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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
BOND: Earl Graves, welcome to the Explorations in Black Leadership. Thank you a great deal for being here. I want to start off with some questions about your family. Tell us about your father. He obviously instilled a great deal in you. He had a favorite slogan, "Never rent, always own." What kind of influence did your father have on your subsequent career and your early life?
GRAVES: Well, first of all, my father passed away when I was a junior in college. And so, at age forty-eight he had had a heart attack, literally, working three jobs. Which would go back to, really, your question.
He ran a bit of a dictatorship in our house. Democracy was with a very small D. You would have to study, there was housework to do. We had three sets of clothes, and you might have done the same thing growing up – you had your play clothes, you had your school clothes, and you had your church clothes, and if you got confused about it, that was – that's no good for you.
But he inculcated, I think, a sense of, "You have to be successful." And that goes back to the whole West Indian sense of thinking, you know – in the West Indian culture, either you do well in the family or the family takes your name away from you, practically. And they say, "Oh, that's that funny cousin of ours, we don't talk to him any more," or "to her anymore."
And so, his parents came from the West Indies. He was an orphan at age sixteen, and actually finished high school, Erasmus Hall High School in New York, and brought his brother up. There were five brothers. Three of them were out of the house by the time his mother passed. His father passed much earlier, and I never knew either one of those grandparents. And he helped his brother finish high school and helped his brother go on to a college or university after the war – that's World War II, you and I at least are young enough to remember that from the history books.
But he and my mother – my mother was a very strong woman. She was all of 5' 2'' – she said she was 5' 2'', I don't ever remember her being 5' 3'' – but again, there was a sense of saving, there was a sense of – I remember moving into our first house in – they used to tell me it was impossible when you were two years old, you couldn't remember, so let's just say I was two and a half, but I do remember that night moving into our first – what was our first new home.
It was a brownstone home in Brooklyn. My father had tenants on the upper floors. And you know, it was striking to me. I mean, we owned the house and yet the tenants had cars. Well, when you're renting rooms or renting an apartment, you can afford to have a car, but we never had a family car. The big holiday for us or the big events for us would be if we actually took a taxi when we got off the subway. Close to the house, he'd put us all in a cab with my mom and I and two sisters and one brother, and we'd ride home in what was then a taxi. And I was fortunate enough so that I could live to send my mother around places in a limousine, so she lived long enough that she passed away at eight-six, a couple years ago.
BOND: Now, your father was working three jobs when he died. What kind of example did this set for you? Surely he could have said, "Well, two will be enough, or one will be enough, I can get by on that." What did that example say to you?
GRAVES: Well, first of all, I didn't think it was that unusual. Again, you know, you see in the joke that's on Saturday – you see in one of those shows that's on on Saturday night, I think it's In Living Color, where they have an example of the West Indian person who has nine jobs. Again, in the West Indian culture, you went from one job to the next job to the next job. One of our sons has a nurse that takes care of his kids and she literally works twenty-four hours, seven days a week. And so that again is part of the culture. When he worked three jobs, I didn't realize that everybody didn't work three jobs.
Now, I do remember him being home in the evenings, but if he had something to do – being a bartender at some of his employers' parties – he would do that. He sold clothes on the side from the company that he worked for – they would give him clothes that he could bring home, and those that he sold, he would get the money, bring it back, and those he did not, he'd bring the clothes back. In addition to that, he was great at doing repairs around the house, and I'm great at doing that also except I buy – I pay for it, but I'm great at giving instructions, as my wife says.
BOND: Now, how – the clothing sales – you write in your book about watching him and not being told, "Do it this way, do it this way," but learning by example. What did you learn from his salesmanship?
GRAVES: It's interesting that you bring that up – it seemed to me that I always wanted to sell something, and if you asked me today what I am best at, I would say that I'm just a salesman. In fact, we own several businesses and so forth. And where I get most animated and involved at the company today goes back to watching my father convincing some lady that that yellow coat she had on was just the thing for her, even if it blended in totally against her skin – but I mean, he wasn't a charlatan, he was just shrewd about the way he sold.
And so when I found myself selling Christmas cards for my first really – big people's bicycle, it wasn't even so much that my parents didn't have the money because they had given me bikes, but the fact that I could say to them, "I sold forty boxes of Christmas cards at a buck each" – which is what I sold them for – and would turn the money over to them and said, "Now I've got enough for a bike." Well, it was more than enough for a bike, but my dad always also took some of the money back of what I earned and when I worked for Western Union, I would bring home my fifteen dollars for work – having worked every afternoon, and he would take, open the envelope – but it was sealed until I got home. He would take the envelope, open it up, take what he thought was due to the house, and give me back the rest. And he somehow always came out ahead, it didn't seem to me with an even division of the monies.
BOND: Now, as you watched him sell these clothes, were you conscious that you were picking up lessons in salesmanship?
GRAVES: Not at all.
BOND: Or lessons in human relations?
GRAVES: No. Not at all. I – and obviously, it's a youngster, you're not conscious of that – if you have a father around the house who's good in sports, you may become good in sports. I became okay in sports, all right, all right, but I –
BOND: You were good in sports.
GRAVES: Well, I enjoyed doing it, all right. I'm still skiing, now it's a question of how long my knees hold up. I'm ski racing, I put on a helmet on Sunday and Saturday out in Colorado, and I'm racing people my age which is – next year, I'll be sixty-seven. The older you get, though, the easier it gets to win because they give you more points if you're older, so that's part of what happens and that's how it's possible to.
BOND: Now, you describe your mother as a, quote, "much more benevolent presence in the household." What about her? What about her influence?
GRAVES: She was the anchor in the house. My father – he did not have to go away to World War II, with four children, they – he was 4-F because of that. But she was always the anchor when he was working late or staying out late or he played cards also, so sometimes he forgot to say, "I'm going to be out late."
And she was always there. She was the one that was sure we were going to go to Sunday School, she was the president of the PTA for many years at the junior high school and the public school we went to. That one building – we went to it – my sisters – my two sisters, my brother, and I went to it for part of our schooling and then we went off to another school about twenty blocks away and then came back again for it to be our junior high school before going on to high school.
But she was an anchor from the point of view – she was really a moral compass in our house as well as a lightning rod for the issues that were key to who we were. And she was very strong about being race conscious, and she was fair skinned – and she was so fair skinned people mistook her for actually being white on occasion. And yet there was no one more militant about talking about who we were.
I got to meet Mary McLeod Bethune, I remember saying that at her funeral. And I remember I met her, and at the time I was such a youngster, and my mother said, "Well now, what do you remember most about Mary McLeod Bethune?" And I said, "She was ugly." And I think I got smacked in the right-hand side of my face. I don't remember her coming back with her left hand, smack, but I remember getting a smack that I had to know more about her, so I had to write a composition about who she was and I didn't do that again.
BOND: What about this incident at the Y and your mother's intervention?
GRAVES: Well, you know, I grew up knowing and understanding – not understanding – but knowing segregation and understanding what it was. But my mother was always out there saying, "You don't have to stand for being a second-class citizen at all." And in Brooklyn, New York, now because people are without the sense of all of that racism was happening down South. But down South wasn't Brooklyn, New York. I was a member of the Carlton YMCA, which was an African-American YMCA. It was set up through the YMCA system to be for African-Americans. At that time they called us Negroes, or we called ourselves Negroes. So there was always a discouraging at least once or twice a year where they would take the various branches of the Y and they'd all come down to this central Y which is just downtown Brooklyn. It's further in Brooklyn but in the downtown part of Brooklyn. So here we were. We came into a pool that was six times the size of anything we had at the Carlton Y. I was very impressed with it, and so they took us down a second time that same – and it was in a certain period of about a month or two. I enjoyed swimming. I was already swimming in the deep water. So I said, "Well, I wonder how you come back – if you have to come with the counselor or can you come by yourself?" So I asked the lifeguard. He said, "No, you just come back." So I went home. The first time I went down by myself and there was no issues at all. I went in the pool. Went swimming. We all used to swim naked in those days, also. A little bit different than today. No one said anything until the second time I came back on my own to visit this Y, being a part of this African-American Y. And the lifeguard said, "You know, when you finish swimming the athletic director wants to see you." So I got dressed and went bouncing into the place. I guess I was maybe all of ten or eleven because I was able to ride the subway and the buses by that time. So I had to have been about that age because my mother was so protective that I can't imagine she would let me do it much younger. And he said – you know, he said, "Tell me your name." I said "Earl Graves," and he said to me "Well, you know we enjoy having you down here, but there's a Y we have set aside for the colored boys" – literally he said colored boys. I said, "I know, but I happen to like this one." And he said, "I know, but you can't come back here again."
