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Biographical Details of Leadership
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BOND: Mr. Hill, thank you for being here with us today.
HILL: Well, my pleasure.
BOND: I want to start with the Brown case. How did you get involved in that case?
HILL: Well, Spottswood Robinson and Martin [A. Martin], that was our firm – you know, Hill, Martin, and Robinson in those days – and we were sitting back in the library working on a motion for further relief in a case known as Corbin v. Pulaski. And it was up in Pulaski, in the western part of the state. And the telephone rang about five o'clock in the afternoon, and I was nearest to the phone so I reached over and got it and Barbara Johns is on the other end, saying that they had gone out on strike, and she described what had happened that day, and I congratulated her and told her that was a fine thing they had done and now that they had made their point to go on back to school. And she said, "No, they wanted to make a real point. They wanted to stay out, and they wanted us to come up and represent them." And I said, "Well you know, we just filed a suit down in Clarendon County, South Carolina, and we don't need but one suit to prove a point. Challenging segregation per se. And -- anyway, she was so persistent, so I said, "All right, we're going to Christiansburg Wednesday morning, and we'll leave a little early and stop by church, and you be at Rev. Griffin's church, and we'll stop by and talk about it." So that's the way we got started.
BOND: Even though the Clarendon case you thought was a stronger case?
HILL: No. It's just first. I mean, they had -- see, they had got ahead of us on the issue. You had a – I forget the man's name, the preacher down there – but anyway, the suit had been filed. We all participated in it. And we were awaiting trial. That was all. We just nobody had thought about filing a suit at that time against challenging segregation per se. We still had a whole lot of suits pending which we were out to try under the separate but equal doctrine.
BOND: So you went, in these cases, from trying to make separate equal, to trying to do away with separate. Was that considered a big jump?
HILL: Well, no. Well, see, here was the situation. You know about the young man, [Charles] Garland, giving NAACP a large sum of money?
HILL: -- to fight segregation. Charlie had one of his classmates – I forget his name right this second – to make a study and recommend the best use for it. He made a study and came back, suggesting that we challenge the education, and that we file suits all over the South simultaneously. Well, Charlie said that was -- would look more like a stunt than something serious, plus, we didn't have the manpower to do it anyway. Now, this was all in the early '30s, about the.time we first entered law school – when I say we, I'm talking about Thurgood and me. And -- but anyway, to make a long story short, Charlie suggested that what we ought to do is challenge the "separate but equal" at its weakest point, and at that is at the inequality. Everything was separate but nothing was equal. And that was the reason for doing that. Charlie reasoned that to challenge segregation per se at that time would be like batting your head up against a stone wall. And best proof of it is that twenty-four years later – I'm talking from time we entered law school until we got the decision – twenty-four years later we're still batting our heads against a stone wall, because they came up with massive resistance. So you know what would have happened if we had filed suit back in 1930.
BOND: But by the time the Prince Edward County suit came along, and the Clarendon County suit came along, you were ready to challenge segregation head on?
HILL: Well, no. We challenged segregation head on in the suits. See, we filed -- the other suits were all filed charging inequality on the 14th Amendment. But the Clarendon County case was filed in sort of a dual capacity. Thurgood was a little uneasy about it, but Judge Waring recognized it as being a challenge of the constitutionality of the statute, and he convened the three-judge court. And that's the way it got started.
HILL: All right. Well, as I say, when – that Wednesday morning we stopped by the church, the kids were all there and they had such high morale, and we were still intending to tell them, "Go on back to school." They were so, I don't know, they were just so persuasive that we told them, if their parents – we were no longer filing suits charging inequality, that we were going to challenge the state of segregation per se from then on, and that if their parents would back them, we would file suit for them. And so we told them we'd be coming back through there on our way back to Richmond on Thursday night, and to have their parents there, and we'd discuss it. So on Thursday night, the parents were there and the parents were willing to support the children.
But somebody suggested that since this would affect the whole county we ought to have a county meeting. So all right, so we agree to hold a county meeting – this was Thursday night, but Friday, the next Friday, not the next night, but Friday a week – and on that Friday a week, church was standing room only. They discussed it going and coming, and the vote overwhelmingly was for support the children. So we accepted the case, filed a petition, and of course, it was – they came in with something about they had plans to do this, that and the other – in a couple of years, things were going to happen, and so we proceed to file the Davis suit. Now in the meantime, Bob Carter had tried a suit in Topeka, Kansas, and [Jack] Greenberg and – oh, what's the fellow's name up there in Delaware? Wilmington. Had a brother at Hampton.
BOND: Yes, I know who you mean. I can't think of his name either. Louis – ?
HILL: Louis Redding.
BOND: Louis Redding.
HILL: And Louis Redding in that case, the lower court ruled with the plaintiffs. In the meantime, Charlie died and he – when he got real sick, he turned the D.C. case over to Jack, I mean to – oh, hell. George Hayes and who? The president, who later became president? He had a son in the Legal Defense Fund. Oh, you know, who was president? Nabrit. Jim Nabrit.
BOND: Yeah, Nabrit. HILL: That suit was filed under the Fifth Amendment, because Fourth Amendment didn't apply to D.C. because it was not a state. But anyway, now in the meantime, Clarendon County case went up to the Supreme Court. For some reason, the – I've forgotten now what it was, but it was some technicality, they sent it back. And by the time it got back all five of these cases, the other four cases, were all up there, and the court consolidated them and everything of that nature – usually people do, they do it alphabetically – and Brown happened to be the lead name. The case was no different from any of the rest of them. We had filed our case as Davis, but if we'd given the thing any serious thought we would have filed a suit under name of Barbara Johns because she was the leading spirit of Prince Edward County. All the rest of the kids followed her. She was a marvelous kid. I don't guess you knew her?
