Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Father

BOND: How did your mother help you come to an understanding, if she did, that you could protest against this wrong that had been done to you?

GREGORY: She's so wise, man. Let me, what -- you know what you just said?

BOND: What?

GREGORY: How does your mother? Say that again.

BOND: How did your mother, if she did -- ?

GREGORY: Thanks. Now, how'd you know that. She didn't. Man, my mother was so upset that I'd upset white folks.

BOND: But still, she had to have given you something? She had to have given you something.

GREGORY: Trust me.

BOND: That made you do it even against her wishes?

GREGORY: Please do not tell me what went on in my house.

BOND: Okay.

GREGORY: You don't have a right. Trust me. Always, "Just behave yourself," you understand? She would never take me to work. She worked for rich white folks -- Jack Gordon, King Jobie, rich white folks. She'd never take me to work with her, or she said, "Just something about you, boy, that you would just not behave."

BOND: But where did this come from then?

GREGORY: They tell me it came from my daddy. I mean later, when I became famous and started running into people that knew him, they say it came from him. That he never -- I mean, he was never the head cook when he should have been, it was always a German over him and then he protected the other cooks. And he just, certain things he wouldn't tolerate. And then a guy told me one day this bad cop, man, named Tom Rend grabbed him, and he said, "You have to kill me." My daddy was gambling -- gambling house. And he called them a bunch of niggers and he hit Tom Rend, broke his jaw. And Tom Rend pulled his gun and the brothers said, "No, no, no! Let's take this out now -- " "I'm going to kill him, I'm going to hell jumping" -- that was the daddy that I had.

You know, when I met him later in life, I wouldn't have known that he was that type of a -- ‘cause he looked very cultured. If you said he was a professor of a black university, you would have to believe it.

BOND: But you said early on that he was an absent father?


BOND: So, how did -- in his absence, how did this get into you? It had to come from some place.

GREGORY: Just, just. No, it was something in me. Most of the stuff I was doing I had to hide. I had a big blowout with my mother ‘cause I refused to say the blessing at the table. And she said, "No, son of mine will sit in this house and eat without saying the blessing." And I said, "Well, I don't have to eat here." I was like nine years old. "And I'll eat anywhere I want to eat, and plus I don't like this stuff you serving anyway."

And to this day, I've been married forty-five years this year. And I said to my wife, "If you ever want a divorce, never mention it to me. Just cook some oatmeal in the house, and I'm out of here." And for forty-five years, man, if my children ate oatmeal it was after I was gone on the road, you know.

But, let me tell you something very interesting that happened. She grabbed me and pushed me. Because it wasn't her I was disrespectful to, I was disrespectful to God. And she pushed me and I called her a bitch. And she went off. And then the mother came through -- "How could you call me that?"

I said, "I hear Dad call you that all the time and you ain't never complained. I was here last week when he came in with that whore that he left in the car while he came in and stole the rent money to go gamble, and then three days later I hear y'all in the room making strange sounds. Don't you ever put your hands on me again. That's my money he's stealing, Momma." She hugged me, say she loved me. I pushed her back, "You don't love me." She said, "What do you mean?" Said, "I'm nine years old. I've been selling newspapers since I was seven years old."

I'd get out of bed every morning at four o'clock to hit my paper route. Papers then sold for three cents, so you can imagine what I was making. I said, "No mother would love a child and let a seven-year-old child leave the house at four o'clock in the morning while they slept. So don't tell me, I don't even want to hear it in no shape form or fashion."

And, where I got that from I don't know. But I just grew up and I resented her, I resented where I lived. There was something inside of me that kept telling me, "This ain't right. This is not right."