I was upset about it, not from the racist point of view, but the fact he said I couldn't come back again. So I remember coming home and saying that to my mother. My mother was five-two and as she got out of the chair it seemed to me I saw someone get up that looked like they were ten feet tall. She picked up the phone and called a woman who was very – an activist in our community, Ada Jackson. Lived right around the corner on Halsey Street. All of this was when I was ten years old. It's very vivid in my mind. And she told her, "Mrs. Jackson, you go marching right down there and confront that person. And if he says that he's not going to let your son swim, then we'll all go down there, and we'll tell him about it, and we'll find out what this Christian YMCA is all about.” But my mother went there to see this guy. She walked into the office and the guy knew he was in trouble already. She said, "Now tell me again about what you told my son. Not only did I get to swim from that point forward, but that Y became integrated because my mother explained to him what he could expect and the wrath of God that was going to come down on him if her son and any other black boys, as he called them – or called us – were not allowed to swim. So, there was – I mean, those are vivid memories. My mother – I remember her telling me that you don't have to let anyone talk down to you in terms of – but you have to be respectful of adults, but not talk down to you. She made us very race conscious, and so when you're that way early on – I found myself in the old days, when somebody said black before they said shoes, I was ready to get up and jump and fight. So in some instances it made us more sensitive than we needed to be. And so today – still, I mean, there's an antenna up all the time that says, "I want to know, I want to see where this racism may be coming from," and it's still very much there and it's still very much in our favorite New York.
BOND: What about the difference in this race consciousness between mother and father? What might your father have done had he been confronted with this?
GRAVES: I don't know that. You know, it's interesting. I was – as I said, I was in college at that time. We were not close. I very much wish we could have been, meaning my father and I. We didn't have a relationship where he put his arm around me and said, "Let's walk on down the street" or – I remember he and my uncle taking me to a Negro league baseball game. I saw Satchel Paige play. I saw some of the players that eventually ended up in the Major Leagues playing in the African-American league. So when I wear that shirt that says National Negro League, I knew what that was. But my father, I never got a chance – he wanted me to do well in school. He wanted me to own something and not rent. He said to me, "Renters are people who end up being beggars for the rest of their lives." So therefore us owning a home was a natural thing. His working on it – every Christmas he changed the linoleum in the house. He painted it all, he painted it again. Myself, and I should say my three sons and I, and their wives, and our wives all own homes. The oldest of our sons, he's owned his home now at least ten years, and so it meant that by the time he was thirty he owned his own house. Each one of our sons has subsequently has done the same thing and they all know to fix up their own homes. They all know that if you own it, then you have to do it right. We have invested together as partners, and other things, where we again are owners and not renters.
BOND: Is it fair to say that your father's interest in this is both racial – this is something black people need to do – as well as this is something people generally need to do?
GRAVES: Absolutely. It was racial as well as – it was racial as well as economic. He saw it as the thing that was going to lift us up. And as a matter of fact, as I look back – and I think I mention it in my book, How To Succeed in Business Without Being White – he also wanted to own a business. He used to talk about a candy store. He used to talk about if he could have a candy store – and because there was cash money all the time. So there was a sense that – and that was his level of vision at that time, because how could a person who indeed was a high school graduate back in the twenties hope to aspire to anything at all, when everything around him seemed to be racially motivated and racially put in cells where he was not going to have this opportunity. But owning a candy store in our own neighborhood was something I remember him discussing and mentioning. It never got any further, nor did it have a meaning for me.
But it had to have done something because when I had the option at the tragedy of Robert Kennedy's death, and I'd been working for him from '65 to '68, and where you and I had a chance to meet in the civil rights movement, it wasn't – when we had that option of, "Do you want to get a job with IBM?" Because Tom Watson who then was alive at IBM and the founder, offered all of the people who had worked for Robert Kennedy – there were sixty-five full-time staff people – he offered all of us jobs. I had elected to go and take a personal loan of $25,000 and to start a business. I wanted to be a consultant because I do remember working for Kennedy, the consultants. I wasn't sure what they did and it was always a little vague. But it seemed to me that they were able to point themselves in the direction of their interests, and so that's what I did. So the rest of it's history. Yes. When he talked about "here's why you ought to do something" there was always a racial tone that said you can be somebody, and that was driven home.
Again, I think it goes back to the West Indian culture. And if you were to examine it in terms of what – many people say, "What makes West Indian people as arrogant as they are?" I think part of it is that they have a place to go back to, if you're Jamaican, which we're not. Our family's from Barbados. There's a place that they think of as being much better than this place called the United States, at least in terms of where there are opportunities. In other words in the thirties and forties and fifties, every Jamaican or Barbadian or Trinidadian, if you went back home you were a citizen, because to an extent you were getting ready to run governments. All of those countries became run by African leaders in the fifties and sixties. So therefore that was already in place, and therefore the progress that we still have to make in this country was already being accomplished in those places, so therefore you had a sense of you came from a better place, and that gave you a sense of arrogance or a sense of importance, that other persons might not have had.
BOND: Now, before you come to Robert Kennedy and military service, you go to Morgan State College. And –
GRAVES: Now a university.
BOND: Yes, now a university. Now at the Earl G. Graves School of Business celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. But you seem to me you're just working all the time. Not only are you going to school, not only are you active in sports, but you're cutting the grass, you're doing this, you're doing that, you're doing this. How different did that make you from your classmates?
GRAVES: I never even thought of it in terms – first of all, I went to school the first year with $617 – no, that's not true at all. The cost of the first year in school was about $617. Maybe I've got the numbers transposed. It might have been $671. But give me the benefit of the doubt, and let's say it was only $617. And I had about $300 I had saved up. So I went down to school knowing full well that I had to do something to get some money when I was there. I knew at Christmas time I was going to come home and work in the post office. I already had that in place from a friend of my dad's who – because my father was alive, keep in mind, the first two-and-a-half years that I was in school – at college, that is. But I went down and there was a bulletin board in the men's dormitory. Anytime a job was posted – in addition to the fact I was running in the track team – I didn't get any money athletically because I had the distinction of being the slowest person ever to run on Morgan State's track team and I dare anyone to challenge me about that. Now, of course, people remember things differently. As you are successful in life, the track coach remembers me almost being an Olympic – an Olympian. But that has to do, I think, with my success in business more clearly than my athletic success. But in any event, there was this bulletin board in the men's dormitory. Anytime a job went up I would just snatch the paper down. If it said "gardener" I said, "Yeah, I can do that." In fact, I ended up having a gardening business on campus. If it said "Cleaning bathrooms," yeah, I could do that. A security guard? I could do that. Working undercover in department stores – in other words watching to see who might be stealing something by being a [inaudible] going into the situation. So, in other words, people didn't know you were working in the store or watching from the third-floor window, the boxes going back and forth loading and unloading them. When you'd see three boxes come off the truck and two going in the door you'd say, "Well, where'd that other box go?" You'd look and there was another little panel truck sitting off on the side and so some person working for that department store was running a side-business, or at least stealing. But that was the kind of thing that I did.
There was nothing like cutting grass. They had a job where you walked around the campus with an idiot stick with a nail at the bottom, picking up paper. I'd just position myself in front of the girl's dorm and had a great time all afternoon just moving one piece of paper back over to the other side, knocking it down and moving it back over to the other side again. And I think in those days we were paid maybe fifty cents an hour. And I remember having a job before I went away to college in Brooklyn where I was paid fifty-seven cents an hour – and I remember telling my sons this story when they were just starting college. It was, "Dad's gotta be kidding. How could somebody work for fifty-seven cents an hour?” Not only did I work the fifty-seven cents an hour, but when I got home again – this was when I was saving to go away to school – my dad would then take out what he thought was a fair portion of money to go to the house, so that you learned the responsibility, you had to give back something to the family. Maybe he was establishing that, in case he – he was saying in his mind when he got old enough – he never lived for that – that I would take care of them. But we obviously took care of my mother and did that. But fifty years later, it was almost that long, they invited me back to the Brooklyn Public Library not knowing about – knowing that I had worked there, but not knowing the history of really what I had done but clearly the history of what I had accomplished in, if you will, my latter life – to be honored as one of three people – Lena Horne – I think it was four – Lena Horne; Pete Hamill, the writer; myself; and then the Burns family person who wrote – did the history of baseball and also did the history of the Civil War.