BOND: No, I never knew her. But I knew her uncle.
HILL: I say, guess you knew her uncle, Vernon Johns. I didn't know her either, except in the case. But Vernon Johns as you know was a firebrand.
BOND: I know. He used to talk about spizzerinctum. And he was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.
HILL: Dexter Baptist Church for five years before King got there.
BOND: That's right. They ran him away from the church and took King in his place.
BOND: Well, let's go back to the Brown case. So the Supreme Court consolidates these cases -- ?
HILL: All right. Now the cases were argued. The Supreme Court, they couldn't decide what they wanted to do, and according to later information that we didn't know at that time, we thought that in the Texas law case – the names have jumped from my mind –
HILL: -- but anyway the Texas law case, [Fred M.] Vinson, who was Chief Justice for the United States at the time, he wrote the opinion, and he went right down the line on our brief as to what would constitute a first-class law school. See, down in Texas they had opened up a one-room school and had one teacher and one pupil. Well, of course obviously, that was a sham, and with -- it was the Sweatt [v. Painter] case.
BOND: Heman Sweatt, yeah.
HILL: And so when that happened then we decided now, finally the court is coming 'round our way, so that's when we -- the [NAACP] convention -- decided to challenge segregation per se. As a matter of fact we, I didn't get to the convention that year because Martin and I were trying to the daggone case down in Hillside, in Durham, North Carolina.
BOND: So the NAACP Convention decides to challenge segregation per se – the court has consolidated all these cases by then?
HILL: Well, no. See, NAACP decided to consolidate, to go, per se – that's when we filed the suit in Clarendon County.
BOND: All right. Well, let me take you back to that. Was there a debate? I know you said you weren't at the convention, but there must have been some debate about whether we should do this, let's not do this -- do you remember arguments about it?
HILL: Well, I don't recall. See, I was not at the convention and I don't remember any serious objections. And now, there was some question raised. I mean, for example, after we decided. I know we had a meeting here in Washington and – I'm talking about just lawyers now – and I, at that time I advocated, "Let's challenge housing rather than schools." Because we had the question of location -- I mean, local schools, neighborhood schools were established. And I figured all we had to do now was challenge the housing, and kids would just go to schools where they lived. But somebody raised the question about what -- an experiment that was going on in Chicago. Trumbull Park, you remember?
BOND: Oh sure. Big riots.
HILL: -- riots and things. Create all that disorder. They said we wouldn't have those things if we went for the schools. So we agreed to that. Now later we had some discussion about taking on intra-state but that's another question. Let's just stick with Brown.
BOND: Yeah. So they consolidate the cases, and they argued them twice, didn't they?
HILL: They, we argued the cases, and Vinson -- I mean, well, Vinson didn't want to -- there was debate among the Chief Justices, they didn't want to have a split decision, and I don't think they wanted to hold precedent, but, on the other hand, they didn't want to overrule. Because as a matter of fact, apparently there was more sentiment not to overrule precedent than there was to overrule it. So [Judge Felix] Frankfurter was supposed to have suggested that all these historical questions, you know, that they gave us the answer, and ask, "What was they thinking of the Congress at the time that they passed the 14th amendment?" Because at the time they passed the 14th Amendment, you know, they set up a segregated school in the District of Columbia. All right, they gave us all these questions and we've assembled a lot of these historians, and Woodward was the chief historian at the time.
BOND: C. Vann Woodward, yeah.
HILL: We had him [inaudible]. In the meantime – I don't know how the order of this, but Bob and Davis, you know – there were a couple of Davises at the time, one of them was a psychologist. I'm trying to think, what was his first name?
BOND: I don't recall.
HILL: Yeah, but anyway, they got together for the psychological information and then they got -- they got --
BOND: Kenneth Clark?
HILL: Ken, Kenneth Clark. And Kenneth came up with his doll. And so when they gave us all this stuff, and sent us back for reargument, it came up the next time challenging that, and then we also prepared for the trials by presenting the doll evidence.
BOND: Yes, and then the decision finally comes?
HILL: All right, the decision finally came in 1954.
HILL: But instead of issuing this mandate like they normally would have done when they declared an act unconstitutional, they held the case under advisement and held it over, come back -- ordered us to come back for argument as to the remedy. And that was when we came up with -- when Frankfurter came up with the idea of deliberate speed. All deliberate speed.
BOND: Now, what remedy did you argue for?
HILL: What you mean? What remedy? Well, we were arguing for immediate, or, at the most, five years.
BOND: Now so when they say "all deliberate speed," what did you think that meant, or would mean, to the plaintiffs in these cases?
HILL: Well, as I said we felt that the maximum would be for five years. I remember discussing the matter with one of the attorneys from the South -- Jim Nabrit and I were standing together and we were talking to one of the attorneys from South Carolina, and we were saying that we ought to go for five years. That'd be time enough to get it adjusted, and, oh, he thought that was terrible, so we said "What do you -- ? What was your idea? What do you think the time ought to be?" He said "2020."
BOND: You mean twenty years?
