William Franklin Burghardt has 30 years' worth of letters from Dutch in a scrapbook with a Reagan bumper sticker on the cover. He doesn't show those around, figures he ought to ask Dutch first. But the rest of it -- the pictures of Reagan coming back to Eureka College for Pumpkin Day ceremonies in 1947 and signing autographs for excited coeds (remember when they called them coeds?), and the autographed Time magazine cover, and the Eureka yearbooks, and a telegram signed Ronald (Dutch) Reagan -- is laid out in Burghardt's den in Lanham for the world to see.
Burghardt was class of '34 at Eureka. Reagan was class of '32. Burghardt played center on a the football team, the Golden Tornadoes, next to Reagan, who played guard. Burghardt probably comes from the more distinguished family -- he traces it back eight generations to a Massachusetts ancestor who fought in the Revolution, and he's related to political philosopher W.E.B. (B. for Burghardt) DuBois, but Burgie was black and Dutch was white, back in a time when that could be all the difference.
Except that it wasn't.
"We seem to have a mutual respect and admiration," Burghardt says. He is slouched across a chair in his den, a big man with white mustache and goatee. "To me it's a little unusual because most ot the close friendships at Eureka grew up in fraternities, and they didn't have blacks in the fraternities, though I understand that's changed somewhat. Yet he and I drew close and seem to have drawn closer through the years."
He last saw Reagan when he went along on a campaign swing to Detroit, during which Reagan garnered the endorsements of black leaders including Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams. Before that Burgie and Dutch spent part of an afternoon together at the house Reagan rented in Virginia during the campaign.
The key incident for the legends and hagiology that come instantly with election to the presidency, however, is the time that Reagan took Burghardt and another black on the football team home to his house to sleep because a hotel would let in only the white players.
"I think it was up in La Salle, Ill. that it happened. We were on our way to play Elmhurst. Elmhurst hadn't lost a game, and we hadn't lost a game. We stopped the bus at this hotel and the coach went in to make arrangements. It took so long that Dutch went in to see what the problem was. Hell, I knew something was wrong, and I knew what it was. You were always on guard. You never knew when you were going to walk in the door of a restaurant and the man would say, 'We can't serve you here.' I'm telling you how difficult it was in the Mideast. But Dutch didn't know that. He thought he fooled us with what he did next. He told the coach, 'Why don't you give me cab fare, and I'll take these two guys home with me.' He only lived 10, 15 miles away. So that's what we did.
"I just don't think he was conscious of race at all. You have listened to the Carter debate during the campaign. Reagan said that when he was growing up they didn't know they had a racial problem. It was the dumbest thing a grown person could say, but he'd never seen it. I believe that hotel was his first experience of that sort."
They both had a combined major of sociology and economics. "I'm convinced he acquired knowledge in our class on money and banking. I never got much out of it. We neither of us had two dimes to rub together, but he was white and I was black, and I couldn't see when I was ever going to get two dimes to rub together."
It was the Depression. Burghardt came from Greenfield, Ill., where his father, his grandfather and his uncle worked as barbers. "At one time there had been 100 or 200 blacks in town, but they were mostly day labor on the farms, and when the Depression came there was no work. We were the only blacks left."
The Greenfield High School football coach had been to Eureka, and helped recruit Burghardt as a scholarship student. Reagan, two years ahead of Burghardt, helped too.
"They put him in charge of entertaining the high-school seniors they were trying to recruit. He got us in a room, and he pretented he was announcing a football game on the radio, and it was so vivid the way he did it. He had a terrific personality, a personality that would sweep you off your feet. I remember the first game we played, against Bradley, in Peoria. We'd gone downtown to have lunch. We were walking down one of the main streets, past the Pere Marquette Hotel, and all of a sudden Dutch throws his hands up in the air and yelled 'Don't jump!' By the time the rest of us realized there was nobody up there, he was halfway down the block, laughing at us. He'd play practical jokes like that. Back when he was governor of California he came back to Eureka to be the speaker when they were dedicating the new library. I was him riding onto the campus astride the radiator of this old car, and I had to reflect that he hadn't changed at all. He and his brother were cheerleaders, you know, when it wasn't football season. He could sway a crowd."
After Eureka, Reagan went on to announcing sports on the radio, and Burghardt found jobs playing semipro football and basketball, coaching football and working as a case worker.
"I was one of the few members of that class to get a job right after graduation."
They both knocked around the Midwest until the late '30s, when Reagan went to Hollywood. Burghardt got a masters at Iowa University, became head of the atheltic department at North Carolina Central University and then in the '40s he got his doctorate in education at New York University. He then spent 19 years as head of the education department at Morgan State, moved for a short time to Bowie State and then retired after a stroke in 1974.
He voted for Reagan. "I have honored my ancestors to the point that I always register Republican, but I vote as an independent."
When he refers to Reagan as "Dutch" now, he'll correct himself and say "the president," and then let loose a long, low roll of a giggle at his uncertainty as to the properties required by his old friend's new station.
"On election night, I said to my wife. 'I'd like to be one of the early ones to address him by his newly earned title.' I had his phone number in Pacific Palisades. I had the operator place the call for me, person to person. But she never got back to me."
Why, he is asked, didn't he call Reagan himself, direct?
"I didn't want to do anything wrong," he says. He laughs.
Burgie and Dutch.
Dr. Burghardt and President Reagan.