BOND: Ken Burns.
GRAVES: Ken Burns. So we all had our original – planted our feet in Brooklyn, in terms of families. So I regaled that I made fifty-seven cents a night. One of the librarians hollered in from the back, "It's not much better now," so – but it was still fun to look back at it, and then, of course, to receive that recognition. I think I've been very fortunate in that area.
BOND: Now, you write about your military service as you were attracted to the discipline of the military. But it strikes me that you were already exhibiting enormous discipline, enormous self-control to do all of these many things in college. What was it about the military particularly that – the discipline there?
GRAVES: First of all, by that time I had – I was a student leader on campus. I mean I started getting involved in activities. And it's very easy to be a leader, and it's because I always used to have it in my head that anybody could be average and it takes another ten minutes to be above average. I kind of carried that in my head because I would see that it was just easy to keep your room straight where you could find everything you needed, and even at home I always did that. If you ask me today – and I've got a fairly large closet, my wife would say it's a sickness, but in any event – but buying clothes, it's just that I wasn't fortunate enough to do that a long time ago – I have a fairly large closet and yet I could say to you, "Julian, go home, open up the – there's three sets of drawers on the left-hand side as you go in the room. In the left-hand set of the three drawers in the bottom drawer you're going to find my brown socks and they'll be in – get me a pair of brown socks now." You say, "Well – " My wife's going to say that's a little sick, but actually I know where things are. I can tell you w here the summer suits are and I can tell you where things are. I'm that way about my office. You don't find any – when I leave – someone told me many, many years ago. I asked a person – a time-in-motion person – I said, "What's the most successful executive you ever met?" And this is twenty years ago. He said to me, "He was a person that never left a piece of paper on his desk when he left." From that time on – if you went to my desk right now – if there's a piece of paper on my desk, now I might have hidden it in the drawer, I can't tell you I haven't done that. But if the mail comes in that day, I try to get the mail out. If I get an e-mail – and my family is very proud of me now that I'm learning about computers –
BOND: I'm proud of you too, Earl. I'm waiting for you to send me the first e-mail.
GRAVES: You're going to get one. Stand by. But the discipline of doing things a certain way – I just found that people were kind of lazy in general. They wanted somebody else to do it for them. So therefore, on campus I became the person who was responsible for giving the fraternity parties and the fraternity activities – the ball, black-tie ball we held each year. They were at the beginning of the year, which was an enormous sum, they'd give me $3,000 and say, "Take care of the activities." Well, one, they trusted me and, two, they should have trusted me. But I didn't have a car on campus. That enabled me to take taxis everywhere because I had the budget all worked out in my mind and we had the best entertainment you could possibly imagine for what was $3,000 for the whole year. And that meant that I had the money from the fraternity, money from the sorority, because we had a sister sorority called the Deltas, as Omegas, which is a large African-American – the largest and most important, we say African-American fraternity.
But the point is that I could organize that. I could organize some of the demonstrations we had to integrate the movie theater near the campus, contiguous with the campus almost, because in the fifties, Baltimore was still very much segregated. So we opened up the theaters. We opened up the shopping center, and the shopping center in Baltimore when I was at Morgan, if you put on a hat, it wasn't just a Berman hat. You owned the hat. And so there was a great hostility between the surrounding campus, the physical, surrounding campus and what was, in fact, the student body. And I was involved in that. I got to be in charge of the committee that ordered all the movies on campus, and for one semester we had nothing but Westerns until the dean grabbed me and said, "Graves, we can't have Westerns every week for what the campus would watch." My wife says that there's a mental lapse somewhere since I still very much like watching John Wayne, because you know John Wayne – the Indians are going to lose because that's the way it has to come out according to Hollywood – and so you can go off and go to the bathroom, get a hamburger, and come back and still see that John Wayne's beating up on the Indians. But again, it enabled me to be a leader.
I remember one semester that we had a men's dormitory council – not one semester, it was actually my senior year. And – somehow there were monitors for each floor, and monitors for each of the three men's dorms. So this dormitory council, I was one of the senior people in the council. At the end of the year we didn't have elections. In other words, they elected a president for the men's dormitories at the end of the school year. Somehow we didn't have elections and nobody paid attention. When we came back, all of the members who had been part of the council had graduated the year before. I was the only member left over, but there were other junior members. But in the meeting, since I was the only one who was a junior at the time, no one else knew what had happened and the dean said, “Well, who did they elect as president when the council broke up?” And I looked around and there was no one. I said, “I was elected.” Well, that was the end of that election. I mean, I became president of the men's dormitory council by acclamation, my own acclamation, because no one else knew. But again it was a matter of just setting a tone. So, therefore, we had budgets to allow us to do certain things on campus.
I sang in a men's glee club within the men's dormitory. I enjoyed doing that, and still do. I have a terrible voice but I enjoy singing. I'm loud and that makes a difference. But then, again, running the business – it was a matter of I wanted to make money. I knew that if I was going to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in life, and I always had a goal that I'd look at so that it wasn't a car. Some how I always was interested in real estate, and I've done well in real estate. I don't mean to make that sound immodest but it's just a statement of fact in terms of those things that I invested in. And so I looked at things that I saw on the campus. I was challenged by my professors in school and I was majoring in economics. And one of the things that the students found difficult to understand was why was I majoring in something to do with economics or business. There were no – there were literally were no recruitment going on on the campus at all and there was no recruitment going on for African Americans so it didn't matter whether you were at Notre Dame or you were at Morgan State. There was no recruitment from major corporations. I was out of school at least ten years before the first recruiter showed up on the campus from a place like IBM to really invite African-Americans to come to work for major corporations. Keep in mind that, you know, you were yet to fight the civil rights movement when I left school. You were probably not even a teenager at that point. So in the sixties, when you opened up things it was going to be much different in many ways that you weren't even aware of. Today, the youngsters on campus if they haven't had six interviews or ten offers in the course of a school year, if they're good students, they really think they're having a bad year. There was no – you had no opportunity to have a bad year, when I left school you had three or four options.
But the headquarters for the Social Security Administration was in Baltimore. As a graduating senior you could work for the Social Security Administration, that was government work, which again African-Americans have always been very involved in, not by choice, but that was really the only opportunity – to go work for government, that could be local government, state government or federal government, usually the lowest paying jobs. But at least you had security of knowing that if, you know, you worked thirty years you'd get a gold watch, maybe, and you'd retire, and you'd have a retirement. And so you had Social Security Administration – you could teach school, which many students were graduating and doing. They were paying teachers about $3,000 a year. And then you could go to, then you join – through the ROTC program, you become an Army officer. I chose that upon graduation – to go off to the Army and it was the best – one of the best choices I ever made.
BOND: Let me ask you about the difference between a relatively integrated life in Brooklyn, attending a majority – overwhelmingly white high school, and then entering into the segregated environment of Morgan and Baltimore. What kind of transition did you have to make, if any?
GRAVES: Well, you attended an African American school like I did also, Morehouse, and there was a sense of bonding, there was a sense of the professors at Morgan at that time, and I think they still do, gave you a sense of the fact that there was something you could achieve. They certainly believed that integration was coming, because it was in the fifties – I started in '53, '57 I graduated. That's not totally – I graduated '57 and a half was my class because my dad passed away, I stayed another six months so I could finish ROTC. But I'm still very much a part of the class. Had I not done well in my class of '57, they'd've said, "No, he was in the class of '58," but they take credit for me in both classes. So that, success comes with that, also.