HILL: 2020 -- he meant twenty years from now. That was his idea.
BOND: Oh, boy.
HILL: He was nearer right than we were.
BOND: Yes, indeed. But, at the time -- at the time, did you think it could be worked out in five years?
HILL: Oh, we didn't see any reason why it couldn't be. As a matter of fact, you see, in '39, you know, we filed suit in Norfolk under the Alston case. We got that judgment in our favor. We worked out a settlement with them. With the city, the community, and gave them three years to equalize the salaries, and that worked out fine.
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.
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?
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.
BOND: Let me take you back to your earlier life. Who -- what kind of figures in your life were influences on you? You mentioned Charles Houston a couple of times, and Thurgood Marshall a couple of times, but even before that, what about school teachers? What figures in your life helped to shape and develop you?
HILL: Well, my shaping and development came from two women. Of course now, as I told you, but I didn't discuss earlier -- but my father had deserted us and my mother left me with my great-grandmother. And she going up to Hot Springs to the Homestead Hotel to work, dipping water for guests. And so I didn't really have too much of a recollection before I was about four years old. But anyway, when I was six my grandmother who would be living up in Scranton, Pennsylvania died -- well, she was very sick, she came back to Richmond and shortly thereafter died -- and course, that's the first time my mother, that I recognized her. She had divorced my father and married again by that time, and my stepfather, her husband, Joseph Hill, came to Richmond for the funeral. And he carried me back to Roanoke with them when they left. And so I left Richmond around six, and went to Roanoke.
Now, living with my parents, that's the first time I really ever had any family situation 'cause my great-grandmother and great-aunt who I was living with, I don't remember too much about any home activities 'cause they were domestics, and the domestics in those days weren't making any money. They spent all the time working. They'd come home in the evening, and so far as I can remember wasn't never too much activity. I don't remember ever seeing a newspaper or magazine, anything like that 'til I went to Roanoke.
BOND: But that changed when you went to Roanoke?
HILL: But when I went to Roanoke, we shared a home, a house, with a family name Pentecost -- Bradford and Lelia Pentecost. Mr. Pentecost, was a chef/cook on the Norfolk & Western Railroad. He had been recruited by the Norfolk & Western to come to improve their dining car service. So he was upper-middle class as far as economics were concerned. And he would gather up all the papers, he'd gather up a lot of papers off the trains on Sunday, and when he was out on Sunday, and so he took a great interest, he'd read the papers to me. But anyway, I'm getting ahead of my story. Two years I lived with my mother and my stepfather in the same house with the Pentecosts.
The Pentecosts decided to buy a home -- this was 39 Gilmer Avenue -- they bought a house, 401 Gilmer Avenue, and were renovating it that summer. Now, Virginia went dry that summer, and my stepfather was operating a pool room at that time. As a matter of fact, by the time I was eight years old he had decided to build a stool and began to teach me how to shoot billiards and pool. And if Virginia hadn't gone dry maybe I might have been Virginia Fats!
BOND: Yes, indeed.
HILL: But anyway that killed the neighborhood where his pool room was, so he decided to go back to Homestead and work, and my mother was going to stay in Richmond to -- for school. But I was so comfortable with the Pentecosts -- we'd go up there and look at the renovations taking place, and I assumed -- they were living together in 39 [Gilmer], I assumed we all going to live up there. I didn't know anything about what was happening so far as the state was concerned. And I was just eight years old that time. Since I was so comfortable, my mother decided she was going to Homestead, too, and work, and let me stay with the Pentecosts. So from the time I was eight until I was fifteen, I was with the Pentecosts.
And Mrs. Pentecost was very -- a person with great personal esteem. And you know, back in those days, you had a lot of people [who were] traveling salesmen. You see, they sell everything, come to your house, you know. And what they would do in Negro neighborhood, is they would find out the name of the people next door, and they'd come in with a key to the house or, if they ask for Lillian -- "Is Lillian here for you?" -- [She'd] close the door in their face. So, they soon learned if they wanted to sell everything at the Pentecost house, they had to come and ask for Mrs. Pentecost, and also when they'd come in the house, they had to take off their hats and show their wares like they would anybody else. And so, as I say, I was known as the Pentecost kid, and was taught to have good personal esteem and not low -- low ego.
BOND: Now you said another woman -- two women influenced you? Mrs. Pentecost, and who else?
HILL: My mother.
BOND: Your mother?
HILL: I went to live with -- I actually lived with my parents in Washington. See, I left Roanoke after the eighth grade. For the schools. Unfortunately, the class ahead of me was a small class of about ten pupils. They tried to get Mrs. Pentecost to let me skip the third grade and let me go to that class, but she thought you ought to take every class as you go along. And the class I was in was about thirty kids. Well, teachers couldn't give too much attention to any one kid and another. I was one of these devilish kids, always talking or taking himself --
And there was another other boy in the class, a little older than I was, who was a street-wise -- had street smarts. And I kind of looked up to him, named Piggy Wilson -- his name was Charlie Wilson, but we called him Piggy -- and I looked up to Piggy. Between Piggy and me, we were always could think of a whole lot of devilment. For example, I remember by the time we got to about the fifth grade or sixth grade, or something, I had a suit that had been cut down -- from a man's coat, you know -- and [it had] little a watch pocket, little change pocket inside the coat?
