John Bingham–The Man
Another interesting discovery in Cadiz was a recollection by William Lucas, who was a prominent African-American in the town (he was the municipal clerk for thirty years). I think this gives us a taste of Bingham’s personality:
“It was my fortune to know Mr. Bingham intimately from my boyhood days. Being a poor colored boy, I entered his family when about 17, and remained to do family chores and errands while attending the leading public schools—from 1867 to 1872.
From the first Mr. Bingham took a personal interest in me and assisted me much in my efforts to pass through schools here. . . . In 1872 I graduated, and to rest up from school work I took a trip to Richmond Virginia to visit relatives there.
During this summer Mr. Bingham received his appointment to Japan, and now to show his deep interest in a poor unknown colored boy! He was in need of a private secretary to accompany him to Japan. No sooner did he arrive at his home after receiving his appointment; then he sought me out to take the position. He came himself down to my mother’s house to offer me the place. When he learned that I was away, he was quite insistent that I should go with him and asked mother to give him my address that he might send for me to come home at once. My mother, in her ignorance supposed Japan, of which she had never heard, was somewhere clear outside of the world, and fearing I might go, and never return to her again, refused to give him the proper address or to inform me of the offer till it was too late, and so I lost the opportunity which I have many a time since sincerely regretted. But I have never ceased to appreciate the friendly interest of Mr. Bingham as shown on that occasion. That he in the zenith of his fame, should remember the errand boy at home and offer him a position of trust.”
Lucas then recalled another encounter with Bingham almost twenty-five years later:
“[M]y oldest son Fred, by accident fell from the roof of a house, sustaining injuries that, for many days, were thought to be fatal. Day after day, we sat in hourly expectancy for that grim messenger to make his appearance. During one of these dark sad days, I met Mr. Bingham on the street, who having heard of the accident, stopped me and said, ‘William Henry,” the name he always called me by, “How is Fred?” When I had told him of his precarious condition, he said “Well, that is too bad. You tell Fred that I am coming down to see him.” He was then walking feebly with his cane himself and I hardly expected him to come down so far. But that same evening I heard the tap of his cane on the porch. Opening the door there was Mr. Bingham, who came in and sat down by the bedside of my sick boy. It was a moment of surpassing interest. Here was a great man who had thrilled the nation with his eloquence and whose statesmanship had won imperishable and lasting renown, sitting by what seemed to be the bedside of a poor dying colored boy; and with voice trembling with emotion and eyes dimmed with tears, he talked of the nearness of eternity and the kind love of the Heavenly Father, as tenderly as a mother would comfort her sick child. And on going to leave, in bidding him good bye he said, chokingly with emotion, “Fred, in our Father’s house there are many mansions, we shall meet again.”
Toast by W.H. Lucas, Bingham Banquet, Oct. 5, 1901 (Harrison County Historical Society)