But I arrived on campus – first of all, I'd really never been away, to be on my own and all of that, and so all of a sudden I arrive in this dormitory and they're still have freshman initiation-type rites, where they hit you with paddles and all that. Well, that in itself was a wake-up. I knew that – I had visited the campus, I knew I was coming to an African American, all-black environment – I felt quite comfortable with that and I felt even more comfortable because it was, if you will, we were in an oasis. It was an oasis where you ate on that campus, I didn't have a car to get off the campus. Where you did – you were involved in sports, you studied, you went to the library, and so everything you needed was there. When you walked to either one of the shopping centers, you knew that you – and I mean, that it would have been inculcated by that time that I was probably going to meet some racism. And there wasn't racism because they realized that their income came from both of those shopping centers, the income came from the black community. It was really how I got started with only two businesses. I was the flower representative for the – there was a flower in the northern part of the campus, off campus. And there was a florist in the eastern part of the campus, where again, and those were the only two florists anywhere around. And I became the representative on campus for both of those florists.
But in New York, I lived in a black community, but we – if you – I went to high school in an all-white high school. There were 7,500 students at Erasmus Hall High School when I went there and graduated in 1953. And of those students, no more than twenty-five were Negroes – we were Negroes at that time – and 7,300 were Jewish students at least. There were about a hundred Irish students and maybe about a hundred Italian, and the rest were all Jewish. And so the joke used to be among the Jewish kids, they would sit in the cafeteria and they'd holler, "Where are there more kids in high school Jewish?" And the other end of the high school would holler back, "Israel," right. Because other than, and that was something they were very proud of, that there were more Jewish kids in the high school at Erasmus Hall then there were literally in Israel at the time. And I thought that – and I have friends that I still have – the class of '53 still has reunions, and as crazy as this sounds in Scarsdale where I now live, there are at least ten students who were in that class of '53, and I think two or three of them have died, so maybe we're down to eight. So you know it's one of those things where we all get together once a year and have a drink to see who's still alive. And we have our, let me see, I think we have our fiftieth, yeah, we have our fiftieth anniversary of having graduated from high school coming up next year because they're trying to get me to be chair, one of the chairs of the committee.
And one of the issues which has come up has to do with your integration you're speaking of, of course, an excellent question because I was angry when we had our reunion forty-five years ago that they did not want to have the reunion on campus, and now the question is why do we not want to have the reunion on campus. Campus, I mean we actually had a campus at Erasmus. It was an enclosed quadrangle of four buildings which surrounded and closed with gates at either end. And now that [inaudible] used to be all Jewish, right, it's now all African American. Now for the most part, it's a seed bed, if you will, of West Indian people who are here from the West Indies. And in many instances, many of the people who have come into the high school now literally have to take an English course because they come from some country in Latin America or South America. But literally that Erasmus Hall, which I graduated from in 1953, has flip-flopped from being all-white to all-black. And the graduating seniors of my class, who are now having their fiftieth anniversary, did not want to go back to the campus because they were, in quotes, "afraid." And so I've told Judith Handelman who was the – it means nothing to your audience – but her husband was mayor of Scarsdale and she was in that class – I said, "Judy, if I'm going to be on the committee, we have to go back to the campus and we have to have our reunion again." And it's a beautiful campus. The only hesitation is among the graduates is, "Can we go back to the campus?" and I have assured them they are not going to have man-eating lions at the campus when we go back. And so the integration is still an issue.
And you're talking about what happened and how was it that affected me in '53. I felt quite comfortable being an all-black campus and I think what has been the saving grace for the African American schools in addition to really just giving us an excellent education is the sense of camaraderie, sense of togetherness, a sense of somebody who cares about you. And if whether or not you a Morehouse that you went to, it took you four years to graduate. I got my degree in a half hour. I made a speech and sat back down and two hours later I was out of there. I can't understand why it took you four years. But any event – said a little tongue-in-cheek cause I enjoy doing graduations around the country today. But there was a real sense that people said to you, "You're going to be somebody." Dr. [Winfred O.] Bryson, who I will honor at this twenty-fifth anniversary you mentioned, was my economics professor and he challenged me to be better. He challenged me to be good. He challenged me to search the – my area of study was the steel industry when I was in – at Morgan now. There was no one working for U.S. Steel. There was no one working for Republic Steel. And yet my area of interest was what was the steel industry doing, what did it mean, what's happening with the unions, what was happening with the Japanese when Algoma started to manufacture steel? The World War II was over and they were going to start to become a very industrialized nation. And we were going to find out that their steel was going to be cheaper. That's S-T-E-E-L, not to steal, and it went on. And so that was different.
But I felt quite comfortable on the campus as it was. And when I came back, I didn't have to change personalities to say "I'm free to walk all over New York," because it's just a part of what I was. And then, you know, Baltimore's a very urban community also. I didn't go to school somewhere in Louisiana where, you know, it would have been the deep woods. I mean, Baltimore is a very cosmopolitan town. You could go into the stores downtown as I said, if you – in some of the stores you put something on, you didn't have to buy it. And others where they were a little bit more backward, that was the case. But Baltimore was a – and I found that kids at Morgan's campus, I mean, they really dressed like it was a college campus. Not unlike the University of Virginia in the old days. Now the kids get up and whatever – they put on their pajamas and – keep their pajamas on and come to class. But that's part of the culture which I'm against. And everybody wears a tie in my office and come back to that leadership later. So the answer is, I think, to move from one society to another society quite comfortably.
BOND: And then you move out of college and into the military. And what did the military do for you?
GRAVES: Well, first of all, the military was made for me.
BOND: Gave you a leadership position –
BOND: You graduate as a lieutenant.
BOND: ROTC lieutenant.
GRAVES: Yep. And they said I was an officer and a gentleman right away. Right. The gentleman part, my mother thought, still needed a little work to get it straight for me. But, I mean, I say that a little tongue-in-cheek. What the military did, first of all, the military was integrity because of Harry Truman in 19–
GRAVES: '48. The military became integrated. But I was in an ROTC class with a huge number of – well, for the most part, there were maybe about a dozen African Americans in a company of maybe two hundred people. And so the integration was really not happening to the extent that it needed to. But we all got along. I never saw any – I never saw any – my roommate was from Oklahoma, right? I think he had to adjust. He was a little bit out of it. A guy about 5' 4''. That might have been part of his problem also, being 5' 4''. But the military gave you a chance to be the best. And the reason so many people, so many men – because at that time women were not in the ROTC and they are now – and it's striking to me to go to a graduation and see two or three women stand up sharp as they can be and be young lieutenants also. The military gave you an opportunity, on an equal footing, to prove you were as good as the next person, and we did that with a vengeance. We did it in Korea; we did it in Vietnam, in terms of showing what the – the mettle we were made of. And so when I – when I went into the service, I volunteered and I went to Rangers Group first as a young lieutenant and I went to Airborne School, jumping out of airplanes. In fact, the joke is that on my honeymoon the plane landed and I was more petrified of the plane landing than I was of it taking off because every plane up until that point that I had taken off in, I jumped out of. I thought everybody had a parachute. And so my wife and I are on our honeymoon and we managed to land in the plane.
GRAVES: But then, again, it gave me a chance to really be a leader. I had the best platoon in the company, and then I had the best company in the regiment because at that time we were on the regimental organization within the service. And when I graduated – I ended up graduating when I got out of the service after two years because I only put two years of active duty in. Again, I could – you know, that was a discipline, the army. You put your clothes in one place, you put your socks in another place. Your rifles went in another place. And so the reason that I was able to do as well as I did, and the company did as well as it did, is because I led by example. And I think without realizing that there was a leadership thing, I just knew I wanted to be the best. I inculcated that into my people. And that's a word I probably overuse, but I wanted them to know that if you want to be good, you have to start with a baseline of where you're going to be and then set a goal for yourself. And what I tell people today, and I've written it in my book, in order to be successful, you really do have to have goals for yourself. And when I lecture the young people as I will this afternoon at the business school, I know that will come out regularly because if you don't have a plan – in business you have to have a five-year. You have a one-year plan, a five-year plan and a long range ten-year plan. And if you don't have those goals, you're not going to make it. And in this economic environment obviously, today, there has to be, with the tragedy of what has happened on September 11th.
BOND: Let me ask you about something. We're going to talk about Ron Brown in a minute. But you and Ron Brown are only two of a larger cadre of people in our generation – I'm sixty-one, you're sixty-seven –
GRAVES: I've got four more months to go.
BOND: But large numbers of figures in this generation who are leadership figures in law, or medicine, or any other field – relatively few of them have any kind of military service. And I'm wondering what that service did for him and for you to distinguish you –
GRAVES: That's very easy.