HILL: I got hold of one of those little crickets and I'd put it in there, and I'd press it, and, of course -- determine the sound came from my direction, but by the time it got to me I'd have pulled all my pockets out and everything, you know, and hold my hands up, and teacher pat me all down, couldn't find anything. It never occurred to her about this little watch pocket, you see. I mean, the change pocket. And all that kind of devilment. I mean, just annoyance, that's all. I mean, I got my lessons. The other thing about this big class -- it was a big class, but they had false sense of loyalty, too. Nobody ever squealed on anybody about doing anything, and so as a consequence, we were sent from Gainsboro School in northwest, down to a school down in northeast under a woman named Sarah Brown. Well, Mrs. Brown -- Miss Brown -- was a good teacher, we all liked her, and she did very well with us, but she still couldn't catch up with me and my cricket. And Charlie, in the meantime -- that was during the period we Rudolph Valentino was a big star in the movies.
BOND: The Sheik.
HILL: The Sheik, yeah. In the sixth and seventh grade I remember, particularly, we wore sashes around our faces and think we were sheiks.
BOND: Tell me about Dunbar High School, because Dunbar High School was one of the best high schools in the country.
HILL: Right, Dunbar, that's when I left Roanoke. My stepfather called me on the phone one day, and said, you know, "Time you go to high school now. You can go to Dunbar." I hadn't been up there. I had been in Washington in sixth grade, I think it was -- fifth or sixth grade -- for a semester, but the difference was such that, between Christmas and when Christmas came, and I was in Roanoke -- oh, they had a big Christmas tree and I was the only child, everything was loaded with stuff for me. And the time I spent Christmas up there, they gave me a briefcase, I think. So --
BOND: Maybe they were pointing you toward being a lawyer?
HILL: No, it was just a difference in economic situation, for one thing. And they didn't know anything about raising kids either, but anyway. I went back to Roanoke, but then while I was in Washington, I heard about Dunbar. So he said, "Why don't you come on up here. You can go to Dunbar High School." So I jumped at the opportunity.
BOND: But what had you heard about Dunbar? What made Dunbar attractive?
HILL: Well, the question about -- Dunbar was regarded as one of the finest high schools in the country. See, back in those days, there weren't too many opportunities for Negroes with doctorals, with advanced degrees, or those sort of things, and the highest salaries paid were in Washington. See, they had the system -- the superintendent of schools and then they had 12th and 13th divisions, and the 12th was white and 13th was Negro. And they had the system all way down the line, supposedly duplication, and they got the same salary as white people got. As a matter of fact, teachers at Dunbar got much higher salaries than they did at Howard. And you had more Ph.D.s at Dunbar. They had a Negro institution of learning, at that time.
BOND: Now, was it a hard transition for you to go to this school from where you'd been before?
HILL: You say, what was that now?
BOND: A hard transition, to find yourself in this Dunbar atmosphere?
HILL: Well, yes and no. As I say you, see, I had plenty of self-esteem, and I used to tell people -- looking back at it, I knew I was in almost poverty for first six years. During the next period of time, I was, I lived in an upper-middleclass situation. I was great big fish in a little bitty pond in Roanoke. When I went to Washington I was little bitty fish in a great big pond, but I had no problem adjusting because -- although when I initially got there, I hung out with the kids -- well, I went out for the football team for one thing and hung out with the kids from the other side of the tracks, so to speak. And they would complain about they couldn't make any trips because they couldn't get any money. And oh, well, anyway I was in a temporary situation. I felt like it was temporary. It didn't disturb me.
BOND: So, you finished Dunbar and then college is next?
HILL: Yeah. Well, I well finished Dunbar in the mid-term. I'd never been away to school much of my life. I never went through the spring prom business in school. I finished Dunbar. I was one of those happy-go-lucky C students. But I discovered that – well, what happened was my stepfather had a brother who worked in Washington. He worked in the government but he was going to law school, and he was developing a law practice, but he had a stroke and died. And his wife gave me a 1924 -- she gave me 1924 annotated Constitution of the United States, and that's when I read the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. I couldn't understand why they didn't – segregation laws didn't violate them, so I went down to Congressional Library and read the cases that were cited as being where the Supreme Court had interpreted these amendments. And I read about Plessy, and I just thought they lost their cotton-picking minds with their decision, so – at that time, you couldn't – the big issue for the NAACP was anti-lynching law and you couldn't get a law through Congress making it a crime to lynch a Negro. So I decided the only thing for us to do was for somebody to carry a case back to the Supreme Court and convince them that they ought to reverse Plessy, and somebody ought to do it, so I didn't see why I shouldn't be the somebody.
BOND: Now how did you decide -- you're a college sophomore.
BOND: -- and you're reading the Constitution, and you go down to the Library of Congress, and you read these cases -- that just seems remarkable to me that you had decided, at that young age, that you were going to, many years later, challenge Plessy.
HILL: No, no, I didn't decide to do it that way. I decided I was going to go to law school to be trained to be a lawyer to do that.
BOND: Yes, I understand the progression, but just seems to be remarkable that you would say, as a college sophomore, that "I'm going to go to law school -- "
HILL: Well, later on I kind of was surprised myself. I hadn't thought about it at that time. Well, I went on to the registrar's office and checked my schedule and found that while I was happy-go-lucky, I had only taken subjects that led to graduation. I had no [inaudible] and all I needed was one more quarter of foreign language, and of course, necessary for the grade points. And then if wanted to finish my junior year, I could go to law school at the end of the first year in law school to get my degree. So that's what I decided to do. And that's the way I got to law school in 1930. In the meantime, Thurgood had applied for Maryland's law school and had been denied, but they paid his tuition to go over to Howard, and so that's what he did. But Thurgood had finished Lincoln with honors, so a lot of people thought it was a competition between us, but there wasn't any competition so far as I was concerned.
