Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Responses to Racism

BARAKA: But then my grandfather was a race man, see. Back in the day he was, you know, a black Republican and, you know, was always-- you know, helped build that huge church… was always supposedly setting the pace for black people. So I never, never thought any other way. You know what I mean? My father used to take me to see the Newark Eagles baseball games every time they were downtown. And then we'd go over to the Grand Hotel, which is -- they called it the Grand Hotel -- it was a black hotel, but that's where the baseball players would hang out afterwards, you know. And so I met people like Monte Irvin and Larry Doby when I was a little boy. And also -- So I had a sense of the possibility, you know. That my parents were smart. I figured they were smart.

You know, my father could fix anything so I'd think he was real smart. And I knew my mother was real smart cause people talked to her like she was smart, you know. Plus, she was the most beautiful woman in the world, I thought, you know. So it was a question of I knew that I had some smart parents, you know what I mean, and that anything was possible. And also, I used to see my mother go up against these racists all the time, you know. That was another thing. I mean, I knew that you could do that. You know, I remember one time we were in this store, my mother asking for -- said, "Give me a pound of those nuts." And the woman said, "You mean the Nigger Toes?"

And my mother said, "Those are Brazil nuts, lady" and threw the nuts down on the thing and grabbed my hand and walked out. So I could hear that and I saw -- that's the way you're supposed to act toward that. You know, you're supposed to treat them with contempt and defiance, you know. Several times I saw her dealing with people like that around a racial thing. So I figured from early -- that that's the way you deal with that. You know, you don't let them get away with anything, you know, whatever the consequences. You know, you take it up. Oh, she took those nuts and threw em down at -- rolling all over the counter. So I said, "Well, that's the way you're supposed to handle that."

BOND: So, you knew if the chance came, you could do the same thing?

BARAKA: That's right.

BOND: Yeah. It was okay?

BARAKA: That's right. Because one time my mother and I had a funny conversation. She said to me...this is much later. She said, "I don't know why you want to do these dangerous things," -- with something we were doing -- some demonstration, and I said, "What are you talking about? You put me up to it!" And I meant that. You know, "Don't tell me about doing these dangerous things that you're doing." And I really felt that. You know, "You put me up to it. You -- all my life -- showed me that not only wouldn't you go for that, but that you didn't have to go for it."

BOND: Yeah. She set a standard for you?

BARAKA: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.