I didn’t know that Earle Booker won the intercollegiate boxing title nationally as a student at the University of San Francisco and was headed to the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 except for an untimely eye injury–until I met his son Ian Booker.
It was just another example of the overlooked history we show in the ReUNION: Education- Arts-Heritage documentary The African-American Freedom Trail, premiering Friday, April 11 at 4 p.m. at the Black Coalition on AIDS, 601 Cesar Chavez.
When I visited Booker’s office, at his construction company, Eastmont Builders, I was able to see where he got the winning attitude to succeed in business for more than a decade as a Class A and B contractor.
Earle Booker was inducted into the University of San Francisco Athletic Hall of Fame in 1959 along with K.C. Jones and Bill Russell of basketball fame and football pioneers Ollie Matson and Burl Toler. In the same year, the two highest paid players in their sports, Willie Mays and Wilt Chamberlain, both played for San Francisco teams.
Another famous family boxer was Earle’s brother, Hilton “Eddie” Booker, a light heavyweight professional considered one of the Murderers Row boxers in the 1940s and now installed in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Ian Booker would become a champion wrestler at Castlemont High School, and his brother Kim Booker a national champion in boxing, followed by his state champion wrestler son Ian in the 1990s. That sense of belonging at the top is a characteristic of what historian Dr. Douglas Daniels calls the “pioneer urbanites” throughout local history. Booker continued to coach wrestling at Oakland Tech and for freestyle teams, producing an Olympian wrestler Steven Abas.
Having spent much of his life developing young people, Booker is troubled by the lack of direction he is seeing among many young men. He believes a knowledge of the accomplisments and attitudes of prior generations is essential.
Taking the revitalization of Oakland into his own hands, he’s purchased abandoned properties through tax lien auctions to to clean up neighborhoods and train young people in construction, literally by example. “When they see me working on a house, they are coming to me filled with questions about how they can get work,” said Booker. “Every abandoned house is like a tooth that has been pulled. It’s an open sore.”
With California reviewing Prop. 209 again, the multiple bottom line benefits of community-minded black businesses like Eastmont Builders become an important consideration..
“As a Class A and B contractor, I can build anything,” said Booker, who holds a degree in mathematics from San Francisco State. “It’s satisfying to go by a finished product and think I did that.”
He is equally proud of his grandparent’s legendary exploits during World War II. From their house at Baker and California Sts., “they operated an Underground Railroad for Japanese Americans who did not want to go to internment camps. We had lots of rooms and they could hide until they made arrangements to go somewhere else.”
These are among the important milestones along the African American Freedom Trail.