By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
The Belton Rotary Club welcomed Gussie L. Daniels, III, to their meeting on Tuesday.
Daniels was born in 1940 during a time when Blacks and Whites were still segregated. He grew up in the small East Texas community of Tatum, where, despite the inherent racism, he says he learned the most important lessons in life.
The first of these lessons was the value of education.
“I was born and raised a poor boy, a poor Black boy, in East Texas,” Daniels said. “Education was always important to my family, but I was born and raised in the middle of a cotton field. One day I stood up and told my mother that when I grew up, I wasn’t going to do this anymore. She looked at me for a moment, and then she stood up. She said, ‘Well, you can’t dance like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and you can’t croon like Nat “King” Cole, and you’re not built for heavy lifting. So you’ve got two choices: You can become a preacher or you can get some education.’ I thought to myself, ‘Hm, I think I better get the education.’”
The second of these lessons was the value of literacy.
“My mother taught me how to read when I was a little bitty kid, before I was in school,” Daniels said. “But we didn’t have any books in our house except the Bible, so I borrowed books when I went to the neighbors’ houses. If I saw a book or magazine, I would ask them to give it to me. If they didn’t, I got there before the mailman, and I took the book out of the mailbox, took it home, read it, then put it back.”
And the third lesson was the value of resourcefulness.
“We had one of those clapboard schools made out of wood. One day during the summer after school was out, the school burned down,” Daniels said. “After two years of arguing and debating, they passed a bond to build a new school for the black kids. We got a new school; we didn’t get any books for the library. We got a new laboratory; we didn’t get any equipment. We got a new gym, no exercise equipment.
“We came from parents who taught us that it is not what you’ve got; it’s what you do with what you’ve got. If you do with what you’ve got, you’re probably going to get a lot. You make yourself. You don’t have to wait for somebody else to make you.”
Because of the values he learned from his family and friends, Daniels went on to do incredible things, including becoming the first black Foreign Service officer from Texas. During his 20 years in the service, these lessons continued to aid him.
In 1975, Daniels found himself beneath a building in Angola, Africa, hiding from Angolan soldiers who were attempting to take Daniels and his coworkers as Prisoners of War. The group of Americans hid beneath the building for four days.
“I didn’t know I could survive for four days on just a little box of cereal and a bottle of water, but I can,” Daniels said. “So how did we get out of there? The answer to that – without revealing any secrets – is that somebody called somebody else in London, and that person called Henry Kissinger, and somebody else woke up the president and said, ‘You’ve got some people in Africa that are about to be made POWs.’ The President of the United States called their leader and told them, ‘Leave those Americans alone or you will never get another dollar from this country.’ And they left.”
But what Daniels took away from that is something much deeper: the power of selflessness.
“I’m like you (Rotarians) – I believe in service above self,” Daniels said.
Now, this selflessness is shown through Daniels’ love of teaching. After a 12-year career in the Garland Independent School District, Daniels now serves as a substitute teacher in the Belton ISD and the founder of the African American Museum of Texas, a Facebook page designed “to share our common interest in African heritage and the history of African Americans in Texas.”
For more information on Daniels or the museum, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/African-American-Museum-of-Texas/255789177790270?fref=ts.