Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Legacy of Brown

BOND: But this question of black and white children sitting in the same classroom had to be more emotionally -- ?

HILL: More emotionally than the world. As a matter of fact the judge in Richmond was Judge Hutchinson – I forget his first name right now, I can't remember half of these names. But anyway, he was a fine a judge as you ever want to see. As long as we were challenging inequality. To give you an example, we filed a suit against Gloucester County and they came in court and admitted that there was some inequalities, but they didn't have enough money to do anything about it. So they asked for a time to go to the board of supervisors and get a bond issue. And we didn't oppose it, and the court granted it, so they did. They went to board, they went to the supervisors, and they authorized the bond issue. Now! After they got that, then the members of the school board went around through the county telling people to vote against it.

BOND: To defeat it?

HILL: That's right. And that's what they did -- and course we got -- something like that you know you couldn't keep it a secret. And so we filed suit for further relief in the daggone case and pointed out to the court what they'd done, and Judge Hutchinson fined the members of the school board $500 each and order they be paid out of their personal funds and not any public funds. And that was really an outstanding thing in those days, I thought.

BOND: Well, Mr. Hill, we've got a lot of ground to cover. I want to move on to something else --

HILL: Well, let me tell you one other thing.

BOND: Okay, okay.

HILL: People should know about. In the Corbin case – I told you, you know, we were in the process of getting further relief in Corbin – and it came time for a hearing, the judge had a hearing in his quarters, in his chambers in Lynchburg. And so when I pointed out to him, he said, "What had happened?" And he said, "You see I've done all I could do." And I said, "No, you haven't, Judge. There's something else you can do." He said, "What is it?" I said "You can order the school board to admit the Negros into the schools in Pulaski." Then, boy, he got all red, and shrugged his hands and started to banging on his table. "I will not do it! I will not do it!" I thought the man was going to have a stroke.

BOND: Really?

HILL: Yeah, it was ridiculous. Their attitudes with respect to Negro children going to school with white children, they were just so emotional about it.

BOND: Well, let me go back to the Prince Edward County case. Now you couldn't have imagined that they would close those schools when you got involved in that case.

HILL: Well. Well, you know they used to accuse us of picking places. Nobody with any common sense would know that we wouldn't pick Prince Edward for a suit challenging segregation. But things evolved itself.

BOND: But when the schools did close, did people come back and say, "Oh, Oliver Hill, look what you did!" and blame you for what had happened?

HILL: I guess some did, but nobody ever said that to me.

BOND: And, of course, you were not responsible for that.

HILL: Oh no, no.


HILL: We never occurred – it never occurred to us that it would come to all this massive resistance. As a matter of fact, the Southern Regional Council – you know of the Southern Regional Council?

BOND: Sure.

HILL: I've forgotten who [was] the director of it at that time -- he'd had gotten a grant of $300,000 from a fund from [inaudible] to hold a conference down in, hold project down in Williamsburg and he had, Charlie Johnson, you know, president of Fisk, an Urban League lady -- Hamilton.

BOND: Grace Hamilton.

HILL: Grace Hamilton. In Atlanta. Remember back in those days, Abrams was running for Congress as a Democrat. He later became great conservative.

BOND: Morris Abrams.

HILL: Morris, yeah. And vice president of Neiman Marcus – they only had one store in those days, they were down in Dallas – vice president of Neiman Marcus. People from general education fund -- from two or three others things of that nature. Guy, somebody -- Guy Johnson, I think his name was too, from Chapel Hill, who was head of sociology department. We all -- and I -- members -- we spent a week down in [Williamsburg] working out proposals for easing in desegregation. I called them not too long ago, asked them if there was ever anything written up 'cause when we got to the decision, we ran into massive resistance and nobody ever worried about those daggone proposals we were coming up with.

BOND: But there must have been times when people said, "Gee, this isn't working out the way we thought we would. After the '54 decision, after the '55 "all the deliberate speed" decision comes down, there must have been times when people said, "This didn't turn out the way we thought it was going to turn out." How did you deal with people who said that?

HILL: I -- to be perfectly frank with you, I never wasted my time worrying with them. There were a whole lot of people who criticized us all the time. Talked about, "Well, we had negro restaurants, we had negro this, we had negro that -- " But a lot of things were disrupted. I used to contend what we should have done was open up places down downtown. Negroes could have provided proper service -- they knew how to provide service, they knew how to cook -- and challenge the businesses. We didn't do a lot of things but a lot of things we would have done had we had no time to do them. We never had a chance to work on things to bring about desegregation. We always had to fight to keep the movement going. Massive resistance. Next thing we got was Congressional Manifesto, telling people to use every legal means to violate the law. How you going to violate the law by some legal means?

And all the majority Congressional Southerners from Southern states were behind the thing. There never was a time, right to the present day, where there's been an enthusiastic effort to bring on desegregation. They used to put one Negro into the school and talk about integration. That was nonsense. I told them that at the time. As a matter of fact, even when we were arguing for under the separated but equal doctrine, I went before the circuit. I told them if you build from the same plan, build one school for whites and one school for Negroes, side-by-side, equip them the same, put equally qualified teachers in the same, you still would have unequal, inequality. Because you can't -- there are certain things you get from a community that you can't get unless you're part of the community.