Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Bill Bowen laid to rest


Former senator recalled as friend to entire city

BY DAN KLEPAL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        William F. Bowen made fighting for justice and equality his life's work.

        His success over the past 40 years showed in the faces of more than 500 people — black and white, young and old, rich and poor — who came to say goodbye Tuesday at Zion Baptist Church in Avondale.

        Mr. Bowen died of cancer April 22, after a long illness.

        A 70-year-old former state senator, Mr. Bowen was buried under slate gray skies in Spring Grove Cemetery, after a touching series of tributes.

        Former Ohio Senate Majority Leader Harry Meshel called Mr. Bowen a “drum major for equality.”

        “Like a choir director, he could blend the voices of discontent and make them come out in beautiful harmony,” Mr. Meshel said. “He was a source of light, not a reflection of it.”

        One of the state's foremost civil rights leaders, Mr. Bowen was head of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before being elected to the Ohio General Assembly in 1966.

        Mr. Bowen became a state senator in 1970, eventually becoming one of the state's

        most influential legislators.

        He won passage of a bill that established “set-aside” and bonding programs for minority-owned businesses, assuring they were included in government contracts.

        A founder of the Ohio Commission on African American Males, Mr. Bowen also participated in many civic groups, including the Black Male Coalition of Greater Cincinnati and the Black Elected Democrats of Ohio.

        “Affirmative action would not have happened in this state but for Bill Bowen,” said former Ohio Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff. “Programs for disadvantaged black males would not have happened but for Bill Bowen.”

        Mr. Bowen was more than just an advocate for African-Americans.

        Dr. O'Dell Owens, who credited Mr. Bowen with helping him win an appointment to the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, said Mr. Bowen was a friend to the entire city.

        “He taught us that we have to work together, regardless of our station in life,” Dr. Owens said. “He worked for poor people, both black and white.

        “And when someone said those people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, Bill stood up and said, "Let's first put boots on their feet.'”

        Earlier this year, Mr. Bowen was one of four people presented with the Great Living Cincinnatian award by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        Gov. Bob Taft called Mr. Bowen one of the most effective lawmakers in the past quarter-century.

        “He was a great human being,” Gov. Taft said. “He was a civil rights pioneer when I was in high school. He believed in the power of persistence and never gave up.”

        Former Gov. John Gilligan said Mr. Bowen was wrongly identified by some as an “angry young man.” He eventually proved them wrong, he said.

        “It's hard for some of us to remember what a different world and different city we lived in then,” Mr. Gilligan said. “It was a city completely segregated along racial lines.

        “But instead of revolting against the system, Bill Bowen decided to enter it.”

        Mr. Meshel ended his eulogy of Mr. Bowen the way so many of their personal conversations ended:

        “He always used to say to me before we parted, "So long, brother — love ya.'”

       



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