house down when described the President’s golf on how his balls spend more time in the woods and trees than the birds and bees. I was given a standing ovation as I left the podium. Tricia, embraced me and thanked me for coming. It was a great and emotional evening.
You can watch me speaking to the February Group and Tricia in the video below:
Hattie and Harold in fronth of the home and birthplace of Richard M. Nixon
The first encounter and the memories at Burning Tree Golf Course would last him for a life time, but the Nixon Library was anything but home. During his visit there in February 2017 there was no trace of Harold and Hattie Bell to found. The only traces of black involvement, was a Black History Month display in the entrance of the museum. In a short video introduction there was also a cameo appearance by Robert Brown.
Arthur Fletcher was the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement with the Nixon White House. He was out front and carried the spears during “The Philadelphia Plan”! John Wilks was a mover and shaker in the administration.
Thanks to Library Communications Director Joe Lopez (on far right) and his great staff, the visit to his “Home away from home” was not a total blackout!
Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC. Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities. The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 50+ years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc. To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official website The Original Inside Sports.com. You can also see the video below.