Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Secondary

BOND: Now, what did she, and what did your teachers, tell you about limitations or lack of limitations placed on you because of your race and because of your gender? Women -- expectations for women were very different then than they are now. What, what do you remember about any limitation or lack of limitation because of your gender?

FUTRELL: Well, I think that when I look at race and gender -- I attended segregated schools all the way up through undergraduate in college, and I remember, when I was in high school I signed up for the academic program and I attended an all-black school. And when I went back to school the next year, I was not in the academic program. I had been taken out and put into the vocational program. And I remember asking the counselor and the administrator why and – because I was a kid who always asked why – and they said that they were trying to put me in a program to help me get a job, because I probably would never go to college because my family was too poor. And I remember how devastated I was because again, my mother is encouraging me, "You can be anything you want to be, don’t let your circumstances hold you back." And so, I went ahead. My mother didn’t know that she could go to the school and insist that I be put in the academic program, so I ended up in the vocational program, but again, trying to make the best out of what I had there. But it was interesting because in the schools in those days, up until about the tenth grade, most of the kids were in the same classes as related to English, math, science, history, etc. So it was that core curriculum that was there. And I did very well in those courses, as well as in the vocational courses.

And I remember when I was, I think it was, a junior in high school, they gave a test, and I came out number five in the class. And the teachers and everyone, they were shocked. And so then they switched me over to the academic track. But by then, see, I didn’t have the background. But I also remember those teachers going out and getting me money to go to school. I did not plan to go to college. My mother simply did not have the money. And they went out and they collected the money in the neighborhood to send me to school. And I remember the night I graduated. They didn’t tell me, they told my mother, but they didn’t tell me – I assume they didn’t tell me because they didn’t know how much they were going to collect. And so the night that I graduated, they walked up on the stage and they gave me $1,500 to go to school. And I was flabbergasted. And I remember one of the teachers that said to me, "Apply anyway." And I was going like, "Why apply? I’m not going. I don’t have any money. So why should I apply?" And she insisted, "Apply anyway." And so here were the administrators and other people telling me I couldn’t. But here were my teachers telling me I could. And not only saying, "You can," but all along insisting that I do the best that I could with my studies and then saying "Here’s the money to go. Now it’s up to you."

BOND: Do you think this is because – this difference in what administrators, teachers, are telling you – was it because the teachers knew you better than the administrators did?

FUTRELL: I think so.

BOND: And the administrators are thinking they’re doing you a favor.


BOND: They’re helping you. You can’t go to college, so we’re going to make it possible for you to get a job. It’s amazing to me, anyway, looking at this, that you didn’t say, "Well, they’re right, I’m not going to college so I’m, you know, just -- I’m surprised you even applied.

FUTRELL: But Julian, but you've got to remember, for a long time I didn’t think I was going to go. I did not plan to go. I did not apply to go until my teachers came to me and said, "You apply." And I said, "Well, I’m not going, why?" I just assumed I was going to graduate, get a job probably as a secretary or receptionist or something and that was going to be it. I assumed my life was going to be Lynchburg, Virginia, and the teachers came and they said, "No. You apply." But they didn’t tell me what they had planned for me. And some of my teachers are still alive today, by the way. When I go back to my reunions I see Mrs. Watson, and I see Miss Jordan – not Miss Jordan, I see Miss Irving – and some of the other teachers who worked with me, who taught me. And they sometimes are surprised at how appreciative I am. But I say, "You have to remember that if you had not intervened, where would I be today?"

But I think the answer to your question is, yes. I was in their classrooms everyday. They had a chance to get to know me. They had a chance to get to see what I could do. They knew what kind of person I was. The administrators saw me periodically. And they maybe knew me because I was a cheerleader, because I was, you know, in the FBLA, the student council, but they didn’t know Mary. The counselor – we had one counselor for the whole school – counselor saw me what, my junior year? Maybe when I moved from eighth grade to ninth grade she saw me, and then maybe again in my junior year? I didn’t go to the counselor, I didn’t have a lot of problems or anything like that. I just sort of counseled myself and whatever I had to take, I did it. So the teachers were the ones who worked with me and who knew me. Some of them were in my church. A few of them were in surrounding neighborhoods, so you know, then they knew my mother and everything, so I think it was because they were the ones who knew.

BOND: Now in some of the research we prepared for this, I saw that you described yourself as an introvert. How does an introvert become a basketball player and a cheerleader? That seems to me like the opposite of introversion.

FUTRELL: Well, when I was growing up, Julian, and don’t fall off your chair laughing at this, but, my name was Bony Morony, my nickname was Skinny Minnie, my nickname was Seemo – "Seemo holes than you do clothes" – and so my friends made fun of me, you know, and even today sometimes they see me -- so, I tended to be shy from the perspective of the material kinds of things that I did not have and my friends did have. And so I would not come forth. But once I got in the group, I was okay. And, for example, when I was -- when I tried out for the cheering squad, I didn’t make it. The first time, I didn’t make it. But you know what I did? I stayed every day and when they practiced, I practiced. And finally throughout the year I had observed that kids would drop off. And so I was put on because I stayed there and I practiced, I made the team.

Being a cheerleader and being part of the basketball team and being part of the Future Business Leaders of America, and the student council, those opportunities gave me a chance to grow and to open up and to have more confidence in myself than I’d had before. Because, when you’re black, you know, you know what poverty is, even if it’s among the blacks. You know, there were blacks who had more than I had -- nicer homes, nicer cars, and they had money, and you could tell by the way they dressed and the way they acted that this was another class, and here I was over here. So even then, there was discomfort. But those kinds of activities helped me to discover who I was, and helped me to have confidence in who I was and who I could be. And again, teachers encouraging me, "Get out there and run -- doesn't matter if you’re skinny. Doesn't" – because they used to tell me that I had bird legs – "Doesn’t matter. You get out there and you play. You do the best you can. Doesn’t matter. You get out there and you be active in the Future Business Leaders. 'Cause you’re a good student, you can do this work." And so that was how I began to develop as a person and to become more outgoing.

BOND: Now is it fair to guess that it is teachers who served as models for you choosing to become a teacher?


BOND: At both high school and college?

FUTRELL: Yes. When I went to school, I was, as I said, absolutely shocked that I got to go. I didn’t believe it. I don’t think I even believed it until I got there. And my mother got somebody to take – we didn’t have a car so she got someone to take me down. And again, you got to remember, I’m getting there -- and I’m going to be honest, I thought, "I’m going to go here but I’m probably not going to finish. I don’t have any money. My family can’t afford it, so I probably won’t finish," but this was my strategy -- "You go and stay as long as you can," and I majored in business education for a reason. "If you don’t make it, at least you will have some different skills and some new skills that should help you get a better job. And if you do make it, become a teacher." I wanted to be a teacher to give back to the profession that gave so much to me. And I felt, if those teachers can make that much of a difference in my life, then I could make a difference in the lives of other children. And so, that was my strategy.