BOND: – and how does it distinguish you from the larger group that doesn't have this service? I had no military service.
GRAVES: Very easy. The military gives you enormous responsibility at a very young age. I arrived on the base, Fort Dix – I first went off to Infantry School and then to these other two schools – Ranger School and Airborne School as I mentioned to you – arrived on the post at Fort Dix and they said, "Those forty men you're responsible for. You're responsible for any problems they have, you're responsible for their being to places on time, you're responsible for how well they know how to clean a rifle, you're responsible for how well they keep their barracks, you're responsible for them to be back on the post. If they get a weekend pass, they gotta be back and if they're not back, that means you didn't tell ‘em. They didn't hear what you told them. They have to be back on time." And here I was twenty-one or twenty-two, responsible for forty other adult men, all right. And then I became the executive officer of a company and that meant that I even had greater responsibility. And then I became a company commander. Now at that point, I was the exec officer and then a company commander for a brief period of time for a company of about three hundred men. It was a headquarters, a headquarters company.
Well, I was giving instruction to people – sergeants who could have been my father. In fact, the reason that I really did not stay in the military, my wife-to-be was appalled that here were these men who were fifty years old having to salute me and I was only twenty-two years old. And she could not get in her mind the discipline of some person who could be my father having to not only take orders from me, but looking to me for guidance. Well, that meant that the – and that headquarters cut me to about three hundred men. I used to have a payroll about a quarter-million dollars. They would hand you a bag of money – a satchel of money with United States Mint written on it or whatever – U.S. Treasury, excuse me – a bag of money on payroll day. Once a month the troops got paid. They'd have one sergeant walking you with a car, and you with a forty-five, and you'd have that quarter-million dollars. You'd march over to that headquarters company where you would accompany a commander or an exec at the time, and you'd sit there and count out every dollar. And if there was a dollar missing, you were in trouble, if there was $50 missing, because as far as they were concerned, you have to come back and tell them before you started the payroll – before you started giving the men – and payroll, every one of those sergeants, every one of those privates is waiting for their pay. So there's a leadership thing that said, "A quarter-million dollars. I gotta find this money now." I must tell you when I was $10 over, I didn't worry about it. When I was $10 under, since I was getting paid a whole $237 a month to jump out of planes, with a little extra money for jumping out of planes and not landing them, I had – I was very conscious.
But what would happen, you'd put all the money in envelopes and so your hands were green by the time you got ready to actually give the money to the men. And I knew in my mind that somebody was going to shriek somewhere in the middle of the afternoon because I was going to hand somebody an envelope that had $10 shy. And they were usually – in other words, if I had $10 left over and I counted all this money, I was not about to see where this $10 was due. And so I knew that sometime during the morning, somebody's going to come over in a panic and say, "Lieutenant, Lieutenant, I'm missing $10." And I'd say, "Prove it." And the poor guy would stand there and count it out and I'd just hand him the $10 bill. Now when I was $10 under, I'd say, "Count it again and let me see what you got," because I wanted to find where the $10 was. Sometimes you'd have to go through half the company to find this $10 bill. So it was a discipline, again, that you learn. Hopefully that answered the question.
GRAVES: If you ask me where I really learned something about leadership, one was the military; most of all, my parents in terms of what they did; and three had to be working for Robert Kennedy. Everyday was Monday working for Robert Kennedy, every day. We had a saying around the office, "The unbelievable we did, but" – it's not very original, but – "the unbelievable we did immediately, the impossible took a little longer," because when Kennedy walked into a studio like this and said, "I want this to be a gym tomorrow," and that would be fairly simple. But if he said to you "I want this to be a housing – I want this to be a condo tomorrow," you say, "That's impossible, how in the world could you make it a condo?" And the guy or the woman who had worked for him for six months longer than I had, would say, "Look, this is going to be a condo tomorrow, so let's get on with it and get it done." And that was the attitude you had working for Kennedy, and so we had the best rallies, we had the largest crowds, we had the best staff. When you work for him, when he said, "What you are doing for me this month?" And in the areas I worked, I would help delivery service and physical development, have to deal with real estate. And then I was assigned politically to make sure that the right postmaster got to be the postmaster of Long Island or Levittown because I had a responsibility for Nassau County and Suffolk County as two areas of geographic responsibility. So you had programmatic responsibilities and you had geographic responsibilities. Again, it gave you an opportunity to show your best and if you didn't show your best, [gesture] I mean, because Kennedy was not having it. You know, he didn't suffer people who were not getting the job done.
BOND: Now you write in your book that you and he were not intimate friends, but obviously he knew you, you knew him. What did you absorb from him besides this, "Do it now, do it right, do the right thing, or you're out of here?" Besides that, what did this association mean to you? I don't mean the future contacts, but –
GRAVES: Well, first of all, I think I bring a set of values. I mean I didn't learn values from Kennedy, and I didn't learn values from the military. I think my parents gave me that.
GRAVES: And he had values in terms of he wanted, he thought – he had a moral compass and so I could identify with that. He was very religious, right? And practiced his religion. I mean, when we set up his schedule, if it was a Sunday and we knew we were going to be on the road, we had to find a Catholic church he was going to, right. And he wanted it to be, of course, he wanted it to be – it could be an Irish neighborhood, but the priest had to be Latino and the people attending the church probably, he wanted to be Chinese, and it would help if there were a couple of nuns who were in wheelchairs, and so he wanted that balance even in church. But again it taught you politically the right things to do, but the moral compass that he had was very much – and the values that I brought him and the values of, you know, seeing a table full of money that had been collected and knowing that when you were finished that table of money was just going to still be there. The knowing of things you were going to hear, and some of which you were going to forget, and others that you were going to – that was going to teach you a lesson. And Kennedy would go – because each one of us was assigned at certain times to go with him – and be going to a political situation, and Kennedy would turn to me and say, "Well, you better zipper your pockets on this and hold on." Because you know there was always somebody asking for something, I mean, there was always somebody pulling on him, "Can you do so-and-so for me?" And so I have some of the same attitudes today also because I find myself when I walk into a situation at this school, if some youngster does not hand me a resume, it'll be the first time in the last thirty years that I've been somewhere that some youngster would not have handed me a – in fact I'd be disappointed if the University of Virginia did not have some student that wanted to hand me a resume, and you can probably lay that out and make it happen now, but the fact is that that always has happened.
BOND: So, you're with Kennedy, he's assassinated, the staff gets these job opportunities, you instead decide to engage in this study. But you also get involved in the Charles Evers campaign. Tell us about that very quickly.
GRAVES: Well, I had met Charles Evers as a result of knowing Robert Kennedy. When he announced for the Senate, Charles Evers was right there with him and that gave him an official – he was the brother of the martyred leader, Medgar Evers, who had been shot.
When the Evers campaign came, it was after the death of Kennedy and so I called Charles, and a couple of us, and we said – who had worked for Kennedy, said, "We want to come down and work in your campaign." He said "Fine, you come down, and you know, boy I'll put you to work." And so there we were at Fayette, Mississippi, and Charles said to me – and he invited me to stay at his house one night during the campaign when we were working for him down there. And we were at his brother's house, he took us by his brother's house and showed us the – where the shot had shot had hit the door, because if you remember it went through his body and hit the door, the screen door. And I mean the thing, the guy must have hit him with an elephant gun, I mean, in terms of the death or the assassination. And so I said to Charles, "Well, how do you know we're going to be safe if I'm staying here with you? And he had a brick fence about four feet high around and he said, "Watch," and he hit his flashlight and across the street a signal came back with another flashlight and then he turned in another direction and flashed it again, and another signal came. And I said, "Who are those?" He said, "Those are the Deacons" – if you remember the Deacons –
BOND: Deacons for Defense.
GRAVES: Deacons for Justice. Deacons for Justice, and I said, "Those are the same guys that have been following us." He said "Right." He said he didn't go anywhere there wasn't a car load of guys with shotguns riding right behind him. It was like, you know, it was like the military all over again except that this was survival. But the Evers campaign gave another opportunity to see the power of people being in charge, whether or not it was Steve Smith, the president's brother-in-law; whether it was Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York at the time; whether or not it was Charles Evers, who in his own right was a real leader in terms of what he was doing. But it was another part of my life which I'll never forget.