BOND: Do you remember when you first met him?
HILL: Yeah, I first met him at the first class we had. They had the assembly, you know, and Charlie [Charles Hamilton Houston] lectured to us, "Look at the person on your left, look at the person on the right, 'cause one of you not going to be here next year." And that attitude -- but what happened was, the competition between Thurgood and me was over fraternities. Thurgood was Alpha, I was Omega. And the class had about an equal number of students, and so somebody – half of them were Alphas and the rest of them were either Omegas or Kappas or Phi Betas or non-fraternal – and one of the boys heard one of the Alphas say, "Oh, we're going to run this class," and he told me that, so I organized the non-Alphas into one group. So I lead the non-Alphas and Thurgood was leader of the Alphas. Anything Thurgood and I couldn't agree to – if it happened we couldn't agree --
BOND: It didn't happen.
HILL: The beauty of it was we got out of class about 11:30 everyday, and Thurgood and I would go to Father Divine's – a place down on D Street – and, where you know, you put up your hands -- "Peace is truly wonderful!"
BOND: Yes, and they passed the food.
HILL: And go ahead and get a fine lunch for a quarter. And sometimes Thurgood got the 35 cent lunch, the deluxe. He ate more than I did.
BOND: We've got to move on. Tell me about Charles Hamilton Houston -- what effect did he have on you?
HILL: Charlie -- Thurgood and I, we'd come back to study over the afternoon and I'd go -- I had a job waiting tables at hotel, and Thurgood would catch the train and go back to Baltimore. So, we were in the library all of the afternoon. Well, naturally Charlie see us from time to time, and we became his protégés. And he had significant influence. We looked up to him and we used to call him "iron pants." But other than that we'd -- Charlie was a strictest disciplinarian, but what he also definitely -- he told us when we first met that we were going to work hard, and we were going to get approved by the American Bar Association, and we were going to get approved by Association of American Law Schools. And in about a year and a half, we got the approval of both groups. But he had us going to classes five days a week and on Saturdays we would do field work. Because most of us had had no previous experience with anything like the courts and hospitals – St. Elizabeth Hospital, the Lorton prison, the FBI -- we went around everywhere getting experience.
BOND: Well, Mr. Hill, can you see any difference as you look back over your career between a vision you had, and a philosophy for carrying out that vision, and the style in which that vision was carried out? Are these different things? Are they the same things?
HILL: Well, I don't know that I ever thought about in those categories. But, you see, I was inspired by Charlie Houston as to direction we should take and followed his direction, but so far as being determined to do something myself, that came just naturally, I guess. And also from my early days, I developed a good work ethic, and my mother [was always] improving it along those lines. I mean, as a matter of fact during World War II – I mean, World War I – I was ten years old. I used to get up at three o'clock in the morning. They dressed me well -- it was my idea – they dressed me well and I had to go get my papers as they come off the press, and sell newspapers in time to go to Sunday School. So [I] always had a job when I was in school – unless I was out for some athletic team, I played football and played basketball.
BOND: But did you always think from this moment – you told me about a few moments ago that you read the Constitution and you read these law cases -- when did the idea come to you that you would be involved in civil rights?
HILL: Well, I didn't think in terms of civil rights. All I thought about was that the Court was wrong and that some lawyers should take a case up there, back up there, and convince them they were wrong.
BOND: Well, I guess the question I want to ask is, when did you understand that race was an issue that you were going to spend your life arguing about?
HILL: Well, I didn't -- it never, that never -- that was never my idea. See, there's no way to deny race when I was coming along, 'cause everything had racial overtones. We were fourth-class citizens most of the time. Occasionally we get bumped up to third class, but from time Plessy was enacted and from time they removed troops from the South, we were fourth-class citizens. These people come here and talk about their immigrant parents, who come here with nothing, they -- this was -- from the time they walked across the street from Ellis Island, if they came into New York, they had a higher status than most Negros.
BOND: But how did you decide that you were going to do something about this?
HILL: What'd I say? When you read the action of Congress after the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and [how] the Congress had fortified it with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, [you see that] the Congress had given us all the rights, civil rights that white people had. And it was the Supreme Court that had taken them away from us. So, it seemed to me that the only thing to do was go back to Supreme Court, point out to them that they were wrong, and get our rights restored.
BOND: Now, I'll bet that other young men and women were reading the Constitution the same time you were, but most of them didn't decide to do anything about it.
HILL: Well, that might be true, I don't know. But anyway, some did.
BOND: Yeah, some did.
HILL: There was another boy in our class named Sweet. I don't know what happened to him, but he had his -- he always used to be in that case or not – his daddy – his brother was a doctor in Detroit, and they bought a house in what was called "these changing neighborhoods."
BOND: That's right, Clarence Darrow.
HILL: And the white folks told him to get out or they were going to remove him, and the mob came the night that they said they were going to be there, and meantime a lot of his friends in the house with him. The mob shot at the house and somebody in the house shot back at the mob and killed one of them, and they charged Dr. [Ossian] Sweet with the murder. And NAACP got Clarence Darrow to represent him, and he was acquitted. He never should have been indicted, as far as I could have see , because they didn't have evidence as to who shot the shot. But as I say, everything was segregated, and we knew it was wrong, they knew it was wrong. Just didn't seem like [I was] doing any great deal so far as being a civil rights advocator and all that -- didn't appear to me at that time.
