"I hope that when he grows up, graduates, gets married and has childern of his own, they may read of the case in the history books," his mother told a Washington Post reporter in 1954.
Well, he's grown up and graduated. He's not married and doesn't have any children, but there in the history books you'll find him.
Spottswood Thomas Bolling Jr.
Remember the name? He was the 11-year-old who, in the fall of 1950, tried to enroll in the then all-white Sousa Junior High School. He was with his brother Wanamaker and three other black children, escorted by a group of parents.
The principal of Sousa refused to admit them: the parents formed the Consolidated Parents Group, Inc., Bolling went to the all-black Shaw Junior High School; and the case went to the Supreme Court.
Monday, May 17, 1954, Purvis J. Williams, then the principal of Spingarn High School, where the shy, 15-year-old Bolling was a sophomore, made a brief, two-minute announcement over the school public address system. The case of Bolling vs. Sharpe (C. Melvin Sharpe, then Board of Education president) had been decided.
The school halls were a din of conversation as students discussed the decision mandating desegregation of the D.C. public school system.
Last weekend the second-floor banquet room of the Holiday Inn on New York Avenue NE was a din of conversation as 200 people gathered for Spotts' (as Bolling is called) surprise roast.
"When I got there and saw all these people, and looked a little further and saw people from the past, I stood back and said 'What's going on here?' It was terrific," Bolling told a reporter the next day.
The people from his past included: Isabel Belt, his IA teacher, and Jeanette Reed, his IB teacher at Garfield Elementary School: Annie Duncan, the assistant principal of Spingarn in 1954: William Roundtree, Bolling's high school basketball coach; and Michael Graham, the editor of the Observer, who was instrumental in raising funds for the court case.
Beaming with pride, Belt, who hadn't seen Bolling in "over 20 years," told a reporter, "I'm happy that I had an opportunity to contribute some part of my experience and to share it with him and to see him grow up."
Belt, who retired in 1972 after "30 years, nine months" in the D.C. school system said of that day in May 1954: "When the decision was reached, I was absolutely ecstatic. I thought it was great - the greatest thing that could have happened."
And others felt the same way. Because of Bolling, blacks in D.C. public schools today "do not suffer the indignity of separate but equal education," said a letter from Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) "Your life has more meaning than a historical legal case," he told Bolling.
Anna Coley, a coworker of Bolling's at the Capital East Addiction Service for Encouraging Development Clinic (CEASED) was at the roast. CEASED is a DHR Narcotics Treatment Administration (NTA) facility, where Bolling has been the acting manager for the past four years.
Coley took the microphone at the dais. "Since Mr. Bolling is my boss, I want to roast him rare," she said. And he was.
Harry T. Alexander, former D.C. Superior Court judge, said that someone had asked him earlier that evening: "Are you one of the roasters?" Alexander continued, "I said, well I'm not very good at roasting, except in court . . . so I can't roast this man, and I can't roast his mother. I don't have anything but praise for them."
Alexander, calling Bolling a "beautiful man," and saying "I love this man" also get his share of laughter as he concluded his roast with "and I'm going go fight for this man to have 'acting' removed from the front of his name."
As acting manager of CEASED clinic, a counseling and methadoze maintenance facility in Northeast Washington, Bolling gets to do what he has always liked best: "helping people. I find it very fulfilling."
Bolling attended St. Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C., on a sports scholarship. He then worked for the D.C. Department of Recreation as a recreation center director for five years. After taking graduate courses in public school administration, Bolling moved to the NTA.
In 1975, his clinic sponsored a pilot program called the Open Program for School Children. He and his staff went into the schools and taught drug education classes and conducted counseling sessions. The program led to the establishment of the Education and Preventive Services division of the NTA.
In 1977, CEASED clinic, one of seven such facilities in the city, received a trophy from the NTA for "distinguished and dedicated delivery of service."
Bolling is a shy and modest man, reminiscent of the 14-year-old his mother Sarah described to a reporter in December of 1953: "He's publicity-shy. I practically had to sit on him to keep him home for the photographer."
There was a standing ovation as Sarah Bolling rose to the microphone last weekend. "I'm thankful to God for today," she said. "It's great day in my life, and I hope it's a great day in his life."
Bolling, interviewed after the roast, said "basically at that time (in the '50s) I was very shy. I didn't want that lime-light. I wanted to be a regular guy." He said that the limelight would have been okay if it had been for a sports accomplishment, because "all the guys wanted that.
"I didn't think about it (the Supreme Court case) too much. At that time I didn't realize the impact." Until the day the case was decided, reporters were flocking around him, and he tried in his shyness to hide. "At that time I realized the impact, and that's when I began to duck."
When he was in college, a couple of his classmates came across an encyclopedia in the library which told of the case and made them aware of the role he had played. Other than that, he said, there has not been much mention of his connection with the historical decision.
"More than myself or the other students," he said, "the parents were the ones who did this whole thing, and they deserve the recognition. They had the guts and the fortitude" to carry on the fight. "They were the people who made it happen."
What does he have planned for the future? "Nothing in particular. Whatever happens, I hope it happens for the best. I just want to do something that's constructive and helpful."