BOND: Now, when did you think of yourself as a leader? Is it in high school? Is it in college where you get elected to leadership positions, or you're demonstrating leadership by having businesses that employ other people? When do you say, or do you ever say, "I'm a leader"?
GRAVES: I think I say that now. I think that Black Enterprise Magazine which you're going to come to, I assume, in this discussion.
BOND: But before that, in the military?
GRAVES: It's very much there now. But I think in college I realized – my roommate and I used to kid around because between us we were running about six organizations on campus. Again, the reason you get to be in charge is because most people are lazy. They want someone else to do the work for them. So one of us was president of the fraternity. He was the president of the student body. I was president of the Episcopal Club. I was president of the men's dorm by acclamation from myself if you remember, I mentioned that. He was president, he was the colonel in charge of the ROTC regiment, meaning the student commander of the ROTC regiment. So between us we were running about six things. Now we didn't walk around saying "Are you a leader? Am I a leader?" and giving each other high five. In fact high five's were not in at that point. That means that you and I are really old if they were not in at that point. But anyway we probably had some other way to identify.
BOND: I'm just curious about when you began to say, if not articulate out loud, that, "I'm a leader. I'm running this, I'm running that, I'm running this." So you're saying this was college where this became apparent that you had these skills. You had these abilities. People would follow you. You could run things. It becomes clear to you then during your college years and in the military, of course.
GRAVES: Military followed right with that. Then I went into real estate. When I got out, as I told you I got out of the military and went into real estate, I sat there and became one of the star salesmen – because, you know, when you sell three houses you picked up $1,000 from three sales. You can get reasonably comfortable with $3,000 a month particularly when they're paying teachers $3,000 a year and you're making that in a month. But that wasn't enough to satisfy. So the other people were lazy. So I realized that if knew the houses before – they didn't have any multiple listings at that time – and so if I knew the houses that were going to come on sale or be available for sale, and I knew a customer that wanted that, I would go and find a house, just the house that person wanted. So I became one of the stars of that real estate office. I don't mean to sound immodest about it, but maybe it wasn't that hard to be a star. But I was able to be the best in that real estate office at an early age. And then, of course, having this military background, the white guy who we all were working for, the ownership of the brokerage office, was a person, white. He would say, "There's that lieutenant again showing you guys how to do things."
But it goes back to – you know, a real leader does not walk around checking all the time to see if he or she is a leader. I mean, today if you ask me – and we'll cover it, what's happening back in New York, I'm very much involved in trying to help with a fund for African-American firemen and policemen, not that they won't be handled by the general fund, but they have some special needs which I'll speak to the students about this afternoon. Again, I didn't stand around and wait. I just decided let me go do something. I called up the heads of the major organizations that have to do with African-American firemen and policemen and this tragedy for September 11th. There's Noble. There are the Guardians, which is the rank and file. There's the Vulcans, which are the firemen. There's the International Fraternity of Black Firefighters. Going to those folks and saying I can help you, and let me show you how. So now we're already well off to what will be raising money to help and train – retain – recruit, retain, and promote African-American firemen and policemen who have not had the opportunity. But again, that's not waiting for someone standing around to say, "Let's do something." It is – and I must say to you that you don't say to yourself every day "I'm a leader." You just get on with it. The reason that I can be successful in business is because the people in my office know that I'm going to lead by example. And I'm doing it for my sons. The reason my sons are as successful as they are in business, and the reason they are as successful as they are as young men and as parents, is because they've had an opportunity to see what my wife and I have done. We've been married forty-one years. She said she raised four sons – the three of them and me. I think that's not being too generous, but anyway, we love each other very much. But they got a chance to see that. They got a chance to see me cut grass. They got a chance to see me work hard, and they are very close to their sons, again, because they knew that when they played Little League baseball I was there.
There's nothing worse than Little League Baseball. That's like watching paint dry. It's like watching grass grow – in terms of slow, it's boring. Most of the kids in Scarsdale are not terribly coordinated in terms of their athletics and watching the ball go behind them and between their legs. But the fact is that I was there. So that's again – and you've done the same thing with your kids – you just sat here and regaled to me what each one of the five children is doing and how well they're doing and you're proud of them. That's a part of leadership. Again, it's a term we're using here in this event, and I think you're forcing me more to think about the leader that I am today, and whereas, than I probably ever thought about in my life. I just went ahead and did it and people accepted it. That's the other thing, because again I say to you, people, black and white, basically are inherently lazy. They'd rather somebody else do it. It really does not have to do with race. It just has to do with the make up. A lot of people don't want to walk in harm's way either, all right. That's another part of it. I mean to be a leader, to be the civil rights leader that you were – I've said all the time you probably – some of the arthritis you're feeling right now and although you're still young – has to do with getting clubbed in some event that you were – some demonstration you were at, or just having the guts to do it. If you don't have ulcers today, it's a small miracle. And so again, you were doing, without realizing you were setting an example. But you set an example for the world, not just for this country.
BOND: Let me ask you very quickly about the magazine, about Black Enterprise Magazine. When you began it, it's not only a business opportunity, but I keep reading in How To Succeed In Business Without Being White that you wanted it to be a how-to magazine. Why is how-to important?
GRAVES: Well, the whole premise of the magazine is to say to African Americans, from the beginning, "You, too, can have a piece of the economic action of this country," right? That the opportunities are there, whether or not you're talking about as a professional going into some line of work, as a person working in another corporation for somebody else, or in putting the key in the door yourself every morning and taking that – and whether or not that happens to be, and I'm just using that as a reference, but that's true whether or not you're an auto dealer, whether or not you're a florist, whether or not you're a manufacturer or something. Maybe it's franchisee. I owned a Pepsi franchise once upon a time. And that was a how-to, if you will. I was writing that magazine for the five examples, or six examples that was given, so that if you were a franchise operator I was going to be able to tell you something about what you were doing to your employees that would be useful. If you were a person aspiring to be a franchise owner I was going to tell you how you could be that, where you do an issue once a year on franchising, where we list the leading opportunities in franchising in fifty leading companies in the franchising area – McDonalds and Wendy’s and Burger King and Pepsi Cola, which doesn't make a franchise available – no, Coca Cola – they're not selling their franchises anymore, they're buying them back, and so that wouldn't be an option. But again, it's a how-to. It is "here's how – here's what people want to know."
Today that is most driven by black wealth initiative. We are saying to people that have had a campaign now for the last two and a half years that says, "You must save money. You must plan for the future. You must preserve money for your children's graduation, for your children's future." And this black wealth initiative has taken off to the extent that we've probably had on the other side of a 100,000 people sign up. The sign that they put on their own refrigerator, those notes that they send back to me are a declaration of financial independence. They want to save. They want to plan for their future. They're not going to let small material things overcome the fact that they want to plan for their security. So because in this country we're a nation of spenders, not savers. To the extent that you look in terms of the opportunities that the market has offered in the '80s – and now, of course, it's down, but it'll come back. We need to have more and more people who are recognizing the value of equities and the value of bonds and the value of stocks.
BOND: You know the things you're talking about, you would think are things that everybody just knows. Everybody knows you ought to save money. You shouldn't spend everything you've got. You shouldn't go into debt. You ought to put something aside for the future and for your own children. Everybody should know those things. Why don't people know those things?
GRAVES: Because we live in a materialistic society. We want to show people we have the best car, our kids went to the best school, you can wear the best clothes, you know. It is a matter of wanting to be there. We're in a society we wanted everything now. You and I knew – or at least I did, I can't speak for your growing up – but I mean I had, when I went off to college, one sports jackets or two sports jackets and one suit. I'm still trying to catch up with how many suits I now need to have because of that kind of thinking. But at least I've been smart enough now to certainly plan for my future so that my wife and I certainly, unless something dramatic, dire were to happen in this country, and I don't see that happening economically, that we can be comfortable for the rest of our lives. And also we're providing for our kids being comfortable. So it is a matter that we don't save because there are so many other things saying to us "spend."
