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Bertie Bowman (Bill Clark/Roll Call, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
Published: 13 November 2023

Herbert “Bertie” Bowman arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1944.  He took a job sweeping the steps at the U.S. Capitol at 13 to become a well-known and very well regarded staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Bowman died at 81 after heart surgery on October 25.

“Bertie Bowman was a trailblazing South Carolinian and the longest-serving Black staffer on Capitol Hill. His dedication to public service is an inspiration to us all. May he Rest in Power,” wrote Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn in tribute.

Bowman encountered everyone on Capitol Hill from southern segregationists to future presidents of the United States from Bill Clinton as a 20-year-old intern to Senator Joe Biden who would become a future Vice President and President. 

Former President Clinton called Bowman, “a first-rate example of the men and women who love our country and work hard every day with little fanfare to keep it running.

"I’ll always be grateful for every encounter I had with him over the years.”

bowman bookStep 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.Bowman was the fifth of 14 children and his parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina. In 2008, he wrote his autobiography “Step by Step.” His book detailed an incredible personal story about a man who navigated racial segregation in the Jim Crow south to become a respected confidant in the corridors of power.

Before his retirement in 1990, Bertie Bowman had worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for twenty-five years, first as committee clerk and then as assistant hearing coordinator. Bowman then operated a limousine service for Washington VIPs.  In 2000, Bowman returned to federal service at the Foreign Relations Committee after the committee chairman, Senator Jesse Helms, hired him back to the Senate after a ten-year hiatus. 

“For 57 years - 57 years! - if you served on or appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you knew the big smile, the booming laugh, and the bear hug of Bertie Bowman. His title may have been "hearing coordinator" but it could've just as easily been “heart and soul.” I first met him when I came to testify at 27 and was still lucky to be in his presence when I left as Chairman 42 years later. Bertie was an institution - an inspiration of a man who started in the Senate sweeping floors at 13 and made the place both his career and his home - but more than that, he was a great human and I’ll miss him,” wrote former Senator John Kerry. 

“To remember the life of Bertie Bowman is to remember his integrity and his steadfast dedication to public service. Throughout his life, Bertie overcame adversity, broke down barriers, and forged an inspiring future that led him from sweeping the halls of the U.S. Congress to working under 16 Chairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He imprinted himself on the work and lives of every member that had the privilege to serve on our Committee across both sides of the aisle, and did so with honor, decency, and kindness. Bertie was the very embodiment of the American Dream,” wrote Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, then current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Bowman’s career in Washington started after South Carolina Senator Burnet Maybank told him, “if you all ever get up to Washington, D.C., drop by and see me!”  Bowman took the Senator up on the offer, traveled to the U.S. Capitol, and stayed. 

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the publisher of Black Virginia News. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. 

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