By Gary A. Johnson, Publisher – Black Men In America.com
Posted March 14, 2017
Photo 1: Hattie Bell, President Richard Nixon and Harold Bell (Then) Photo 2: Hattie and Harold Bell in the Oval Office at the Richard Nixon Library (Now)
This is NOT a Fake News Story.
Harold Bell grew up in the projects of Washington, DC. One day in 1957, while working as a Golf Caddy 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 show at the Washington, DC NBC affiliate. Harold Bell also was Washingtonian magazine’s Washingtonian of the Year in 1980.
Harold and his wife Hattie recently returned from the Richard Nixon Library. They were invited to visit the museum. Harold wrote about his trip in an article (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 article about his trip to the Richard Nixon Library.
In 1957, Harold Bell was a student-athlete attending Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington. Bell caddied on the weekend to help his mother provide food and money for their family including his two brothers.
On that day, 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 Vice President Nixon and Attorney General William Rogers. Both men greeted Bell with a smile and handshakes. As Bell tells the story, the Vice President asked if he was ready for an “adventure” around the golf course. Bell said, “Yes, sir.” Later, Bell explained the he did not fully understand what Nixon meant when he said “adventure,” but after three holes, he understood because Nixon’s golf balls spent more time in the trees than most squirrels. Bell said, Attorney General Rogers was a pretty decent golfer.
Nixon and Rogers played 18 holes of golf. It was now late into the evening and it was dark outside and needed a ride home. Here’s Harold Bell’s account of what happened next.
“The likelihood of my getting a ride to town before 10 p.m. did not look good. I would probably end up catching a ride with the help (cooks or locker-room men). The Vice President and the Attorney General came bouncing out of the clubhouse, and before I could say, “Good night,” the Vice President had offered me a ride into town. It had never crossed my 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 evening of golf and the ride to the bus, Mr. Nixon wanted to know where I lived, how many brothers and sisters I had, what school I attended, what sports I played and what kind of student I was. I 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 I wanted to brag about was how great an athlete I was. I bragged about how I played three sports and was a starter in all three. Mr. Nixon turned and looked at me in the eye and said, “That’s great, but how are your grades?” And I saw Attorney General Rogers peering in the rear view mirror waiting for my response. All I could say was that my grades were “okay.” Mr. Nixon’s response was, “Harold, you have got to do better.”
Two weeks later, Bell had their bags again. It would be 10 years later before Bell would see Nixon again. Mr. Nixon was now President Nixon, and he was touring the riot-burned streets in the Shaw neighborhood.
Bell was a Roving Leader for the DC Department of Recreation working with troubled youth. According to Bell, many black residents in the neighborhood were shocked to see Nixon in their “hood” questioning his motives.
Two weeks later Bell received a letter from President Nixon. Mr. Nixon extended an invitation to Bell and his wife Hattie, to join him and then-Secretary of State William Rogers at the White House for dinner. 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. Bell 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 Harold over the years.
For his part, Harold Bell became a legendary radio and television talk show host. Bell and his wife Hattie have spent over 50 years working with at-risk youth in the Washington, DC area through their organization “Kids In Trouble.”
Photo: Harold and Hattie Bell at the Richard Nixon Library
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.
Photo: Senator Bob Dole, Hattie and Harold Bell
The Richard Nixon Library: A 60-Year Journey Back When a House Was Not A Home
By Harold Bell
In February 2017 I crossed off visiting the Richard Nixon Library on my “Bucket List.” This visit marked the 60th Anniversary when I first met then Vice-President Richard Nixon and his golfing partner Attorney General William Rogers. The meeting took place at the exclusive home of the rich and powerful, the Burning Tree Golf Course in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Burning Tree golf outings would lead to a lasting friendship. I was the product of a single parent home. Over the years, the Vice-President would become a mentor and father figure to me. He provided me with a platform to become a pioneer as a youth advocate and a front-runner in radio and television sports talk shows in America. My “Inside Sports” talk format is now copied throughout the world of sports talk radio and television.
In 1969, I received a Presidential appointment. Richard M. Nixon was now the 37th President of the United States. He invited me and my wife Hattie to the White House. Little did he know, that invitation inspired me to be all that I could be.
President Nixon introduced me a man who would be my new 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 me I never thought possible.
Shortly after Watergate, Mr. Klein was in Washington, DC for a newspaper conference and we met for lunch at Union Station. He had returned to the newspaper business with the San Diego Union Tribune as its editor.
Herb Klein was a man of integrity. He was honesty and a class act. He encouraged me to mail my DVDs (especially, my exclusive one-on-one interview with Muhammad Ali) and my CDs, photos, newspaper and magazine clippings to the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California so that they could be added to the library’s archives.
I had just been named “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian Magazine. Mr. Klein also 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 I had in common was—sports. During his rounds of golf the Vice-President would give me an earful as it related to updates on current events taking place in the world of sports. I was surprised when I found out that Mr. Nixon was on the football team at Whittier College, he never mentioned that he played the game.
Mr. Klein was just as knowledgeable. He was instrumental in getting me my first NFL press credential. He also got tickets for Petey Greene and our wives for the NFL Championship game. It was the historical match-up between the Washington Redskins and the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Los Angeles in 1973.
In 1994, I 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.”
In 1994, when I discovered that my mentor and friend President Richard M. Nixon had gone home to be with the Lord, I wrote a thank you column in the Washington Post (click on the link below).
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.
The reality is that my visit to my “home away from home,” was a total blackout!
Photo: Harold Bell in front of a portrait of his mentor President Richard M. Nixon 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 included the column in the Congressional Record. I relented an agreed. I arrived late and shortly after my arrival Senator Dole invited me to the podium to speak to the audience. As I started to speak a wave of emotions came over me. I could hardly get a word out. The President’s daughter Tricia, embraced me and thanked me as I was leaving the podium. I’ll never forget that moment.
Photo: Hattie and Harold Bell at the Birthplace of Richard M. Nixon
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 40 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 watch the following video.