PHILADELPHIA -- As he celebrated his 100th birthday, Samuel L. Evans didn't want to talk about his past.
The mentoring programs he developed for thousands of black students in Philadelphia are old news, and Evans is too busy pondering the future of democracy.
Taking time out recently from his daylong birthday party at the offices of the American Foundation for Negro Affairs, Evans spent nearly an hour discussing United Nations resolutions and potential war with Iraq. He called President Bush's election two years ago ''providential.''
''I am supposed to be the oldest active Democrat in the nation, but I believe Bush was providentially selected,'' privileged with education and experienced advisers, Evans said. ''That made him prepared for this struggle to save the planet from Armageddon. He has demonstrated the highest level of leadership every step after Sept. 11.''
Born Nov. 11, 1902, Evans never earned a college degree but advocated education and equality for black students.
He still works 50 hours a week at the AFNA National Education and Research Fund. Founded in 1968, the nonprofit organization started education programs that mentored 20,000 black students -- among them 750 future medical doctors and 550 lawyers.
Along with his activism, Evans was appointed to several city government positions. Mayor James H.J. Tate appointed him in 1965 to head the Philadelphia Antipoverty Action Committee, making him the local czar of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. In 1970, he was appointed executive vice president of the Bicentennial Corporation, organizing the country's 200th anniversary celebration.
For 30 years, he produced concert series at the Academy of Music, attracting classical musicians such as violinist Itzak Perlman, pianist Andre Watts and opera singer Grace Bumbry.
Guests milling about AFNA's offices on Evans' birthday recalled his generosity and fatherly career advice.
''When I met him I thought I was smart. ... I took him to breakfast every day, and it was like going to school all over again. He taught me how to think analytically,'' said Charles Bowser, whom Evans appointed executive director of the Philadelphia Antipoverty Action Committee in spite of harsh criticism from other city officials.
Mary Mason, a Philadelphia radio talk-show host, said, ''His whole thrust of life was to get what he didn't -- an education and a career.''
The grandson of slaves, Evans still courts controversy with his opinions about slavery and reparations.
''More people are living off racism and bigotry than are being harmed by it,'' Evans said. ''We are against a blank check for slavery. I believe that when the slaves were brought here, God meant it for good, they were here for providential things.''
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