A great American story of an ordinary man who is living an extraordinary life, Step by Step is the inspiring personal account of Bertie Bowman’s remarkable rise from farmer’s son in the Jim Crow South to hearing coordinator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Capitol.
In 1944, Bertie Bowman–a poor, impressionable thirteen-year-old kid, the fifth of fourteen siblings–heard South Carolina senator Burnet Maybank declare: “If you all ever get up to Washington, D.C., drop by and see me!” Though Maybank was addressing a crowd of white constituents, Bertie took those words to heart–for they offered him an invitation to a new life, a chance to escape the drudgery of the family farm and his well-meaning yet stern father. Carrying only a flour sack and his meager savings pinned inside his shirt, Bertie set out for the city “up the road” to make his mark. Surprisingly true to his word, Senator Maybank saw to it that the young runaway had a place to stay and a steady income–earned by sweeping the Capitol steps for two dollars a week. Yet what started as a janitorial position, step by step, became so much more.
For sixty years, Bertie Bowman stood at the epicenter of change and witnessed history in the making: the death of FDR, World War II, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and Watergate. The perpetual recipient of unconditional kindness, he formed many enduring friendships with the unlikeliest of people. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, Senator J. William Fulbright, and even segregationist senator Strom Thurmond have been among his greatest allies.
But Bowman also, in his day, encountered prejudice and the “separate but equal” doctrine, and he observed firsthand the clandestine backroom deals made in the name of democracy. However, in the embrace of the large enclave of Southern blacks who populated Washington, D.C., Bowman maintained a spirit of hopefulness. With each step, his can-do attitude made him a star, mentor, and community leader, and a strong advocate for the unsung staffers who took great pride in doing their part to keep the Capitol’s wheels turning.
Work hard. Be true to yourself. Take responsibility. Have a positive outlook. Expect the best from people. These are the beliefs that Bertie Bowman lives by–and as he shares his story, he also shares the lessons and values that have served him well throughout his life and career.
From the Hardcover edition.