Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Learning About Political Activism

BOND: And what about your father's political activism? How did that come to you, wash off on you?

BRAUN: Well, actually, again, his political activism, I didn't really -- it was a generation apart, you know, but he worked for the first -- he was always against the machine and this is important in terms of Chicago politics, because people think of Chicago politics and they think of the Daley machine. Well, there was always a group of independents out there who saw the machine as antithetical to the civil rights movement, antithetical to good government and honesty and reform in government and that was always the side of the equation that he found that he was on or found himself on.

And so he worked in the campaign of the first, one of the early black politicians to challenge the Daley machine. That was Charlie Chew. Charlie Chew ran as a reform candidate and my father was in real estate at that time and the office that he and his partner had, when they had a meeting for Charlie Chew, the city inspectors came and told them that the water was leaking and the gas was "dah dah," so they basically shut them down and put them out of business for a little while. So you can imagine there was no small amount of real anger and antipathy toward the Daley machine in our household. It was funny, too, because years later, of course, I got to know Rich Daley, the son, and there was no small amount of irony. I don't think Rich Daley ever really understood or appreciated what a big leap that was for me because our household had been absolutely just anti-Daley down the road.

BOND: But was there dinner table discussion about politics, about the machine, about Illinois politics?


BOND: United States politics, all of that, going on?

BRAUN: Yes. Partly -- he wasn't so much. He was active in local campaign efforts and in union campaign efforts and things like putting people to work on the street. There was a streetcar fight, you know, to get people, blacks, jobs working for the transportation company. He would do things like that, but his political vision was really more national and international so I don't remember him as being involved with state of Illinois politics as national and international. My father very often wouldn't vote -- not very often. I don't think he voted in primaries really because he thought that as far as he was concerned he shouldn't have to declare which party he belonged to.

BOND: Now, does his political activism account for this sit-in you staged when you were a teenager?

BRAUN: Probably. You know, I didn't expect it to be that. I didn't expect I'd be staging a sit-in, but you know, it happened and so that just seemed to me to be the right thing to do was just not move and so I didn't.

BOND: And a moment ago you mentioned marching with Dr. King in the housing struggles in Chicago. Tell us about that. How old were you then?

BRAUN: I think I was 15 and I'd have to check. I was either 15 or 16. I was still in high school and my mother had cautioned me, you know, again. By this point they were spilt up and we were with my mother and I remember her saying "You don't want to get mixed up with that, you might get in trouble, there's bound to be trouble," and, of course, that was just my sign that, "Oh, I just had to go obviously to the march at that point."

So I went over and we marched down I think it was 67th Street. I have a sense that we marched down Marquette Boulevard to get to Gage Park and I was paired with a veteran, a guy who had marched in the South, a white guy who had marched in the South, and there were some nuns in front of me. I remember it just as vividly as if it was yesterday because it was just that kind of a turning point and we marched and the rocks and the bottles started flying and the guy with whom I was marching was hit by a rock or a piece of glass or something and blood started coming down his face and, of course, I'm just horrified at this point, like, "Oh, my God."

He just took his handkerchief out and put it up there and stopped it and then the catcalls were coming from the sides and I remember, you know, having, again, grown up in a Catholic, more or less Catholic family, the nuns who were marching in front of me were being called all kinds of horrible names and "When was the last time you slept with that black whatever, Sister?" you know, and so I was horrified at that. There was a guy standing by the side of the road who was my age, a little bit younger actually; he was probably 12 or 13, and he was yelling, "Semee-humans go home, semee-humans go home." And I looked at him and I caught his eye and I said, "it's not semee-humans, it's semi." He says, "oh, thanks," so, it was "Semi-humans go home, semi-humans go home."

So we marched and got into the park itself and the violence was so horrible. I don't recollect gunshots, but I know it was rocks and bottles and bricks and glass. And so what they did was they put the women and children in the middle of the circle and then the activists around that, and then the hardcore activists were the outside perimeter. It got so bad, Dr. King was moved to the middle of the circle, and so he was as close to me as just right over there. I mean, literally touching distance almost and I remember, because you were supposed to cover your head up like this and we're down on the ground and covering up and he was standing there, and looking just as calm and sanguine in the face of all this and I remember, literally it was an epiphany for me because I was frankly ready to throw something back.

I mean, that was my first reaction was "Okay, the next rock falls near me is going right back out there," but the epiphany at that moment for me was the real -- what I came to understand to be the real message and the real power of non-violence which was that by standing there and by his example of peaceful resistance, by his example of claiming the moral high ground by his response, he had the victory, and that had he stooped, he would've been on the same level as the people against whom he was fighting. And so it was in that experience that I became committed really to non-violence and to his movement, as opposed to that of some of my friends who at that time were beginning to gravitate in the direction of, you know, the Panthers and, you know, get the gun and shoot back and all the rest of it.