BOND: But still not everybody did it. Only a few people did it.
HILL: Well, only a few people, that's right. But there were a number of -- your daddy was one?
HILL: He did a whole lot.
BOND: Yes, he did some of the research for the Brown case, some of the historical research.
HILL: Yeah, well, he was doing -- he was active even before -- was he at Howard for a while?
BOND: No. No, at Lincoln.
HILL: I know he was at Lincoln, but I'm talking about before he went to Lincoln. I thought he was at Howard for a few years before I got there.
BOND: But let me put it to you another way. Some people think that leaders, like yourself, make great movements, or like Charlie Houston. And other people think that movements make great leaders. Now do you have an opinion about which of these is the truth, or do both things happen?
HILL: Well, I think -- I think activities -- people move forward in activities to correct things and so, unquestionably, circumstances make leaders, but also leaders make movements. As I pointed out a minute ago, it never occurred to me that I'd done anything great until way -- much later. As a matter of fact, we had gotten the Decision before I ever thought about what you pointed to now. A kid came up to me one day and asked me what influence did Dr. -- Dr. -- he was a preacher. You know, who I'm talking about -- leader in the late '60s --
HILL: King. What influence did Dr. King have on me? I told him, as far as I could tell, none, because when I had decided to do something, Dr. King hadn't been born, or was just being born. I don't remember now whether he was '28 or '29 he was born, but he was born around the time that I decided to do something. It occurred to me I had shown remarkable good sense. But he wasn't -- it just sort of came naturally.
BOND: But I guess the question -- if Charlie – you had already made the decision about what you were going to do, but then Charlie Houston helped to direct that decision --
HILL: That's right -- he directed me and helped trained me, yeah.
BOND: But had it not been, say, for the Garland Fund, then perhaps Charlie Houston would have taken another course?
HILL: I don't think he would have taken another course. I mean, he -- I think Charlie would -- see, Charlie had filed a suit, you know, before that, in the covenant cases. And that's when the judge from Massachusetts who was on the court -- he pointed out to them how they could do -- they ruled that what they were doing was wrong, but he pointed out to them how they could do it right, and that's what they did. So then they had to go after back to the covenant cases.
BOND: I guess the question is, does a leader -- is the mark of a leader the ability to persuade other people -- in your cases, justices on the Supreme Court -- to do the right thing, or to do something? Or is it the ability of the leader to sense what has to be done, and then translate that into some kind of vision, or maybe these are the same thing?
HILL: I guess they are same thing. I mean, as far as I'm concerned you've got to recognize the things that are wrong and then determine if you're going to do something to correct them, and you have faith in your ability to do something to correct them. So I had sufficient faith in the Constitution to believe that they meant what they said, and that we ought to do something about it. You also got to bear in mind that -- I don't know -- I just don't know how to describe that.
Now Charlie -- the big difference between Thurgood and me was that I was an advocate for social change. I had no great regard for the law. Just like I think about law and religion. They're about the same. It all depends on who's administering it. And -- but I was always had as companions people like Thurgood --
HILL: -- Spottswood Robinson, and S.W. Tucker -- they all had high regard for the law. They had a love for the law. I didn't have this. I never wanted to be a judge. I permitted myself to be a candidate for a judge once, to try and break the ice, but that's not what I personally wanted.
BOND: Yesterday I played for my class the tape recording of Thurgood Marshall's argument in the Cooper case – Cooper v. Aaron. And in that argument he says that the young people in Little Rock, young white people are being taught that the way to get your rights is to break the law. Now that was 1958.
HILL: '8, yeah.
BOND: Two years later, black young people break the law in order to get their rights by sitting in at these lunch counters. And I don't think Thurgood Marshall ever liked that, but he couldn't reconcile his respect for the law with civil disobedience.
HILL: Well, like I say, like I say, he had this high regard for the law. I didn't. I had a partner named Martin A. Martin. Martin could not bring himself to believe that the owner or proprietor of a restaurant shouldn't have the right to determine who his patrons were going to be. I disagreed with him. I mean, there's too many things that it would involve, and I persuaded him to – because I wasn't going to be in town – to represent the sit-ins from Virginia Union at the time. And we also -- we recognized the fact that we were prominent people in the community. My wife was a school teacher. We picketed Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers – they were the big department stores in Richmond at the time – and as a result, my wife persuaded a whole lot of people among social clubs she belonged to – we had all those people out there. We took the lead, other people followed.
BOND: So, you didn't have any trouble with the sit-ins and the civil disobedience and breaking the law in order to win rights?
HILL: No. I didn't have any problems about breaking the law. As a matter of fact, in 1940, I decided I wasn't going to ride Jim Crow any more, and I didn't. And -- but I never got arrested. In situations -- when my wife came to Richmond to live, she was still working on her master's at Howard. The trainmen wouldn't put her in the white's coach, so I'd take her, carry her back there, and put her in the white coach, but they never, they never tried to attempt to arrest us or anything of that nature.
BOND: Let me ask you about something else now. As you're going along in your legal career, and you're filing these law suits, most of which ask for integration or a change in the segregation status --
HILL: No, the initial suits that say --
BOND: -- equalization. Equalization.
