Last night, even the liberal commentators agreed that Condoleezza Rice delivered a very moving speech at the Republican National Convention. One of her most impressive lines referred to growing up in a segregated city where she could not eat at the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter, even though her father believed “she could one day become President of the United States”. This is a wonderful line, as it combines the sadness of the racism of time with the optimistic vision of America that her father instilled in her.
(NOTE: On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.)
Dr. Rice received her Master’s Degree from Notre Dame. Incidentally, she is a huge football fan and once said that her fantasy job would be Commissioner of the NFL. I am honored to have met Dr. Rice on two occasions, once while I was with the persons who received Honorary Doctorates at the Notre Dame Commencement; and the other time when she spoke to the Notre Dame Football Team, while I was serving as the security escort, at a road game in Washington, D.C.
There is another African American from Notre Dame who has a Woolworth’s connection. Aubrey Lewis starred at Notre Dame in football and track. He was one of the world’s leading quarter mile hurdlers and on track to win the Olympic Gold Medal in the 1956 Olympics, but he fell on the final hurdle in the U.S. Trials, while leading comfortably, and did not make the team. All three medalists at the Games were Americans and none of them equaled Aubrey’s NCAA winning time.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Lewis was one of the two first African Americans to graduate from the FBI Academy and become agents. Director J. Edgar Hoover had been pressured to recruit Blacks as agents and appointed a few of his African American drivers as agents, but Aubrey was the first to actually graduate from the prestigious Academy. After five years of service, Lewis was recruited by Woolworth’s, as their first African American Vice President, serving in several roles.
Aubrey died 11 years ago, but I was pleased to know him for a half dozen years. One day I was walking through the Notre dame Sports Information Office and recognized Lewis sitting with a couple of student workers. He was asking for their help to find some old photos of himself in a football uniform. He was curious to see if he was the last man to play without a face mask. It was obvious that the students had not heard of Lewis. I could not resist and sat down and gave them some of the highlights of his life story, which Aubrey was too modest to have mentioned. He beamed with pride and we became fast friends.
I later learned that Aubrey was one of the primary reasons that Tommy Longo, from Aubrey’s home state of New Jersey, was recruited to Notre Dame. Tommy went on to become an All American, a fine NFL Player, a fine citizen, and my friend………my final “connection”.