Reese Jack Booker: An Educator, A Hero

Reese J. Booker
Wilkes Relative
Distinguished African American educator and community leader, Reese Jack Booker was born in 1911 in the Pinto District of Wilkes County Georgia. The 1930 Census reflects that his 45-year-old mother, Sallie Lou Booker, was the head of the household and was parenting three children - 12-year-old son Reese, 14-year-old daughter Clara, and 10-year-old son O. D. The census records that Sallie was a farmer and that each child was a farm laborer.
Gibson Grove Baptist Church was the family church and was significant in the spiritual development of all the Booker children. After completing high school in Washington, Georgia, Reese enlisted in the Navy where he served honorably as a cook for several years. Having been positively influenced in Wilkes County by the local Black Presbyterian minister and educator Rev. William Woods, Reese, upon being honorably discharged from the Navy, used his hard-earned GI Bill educational benefits to prepare himself for a career as a teacher by attending Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama, which specialized in preparing black people to be teachers and leaders in their communities.
Tuskegee Institute was originally led by Booker T. Washington who once visited Washington, Georgia during the early part of the 20th century as a guest of Dr. Sessoms, I'm told. In addition to being influenced by President Washington, he was probably positively influenced by one of the most outstanding scientist of the era, Dr. George Washington Carver, who served on the faculty at that time. These two giants in the field of education and other Tuskegee faculty and staff aggressively met the challenge of molding and shaping young men to be strong educational leaders in their school systems.
Reese J. Booker began his career as an educator in Wilkes County at New Salem Baptist Church School back during the era of segregation. Later, he taught at the elementary school in Tignall. Lastly, he taught at Wilkes County Training School/ Washington Central High School. According to retired educator Eddie Finnell, "he committed his life to the education, growth, and development of his students and the children of Wilkes County, Georgia. Mr. Booker set a superb example for the young men he worked with. He did not smoke, drink or use profanity."
He never married or had any children of his own. Finnell further shares that Booker established a Boys Club in the school for the young male students. Later he established a Boy Scout Troop, as well. He purchased a new car every three years and would use it to transport his ball teams (no reimbursement was made by the school system), scouts, and boys club to colleges to inspire them, to the nation's capital, to Philadelphia, and to other significant historical and cultural sites.
Retired educator Clara Sutton states that he was her seventh grade math teacher and "he knew his subject and how to make it interesting to his students." She goes on to say that "he would often provide incentives to students to correctly do their math problems." He was called on by his school principal, Professor John Henry Jackson, to serve as disciplinarian and as coach of several different sports teams including the superb boys basketball team. His academic, coaching, and disciplinary skills cause him to be well remembered by his former students to this day.
During non-school hours, Booker could be found on Whitehall Street at the playground that bears his name. In fact, he established residence in a mobile home on the playground. He took the initiative to procure the playground land, establish the playground, obtain necessary equipment, lay out ball fields, and manage and supervise the young people who would regularly use the playground. This was the only recreational facility for African American young people in town, and equipping and operating it was a ministry for Booker.

On that playground he set up a softball field, a basketball court, a skating rink, a miniature golf course, a swing area, a merry-go-round and see saw area, a concession building, and an equipment storage area. He took full responsibility for running the playground year round and for maintaining it by keeping the grass cut and keeping everything else in order. This was the only organized recreational facility available to black youngsters during this period. Booker maintained good relations with then mayor Ed Pope and the city council which enabled him to procure some features for the playground. In fact, it is said that Booker was a genuine Christian who maintained good relations with everyone.
A few years after moving his membership to Marks Tabernacle Baptist Church, Booker was ordained a deacon and he was elected to the position of Sunday School Superintendent. Many of the students he taught during the week were his students in Sunday School, as well. Historic Springfield Baptist Church had a different meeting day than Marks Tabernacle which enabled Booker to worship, teach Sunday School, and otherwise serve at Springfield, as well.
Booker poured his life into the lives of so many young students in Wilkes County especially the young male students who may not have had an active father in the home. They responded with appreciation, respect, hard work, and a commitment to make something of their lives. When asked what she knew about Reese Booker, funeral home director Bessie McLendon stated that "he genuinely cared about his people." Nephew Jimmy Booker of Atlanta who was raised by Booker has nothing but love, respect, and admiration for his Uncle Reese who raised him after his mother passed away. He stated that "he is the reason for any success I have enjoyed in life."
Indeed, Booker made a very positive difference in the lives of so many young people of Washington and Wilkes County in the school system, in the churches, in the community, and on the athletic field. Every six months, Clara Sutton puts on a program at Marks Tabernacle Baptist Church designed to raise money to be presented to deserving college students. She has named that scholarship fund the Reese J. Booker - Rosa Warthen Scholarship Fund. Many college students from Wilkes County have received money from that fund. This is a real tribute to the life and service of Reese Booker. Moreover, the recreational area he established, operated and maintained bears his name.
African American men and others in the community must take note of the life and service of Reese J. Booker. Many sons of Wilkes County need a Reese J. Booker in their lives. Our challenge is to step up to the plate and like Mr. Booker, be a father to every young man in our neighborhood. We must teach them, guide them, spend time with them, discipline them. Now is the time to turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons.
Thank you Mr. Booker for a life well spent. Thank you for your example. You are an authentic unsung hero of Wilkes County, Georgia.
 
This is a reprint of an article written by
By Rev. Ed Anderson LTC (Ret) U. S. Army
& published here.

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