HILL: Equalization, yeah.
BOND: But when you began to push for integration, there must have been some black people who said, "There's a danger here. We can lose jobs," and so on?
HILL: Oh, well, there was a danger. I mean, you had people that said that when we were challenging inequality. We filed suits for -- see, Negro teachers got – the top salary of Negro teachers in Roanoke, in Richmond, for example, in 1940, when we filed a suit in Richmond, was $999. The lowest salary for white teachers was $1,000, and that was true all over the state and they only got one-year contracts, so they didn't never have to, they never developed into seniority. That was true of both white and Negroes. But what I'm trying to point out is that, there were teachers who went down to the superintendent and said they weren't after this, they weren't doing anything about this, they weren't involved with this NAACP.
BOND: So how did you deal with those people?
HILL: Didn't bother with them, ignored them! I wasn't going to waste your time worrying with somebody who are not willing to do something for themselves. I was going to go on and get people -- there were plenty of people as a majority, majority of people were interested in improving their conditions. And so, we didn't waste no time worrying with people who didn't.
BOND: At the same time, there's a sentiment in black America that says the losses of black teachers, the losses of black businesses, have been too great. That this was a terrible, terrible mistake -- that it never should have happened.
HILL: They don't know economics and they don't know how to add. There's no loss in anything. In 1950, the gross product in the Negro community was about $50 million dollars. Today, the gross product is somewhere in the neighborhood of half-a-billion dollars. I mean, we have improved, and it's nonsense to say that we haven't improved. What the problem is -- the improvement has been both in white and Negroes, among upper-class people, and not among the masses, and that's due to several things. One, the system has some defects, economic system has defects, educational system has many defects.
They talk about improving education, but when they talk about improving education, what are they talking about? They talk about vouchers and charter schools, instead of saying, "Public schools -- put some more money in them." They let the schools run down. Build up the schools, have a decent environment. If the teachers aren't capable, get new teachers. And require them to measure up. They put in teachers, plenty of teachers that are capable of doing what they're supposed to be teaching, not -- see, remember, when I came along there was -- teaching was one of the highest things negroes could do. Now, qualified people can get jobs doing other things, in integrated situations. They don't have to stay in that. And so consequently, they follow the economic plan, and look out for themselves. All these kinds of things have effect. Why couldn't they think in terms of putting in tutors in the schools? Another things that they've done -- I used to complain about it for years --
BOND: A moment ago – well go ahead.
HILL: They are just giving children, little active children, giving them all this – what is that daggone -- Remlin or something.
BOND: Oh, Ritalin. Ritalin, drugs.
HILL: Ritalin, yeah. Instead of finding out what is wrong with the children and giving them things. There's so many ways -- they never think in terms of constructive ways of dealing with these problems. Same thing is true as with drugs.
BOND: Let me read you something that you said in 1952. You said, "I think we should have a long-range program of talking in terms of not white people and not colored people, but simply Americans. But sometimes this racial struggle is a white-versus-black, black-versus-white." How do you balance that with the statement I just read to you?
HILL: Well, I balance it by doing this, I've moved forward from that. I think we ought to think in terms not only -- not worry about white and black, we ought to think in terms of human earthlings. That's what we ought to think in terms of. Remember this, the creator of the universe apply one means of foreboding and perpetuating human beings. And what is it? It doesn't make any difference where you were born, where you worked, where you lived – a fertile male and a fertile female, from opposite ends of the earth can mate and have a child, and the child one of them can be black as jet black, the other can be white as driven snow. The child will come out, maybe black as jet black or maybe white as driven snow, or in some, great difference between the two. Most times it'll be some variation in between the two. But the point is that the creator made it possible for human beings to live anywhere in the world. And we have frogged up in the way we've gone about it, and what we've got to do is stop worrying so much about superstition and being religious or legal, and think in, work in terms of evolution is the way that the creator who has provided for things to move and change, and if we were to apply it properly then we would make progress. Where we have conflicts and problems is because we don't apply the evolutionary process properly.
BOND: Now, when you think about -- look back over your life, Mr. Hill, and think about the leadership figures you have known -- Charlie Houston, Thurgood Marshall, then later, we just talked about Martin Luther King -- what kind of leadership is demanded today? What kind of leadership do we need today?
HILL: Oh, I think we need somebody who's interested in raising the status of the lowest element of our economic situation. We've got to change our economic system. We don't need poor people. There ought to be just two classes of service in the world -- luxury and first class. I have no problem with providing a system where people who'll spend more time and work the extra and make the extra effort to improve things, getting a little better, having a little more, bigger share of the return.
But! There ought to be a limit to that. There also ought to be a floor. Nobody should be beyond a certain level. There ought to be a level where a people have an opportunity – you talk about family values, ought to be an opportunity for people to maintain a family. If people got to work two and three jobs, and barely see each other, how they going to maintain family values? They don't have the time to spend with the children. If you're going to have family values, everybody ought to have an opportunity to work and live as a family, and that means you should have time to work and time to recreate and time to be with your family. And that's my idea about what we need to do now, we need to make a greater effort to make people realize that the evolution is the creator's concept of the way things should move and try to bring forth the direction that things should take for the best interest of the common wheel.
BOND: Are you confident that this is going to happen? HILL: Well, I'm confident of this -- we'll never have a civilized society until it does happen.
