By Gary A. Johnson, Publisher – Black Men In America.com
Harold Bell grew up in the projects of Washington, DC. One day in 1957, while working as a Golf Caddie at a “Whites-Only,” all male, private golf club reserved for Washington DC’s powerful and elite, Harold unexpectedly caddied for then Vice-President Richard Nixon. That chance encounter led to a bond that would last for decades between one man who would become the 37th President of the United States and the other man would become a groundbreaking and legendary sports broadcaster and talk show host. Bell was the first black person to produce his own television sports special in prime time at the Washington, DC, NBC affiliate WRC TV 4.
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. Harold wrote about his trip to the Richard Nixon Library in 2017 (An Unlikely Pair: Richard Nixon and Harold Bell –A 60-Year Journey).
You can read that on your own.
I want to talk about how Harold Bell, the local sports talk show host, merged politics and sports to “wake up” the community to the important issues of the day. Harold successfully crossed both sides of the political aisles like a windshield wiper to get politicians and athletes to donate their time, money and resources to help improve the lives of under-served youth in the Washington, DC area, through a foundation that he and his wife launched in 1968. That foundation was called, “Kids In Trouble,” and it still exists today.
In July 2007, Harold received a telephone call from a staff member of Senator Bob Dole’s office inviting him 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. Harold reportedly said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” He explained that he had plans to play tennis and hung up the phone. The phone rang again. Senator Bob Dole was on the other end of the call. “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.”
Harold changed his mind and arrived late. Sen. Dole invited Harold to the podium to speak to an audience of Nixon loyalists. Harold recalled that a “wave of emotions” came over him and that he could hardly get his words out. As he was leaving the podium, Harold recalled the President’s daughter Tricia, embraced and thanked him. Harold said, “I’ll never forget that moment.”
Watch this 3-minute video. The pictures tell the story of how one-man kept his eye on the prize (underprivileged kids) and got others to join him in the struggle to improve the lives of children. The video shows Harold’s journey from the streets with local politicians, to the Oval Office in The White House. (That blueprint needs to be followed by celebrities and politicians today). Do the right thing for the people who elected you and who you committed to serve.
Let me share some background information about Harold Bell and Richard Nixon. In 1957, Harold Bell was a student-athlete attending Spingarn High School in Washington, D.C. Harold caddied on the weekend to help his mother provide food and money for their family including his two brothers.
Bell’s friend Petey Green (who went on to become a legendary local radio and TV personality in Washington, DC), worked with Bell when they carried golf clubs for then Vice President Nixon and Attorney General William Rogers. On one outing, Nixon and Rogers played 18 holes of golf. It was late into the evening and Harold needed a ride home. To make a long story short, Vice President Nixon offered to take Harold home. Harold fondly recalled that some neighbors were shocked to see Richard Nixon in their “hood.”
During the course of their friendship Harold Bell and Richard Nixon had many conversations and letter exchanges. Some of those letters are part of the archives at the Nixon Presidential Library and on the library’s official Twitter account) Scroll down to read one of President Nixon’s letters to Harold.
According to Harold, Richard Nixon never asked him if he was a Republican or a Democrat. Harold said, “Richard Nixon accepted me for who I was.” Harold also recalled that Nixon cared about him as a person and mentored him over the years.
Decades later, Harold Bell became a legendary radio and television talk show host, and Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States. He and his wife Hattie have been enriching the lives of “at-risk youth” for over 50-years through their organization “Kids In Trouble.”
Photo: Harold and Hattie Bell at the Richard Nixon Library. (The young man in the middle of the photo is a young Wide End (Receiver) named Dick Nixon),
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 caddie 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.
Photo: Harold Bell in front of a portrait of his mentor President Richard M. Nixon at the Richard Nixon Library
The list of politicians that Harold has worked with is politically diverse:
- President Richard Nixon (R-CA)
- Senator Bob Dole (R–Kan) Cited in the Congressional Record
- Rep. Lou Stokes (D-OH) Cited in the Congressional Record
- Congressman Walter Fauntroy (D-DC)
- Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)
- Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) Cited in the Congressional Record
- Senator Decatur Trotter (D-MD)
- Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)
- Senator Strom Thurman (R-SC)
- Mayor Walter Washington (D-DC)
- Mayor Wilson Goode (D-Philadelphia)
- Mayor Marion Barry (D-DC)
- J. C. Watts (R-OK)
- Rep. Larry Womble (D-NC)
- Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
- Rep. Hank Johnson ( D-GA)
- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
When it comes to interacting with people Harold Bell has a rule that he lives by —“Every Black face that you see is NOT your brother and every White face you see is NOT your enemy.”
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 as Harold was the first to play “message” music. Singer and friend Marvin Gaye released his smash hit “What’s Going On?” on Harold’s birthday in 1971. Harold Bell followed Marvin with a classic of his own, “Inside Sports,” a then new format blending sports and the current news issues of the day. 50+ years later, sports talk has never been the same.
“You cannot soar with eagles, when you’re hanging out with chickens.” — Harold Bell