We got this not very important $600 refund that everyone got in this country because of President Bush's initiative. When you look at it that didn't move the needle at all in terms of what really was going to make a difference for most people. $600 is not going to help them for where they are. Maybe that's a month's rent in a lower-income type of area. Or but say in New York that pays not very much. And so we have to make up our minds we're going to set goals for ourselves and I come back to that word again. "I want to save X dollars this year." That means in order to do that, you're going to have to make some sacrifices. You're also again setting an example of leadership for your children. They see you doing it. My son and our older son, Butch, manages a good share of our portfolio for us because we started setting the example for him early when he was thirteen years old. We were living at that time in a predominantly Jewish area, so he had to decide to be Bar Mitzvah-ed. Not because he wanted to be circumcised again, but because he knew at age thirteen, at bar mitzvahs his male friends got all kinds of monies, and he thought that ought to happen to him. So when he was thirteen I said to him, "Okay, for Christmas, which is a Christian holiday, we were going to give you I think it was $100, $300 dollars." And I said "I'll double whatever you've made that year." Well, it turned out that he actually had doubled the money that we had given him. So, I said that wasn't a very good plan. But now today because of his training, he's a graduate of Harvard Business School, had an interest in finance – that was his area of interest – he manages a portfolio for – a good part of it – for his mother and I. I have an interest and I watch him very closely, because I say, "Look, if you screw this up – don't forget I'm around a long time, if you want me to retire at all, ever – " And I'm not going to retire, I need to say to you, I'm not. I mean I will do other things and my interests will go in other directions but I'm not going to sit home and aggravate my wife which would make her crazy by twelve o'clock every day.
BOND: Now, let me ask you some questions about leadership and what your own philosophy of leadership is. What is the difference between a vision a leader may have, or you may have; a philosophy a leader may have, or you may have; and a style – or is there a difference? Are there contradictions between these three?
GRAVES: I think you start off with a vision. I had a vision for the magazine and then I had to write philosophically how I was going to make that vision take shape, all right. I thought about this. What was the magazine going to represent? What was it going to stand for? It was going to be for quality. It was going to be, if you will, an economic and moral compass to the extent I wasn't going to try to tell people how is I live my life. I was just going to -- by example. I was going to have a publisher's page – which I've had every month since the magazine's been in business and that's thirty-one years – then if that did that by example, it was going to be by example. When people meet me they say, "I'm doing just what you said to do, and now I've got a kid going to college," and the kid read my magazine, so they're there. So I think you need to have – so my vision are those same goals that I talked about before. Philosophically I've got a moral compass that says I'm doing things a certain way. I'm going to be honest about what I'm about. I can look at a banker today, shake his hand and say, "Here's what I'm prepared to do," or do a real estate deal on a hand shake. It doesn't mean it eventually has to be not committed to paper. But it certainly can be on a handshake. So there's a philosophy where people know that if I say to them "I'm doing X," they can go to the bank with that. And then in terms of – I've done the vision part, I've done the – what was the third part you asked me about? I apologize.
GRAVES: The style. It's the style in which you do it. I mean I don't think you've got to walk with a sign on your chest that says, you know, "I'm morally right." Or that everyone in my office has got to wear a tie. I mean the way that you and I are dressed. We don't have dress-down days in my office. I think it's absurd. I think this society has gone completely in the wrong direction. This nonsense about if you walk around in a pair of sandals, you can be much more relaxed and it makes your mind work better. I've never seen anything that's proven in any statistical data I've read that wearing relaxed shoes is going to make you be any smarter in business. I think you look smart. You look a certain way. I think that our society has slipped in a significant way. Like I said to you, growing up we were not poor. We just didn't have much money. But in that environment I had school clothes, play clothes and church clothes, or Sunday clothes, which you wore when you went to church. Never got it mixed up. I didn't have six different wardrobes but at least we knew. Again it's a style in which you do things. That style was taught to me at an early age. And today, my sons again, if you look in their closet they've got X number of suits and X number of ties and they know how they're coming to work. There's no earrings in the ears in my office. You don't dress like that. There’s no extreme hairstyle in terms of what happens in our office and that's the way it is. And I don't run a democracy. It's a business, you know, and there's leadership in that office that makes it very clear "here's how we do things."
We had a TV camera crew come in just this week to do an interview with me. I looked up and here was a black guy in the office with his cap on, backwards. Well, he had that hat off his head so quick he didn't know what hit him. I just said to him, "Look, if you had to do an interview that's fine. If you had to make a delivery, go down to the street and make it, because you're not wearing a hat in here. He almost swallowed his hat because someone had said to him, "You don't wear a hat in front of ladies. You don't wear a hat in the building. It's not raining. You're not going to do it here." If I was at the school this afternoon where I'm going to lecture, and there are students in that lecture – so somebody can kick this word forward – and there's someone sitting there with a hat, either they're taking off the hat or I'm leaving. I'm not lecturing in a room with people unless they can prove to me physically they have to wear their hat for some reason.
BOND: I think you'll find these students don't wear hats indoors.
BOND: Not at Darden. Go down to the undergraduate college. It's a different picture.
BOND: In many of the things you've written in your book and elsewhere, and in this publisher's page, one repeated theme is that political power and social power, economic power are all connected – and that economic power sometimes must or can precede the political power. How does that balance out in your mind?
GRAVES: Well, I mean I always – politically I always thought it was the right thing to do to support my school. But I had to have the money and the wherewithal to do it. I think that, you know, you can have great ideas and great thoughts, but they have to be backed up by something even if you have a son that's running for president of the city council. One of the most important things he has to do in order to politically be able to drive home his philosophy of what he thinks he should do as the president of the city council is to get himself elected. In order for that to happen, it's going to take resources. So that's a part of it. I think you need the two. Those things have to go together. They can't work of themselves politically, independent. I mean, the – you know, if you look back in history in terms of leadership, people need it. Martin Luther King did not have a bunch of money, all right, but he had friends who had money to support what it is he was doing, who believed in him, and therefore you could go out and raise money to make this Southern Christian Leadership Conference as strong as it was and be what it was. You can't have campaigns and be riding around the country and not have somebody paying for it. So either – so you have to – if you've got the political idea, you've got to have somebody else who's going to back it up if you're talking about what you're doing.
BOND: The King example leads to another question. Is there a direct connection between personal wealth, or personal economic worth, and leadership? Is every businessperson a leadership person outside of the business he or she may run? What's the connection here? There are quite a few well-to-do black people. But most of them I would not think of as leaders except in so far as their leadership has made them economically successful.
GRAVES: Well, some people don't have a desire to be as well-rounded, I think, as you can be and judge the things you can do. I think you can be very introspective, if you will, in terms of just looking in on yourself and therefore you can have a business where you can forget who you are as an African American. I mean unfortunately we have people who have done – succeeded and done well in business, and they don't identify with any of the issues or problems we have at all as a people. I think that's unfortunate, but that's – and it's their problem because it's to our demise as a people if we have people who are successful not realizing who they are. I clearly think that – and if I'm understanding your question right? Have I answered it for you?
BOND: Yes. But how does it happen that John Smith, let's say, is a tremendous success in some business, making millions and millions of dollars. But John Smith has demonstrated no leadership ability outside of this. Not because he's conservative or because he doesn't belong to the NAACP. But he just has no social conscience. How does that happen, that this separation between success here and no engagement here?
GRAVES: I could say he could come hear my speech this afternoon when I lecture at the business school because that's right on the money from where I'm going to be speaking to the students. I say you've got to do both. I think it makes you less of a person [not to]. I would like to believe that there are very few – I know a John Smith who was the chairman of General Motors, just stepped down recently. That was his name. He was the chairman of General Motors, the world's largest corporation. But he was also a person involved in many social changes. One, because it was the right thing to do, and two, because it made good business sense. He supported the United Negro College Fund. He supported the NAACP. He supported things within what you would identify as the white community, if you will, or the general market area. So therefore he recognized that those two things did go together and it was good for business. And you're not going to find unfortunately that many business people who are not going to have something – and the people that I will talk to at the Darden School this afternoon, if they intend to really be successful, they're going to have to take leadership roles in things which may be unpopular also.
BOND: Let me go back for a moment to philosophy. When you speak to students, or college people, you ask them in commencement addresses to repeat the leadership creed and I just want to read a part of it. "Here I come, World. Some of you may try to convince me that race will limit my aspirations. I know better. Every day of my life I'll strive for excellence." Is that the Earl Graves philosophy? It's longer than that.
