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Booker T. Washington and First Congregational Church: A Treasured History

by Rev. Jane Quandt

     Frank Miller, the man who built the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside, had a lot in common with P.T. Barnum; he knew how to make a buck and was always interested in doing so.

     He was also way ahead of his time in many important ways. 

     First Congregational Church of Riverside has a remarkable legacy of social justice.  One of many reasons for this was Frank Miller.  A very active member of the church, he was also the key force behind the building of our current facility (which is included in the National Registry of Historic Places) – and our connection to Booker T. Washington.
     On March 23, 1914, during an era of segregation, Frank welcomed Washington as a guest of the Mission Inn.  When all the guests of the Inn were invited to join Miller in the dining room for dinner, Washington said that he “understood the situation” and asked that dinner be brought to him in his room.  Miller’s response made it very clear that Washington would not only join the other guests, he would sit at his right hand.  And so Washington did.

     Booker T. Washington delivered three speeches in Riverside during his visit. By now you have probably guessed where he gave his first speech:  First Congregational Church.  And, when he finished, the congregation made a significant donation to Tuskeegee , the great college that Washington founded.  Afterward Booker T. Washington and Frank Miller hiked up Mount Rubidoux and were photographed together.

     Thanks be to God for all the saints who paved the way before us.  I hope and pray we might, in even some small way, build upon the legacy they left us.

Visit First Congregational Church of Riverside here: http://www.fccriverside.org/

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