GRAVES: It is not only my philosophy, I do that at every graduation irrespective of whether or not it's Meharry Medical School or whether or not it is Brown University, if I were to – I have gotten an honorary degree, actually I didn't do the graduation speech at that event. But I've done that at every school that I've ever – so it's my signature. I believe that you've got to believe in yourself, and all I'm trying to get them to do is – because a lot of young folks at that time that they're ready to graduate don't have a vision of where they're going. Therefore, and they don't have a philosophy of how they're going to get there in their minds, "What am I going to do? What's going to be my compass to get there?" What I'm saying is what you've just heard for the most part I've been using that at an African American school because I want them to know that people have tried to beat them down and yet they've achieved what they have. There's an opportunity to go do it. "I'm going to go out there. I'm going to save money. I'm going to try to make a difference. I'm going to make a difference in this country, and if I can, make a difference in the continent of Africa," because you and I know that Africa is a continent. There are some people that are confused about that – a little side joke. But there's that much of a challenge out there in terms of what we have to achieve and what we have to do: healthcare, education, technology growth – all of those are things that we have to focus on. So my sense is that I'm saying that, to these students, I know I'm saying to these students, one, it's a part of my philosophy. It's something I believe, and I want to instill in them a spirit that says, "Let me out of here. I'm going out and change the world."
BOND: Part of this philosophy is, "I'll remember the vision of a better world for those still trapped in the vices of hatred and unequal justice," people at the bottom of the economic ladder. How does someone who's risen to the top – and you can argue that a college graduate has risen pretty much to the top – how does that person stay connected in any kind of way to the people at the bottom?
GRAVES: Well, the person is going to have to – you know, I find it difficult to believe – and you can as a conservative, and I have people come and visit me all the time and say, "I'm a conservative" – but I believe everybody deserves a right to education. So you cannot have been on this earth, have risen to some level of accomplishment and really not have seen the need to do something for health care. Everybody believes that everybody will have an education. That you might not want every body living next door to you. You may be a real racist, but you believe quality education. Because I believe education is the key to everything for people. And so I have met very few business people, who, if you present the pragmatic side of why they should support the Boy Scouts, they should support Morehouse College or Morgan State – I would say Morgan State, you would say Morehouse – that they would not see that. Now that doesn't mean that they want you to live next door to them or that they want to socialize with you but they can understand certain things. I mean, there's certain key things that make so much sense that it makes the blinding side of the racism you may still have in your head go away.
BOND: In a book called Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment , a man named William Allen is quoted. And he writes that it's dangerous to continually think in terms of race or color, and that instead, people like yourself ought to be using more general language, the American language of freedom, rather than this focus on race. That to do so narrows you, and narrows the audience to whom you're speaking.
GRAVES: Well, I don't know Mr. Allen, but he must be on a different planet that I am because when you look at this world in terms of where we have to go – you can obviously take out any place other than New York City – if we're not focused in terms of how we're going to get a piece of the action as African Americans, or working with our brothers in the Latino – and sisters – in the Latino community then you're not part of the real world. We have got to have a focus. As an African American, this is never going to be perfect life while I'm down here on earth. That is for sure. And therefore, my goal is to see what I can do to make it as perfect as I possibly can for other African Americans, for myself, and for the society as a whole.
BOND: What about, "You're just dividing us. You're just drawing lines between people. You talk about black and Latino and white. Why don't you talk about all of us, Americans?"
GRAVES: Because reality says that all of us – I mean the lines of racism in this country are still very strong. You can go to New York and find out that you live in one community and you try to move to somewhere else, you're still not going to be welcome, and the fact is that you have to look at the realities of where we are and say, "How can I fix this? What am I going to do?" And then you are going to have friends. I have – we have social events at our home where all of our black friends, and I enjoy those events. There are times that we have situations where we invite our white friends and that's an enjoyable evening, also. But if you ask me do people feel better within their own? The answer is – unless they've grown up in a much different society, they do. Now I think our sons, my sons and your sons and in your case your daughters also, they have grown up in a different environment. These young people here at the University of Virginia, because they have worked together and studied together and prayed together, they will have friends both black and white where they wouldn't think of having something where they would not have, quote, "their white friend" at that event. For the most part our sons see things that way – I mean my sons and my wife's sons – same sons. So I think that it is a matter of age. I think that it is a matter of age, I think it is a matter of experiences, and I think it's a matter of which way our society is moving. It is not moving as fast as you and I would want it. Are we making progress? Yes. Are we making it to the extent we need to? No. And in New York we have a long way to go.
BOND: Let me shift gears radically here and come to some questions that may seem out of what we've been talking about. One reason for beginning this series originally was to focus on the effects of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. I want to ask a couple of quick questions just about that before we wrap up. Do you remember? Do you have a conscious memory of family discussion about the Supreme Court ruling?
BOND: What was it?
GRAVES: You know, I was in college at the time so it was clearly very significant. It happened when I was home. It was during the summer.
BOND: Yes. May of '54.
GRAVES: So, I was already home for the summer and my father was deceased, but my mother was again, you know – there she is, five-foot three – "We won another one, I told you that Thurgood Marshall was a good man, and you remember – " I mean my mother was in there all the time slugging it out. So this was just another victory for the home team. Now we got a whole bunch more, a whole bunch more games to play in, but this one we won. And we won, and it's going to – what a difference it's going to make in the South, and what a difference it's going to make. And it has. I mean, I think that the South has made enormous strides because of that Supreme Court decision – much more so than in many urban areas.
BOND: Now do you remember – were you and your mother optimistic, foolishly, about what the results would be? That is, did you think it would mean more than it has turned out to mean?
GRAVES: I think at the time it did, at least in my case. Yeah, I envisioned people were going to be meeting in the streets. I didn't think it was going to end overnight, but I thought in ten years – go anywhere, do anything, opportunities are okay. The rules are going to change. Everybody's going to love everybody. A little Pollyanna, if you will, in terms of what was the real world. But again in 1954, I was still in college and what – graduated – so I was eighteen years old.
BOND: Looking back over the nearly fifty years since then, how do you think it's affected you?
GRAVES: Well, my father dreamed of owning a candy store, right. I dream of owning candy manufacturing companies. My father dreamed of owning real estate. I dream of owning a city block. So those are the levels of change. If you ask my sons what they're going to do, I mean, you know, I hold my breath because what they see as their vision for what they'd like to do and I see them as my partners, as young men that their mother and I love very much. But their goals and their aspirations are set high. But I wouldn't have it any other way. That's the way it was with me, and I want them to think the same way.
BOND: Now, is your vision larger than your father's, and your children's vision larger than yours –
BOND: At least, in part, because you had his example to guide you and they have your example to guide you. How have you created a larger vision for your own kids?
GRAVES: Well, I like to believe I've not only – created for my kids and how I've done it. I've done it by example, first of all. They have a host of friends, male and female, that we invite to Super Bowl parties every year. And they literally start talking to Butch around December and they say "I made the cut for your father's party this year?" I actually let Butch and Johnny and Michael – those are our sons – invite the kids themselves, and they say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're making it this year." But they want to be in an environment where Ken Chenault, chairman of American Express would be at, and Bob Holland used to run Ben and Jerry's, and Barry Rand, who is the CEO of Avis, and Jim Coleman, the child psychiatrist who runs the Yale Child Study Center up at Yale University, who's Dr. Coleman. Those people are being – and Vanessa Williams dropping by, and Ozzie and Ruby Davis being there with several of their grandchildren. They want to be in that environment because it says success. It says, "I can make it, too."
Mind you, they're not just there watching football. Also they're networking. Right? African Americans network in a very healthy way and in a very positive way. And they're doing it while they're there and they may very well be doing a deal. They very well may be talking about a job opportunity for one of their friends that they can tell somebody else there. And so socialization for African Americans is never always going to be, "Let's just sit down and have some food and not talk about anything else." If we sat down at a social event, the subject of race would come around within the first half-hour after sitting down. It's very difficult to do. If we go to a mid-town restaurant for dinner, by the time I'm looking around my wife says to me, or whatever, she says, "You're not kind of looking at how many black waiters." I said, "There are none," all right. And she said, "But just eat your dinner tonight." She said, "We can discuss this on the way home." But I mean that's where your antennae have to be up in terms of a way to understand the importance of what it is you have to do.
BOND: Earl Graves. Thank you for having your antennae out for all these years.
GRAVES: Julian. Thank you for being my friend for so many years.
BOND: Thank you.