BOND: Do you -- are you confident that there are leadership figures on the horizon, or in the present day, who can carry on the work that's begun?
HILL: Oh, I mean, I can think of people who have the capacity to do it, now whether they will do it or not, I don't know.
BOND: Do you think that the circumstances of your life have produced you? Have made you who you are today, and they are different for you than they are for Charlie Houston or Thurgood Marshall? I mean, you're three different people who end up pretty much at the same place. Can you draw from the experiences and what you know about these two other men and compare them with your own, and wonder whether or not there are other Charlie Houstons, other Oliver Hills, other Thurgood Marshalls being produced today.
HILL: Oh, I'm sure that there are plenty of people with superior intellect from mine that could do anything that I've ever done and will do things that will be done. It's just a question of giving people an opportunity. The question is, we ought to be thinking in terms of trying to make it possible for people to have the opportunity to advance, and to -- the utmost of their ability. And you can -- people are talking about that they're against affirmative action. Name a person that has achieved anything, that hasn't had the ability – rather, not the ability – that hadn't had the benefit of affirmative action. You can't name one!
BOND: Of course, there are people who will say that they're insulted by affirmative action.
HILL: They can be insulted! People used to be insulted by a lot of things! Remember what was known as the Three Musketeers? They each had their swords on the back of their -- and if somebody said something, they got insulted, and they pulled the swords, and killed the people. You've had people sensitive about their personal ego – that's ego! – be insulted. I'm talking about people having esteem and ego are two different things.
What we need is a desire to provide and make it possible for everybody to enjoy this experience on this earth. We're here is where we are. We're here. I don't know about anything happening before I got here. I don't believe in anything that's going to happen after I die. I want people to have an opportunity to enjoy this experience, and to enjoy it, recognize the fact that that things change. I mean the creator -- I don't care what you pick out, it changes. Whether it's something man did, or something nature does, there's going to be a change. And we should make it our best effort to determine what's going to change, and how the change will best enable masses of people to get the benefit of it.
BOND: Mr. Hill, let me ask you, if -- what are the qualities a leader has to have?
HILL: Well, I think the first thing ought to be honesty, and they ought to have confidence in their own ability. And they also have respect for the abilities of others, and as I say, I'm high on personal esteem. And also, I think people should be kind of low on ego. That causes a whole lot of problems. Ego gets in the way, rather than -- and they also should have feelings of brotherhood or sisterhood for your fellow human beings. You don't necessarily want everything for yourself and nothing for the other folks. You know, they used to -- when I was kid, I was taught to avoid people who their prayer was, "Dear Lord, bless me, my wife, our son John, his wife, us four, no more." Think in terms of community. Think in terms of children. You think the village should protect and raise the children, and you also think of communities of ours as providing for the benefit and health of everybody.
BOND: What about the ability of a leader to communicate that leader's vision to other people? How important is that?
HILL: Well, I think it's of great importance. But, the only thing is, that is only helpful when the leader has a good vision. For example, you know, they talked us what "the great communicator," Reagan being a great communicator. But his vision certainly wasn't in the best interest of Negroes. So just because you got a vision, and the ability to persuade people, doesn't necessarily mean anything.
I mean, for example -- let me give you another good example. We were in the midst of the fight for desegregation. Dr. Billy Graham came to Union and made a speech, and it came out of the building. A youngster ran up to me and says to me – all bright-eyed and everything – "What did I think of the speech?" I told him I never heard nothing said so eloquently before, or some such word as that. It might not have been the exact order as those words, but that was the purport of what I said. And that was true. But then I later learned that he had given an interview of -- in some place, where he said he didn't get involved in controversial issues because he didn't want to do anything that interfered with his ability to save souls for God.
But how you going to do anything constructive, and not be controversial when a whole lot of people are burdened with superstition and ignorance? So I just never had any great respect for him for that.
BOND: What about when a leader faces doubts among the people the leader is leading?
HILL: When he faces what?
BOND: Doubts, doubts and uncertainties. The leader is saying, "Let's go in this direction. Let's do this," and the people the leader is leading says, "No, no, no. We can't. That's a bad way, that's a scary way, something bad is going to happen." How does a leader have to overcome these doubts and fears in the followship?
HILL: Well. Only thing I know is he sticks with his views, and -- now, you've got to bear in mind, this -- you gotta be practical about a lot of things. I mean, for example, when I was coming along, you couldn't just stand on the corner and make any fool remark that you want to make about segregation or about white people. You had to temper your own remarks and be respectful. And be practical. You also from time-to-time, you have to compromise. I don't have no problem on that, but you don't compromise basic principles. For example, I wouldn't compromise about anybody that's in -- "I agree with you we don't no longer need -- need -- " What was it we need? What's the word? What's the thing everybody's opposed to right now?
BOND: Affirmative action.
HILL: Affirmative action. Affirmative action. We need affirmative action. But now I might go along with some things that might not be quite what I want and so forth, but as long as there was some portion of affirmative -- moving in the right direction. But all I'm trying to point out is that you have to be practical sometimes, but you can't just stand on a corner and -- I never called some SOB's that I thought were SOBs, an SOB publicly because it didn't make sense. I wouldn't gain anything. But you wouldn't have gained anything by doing it.
BOND: Well, how have you dealt in your career with your own threats or threats against you? The cross burned on your lawn? And you must have had telephone threats.
HILL: Oh gosh.
BOND: Now how do you deal with those things?
HILL: Well, we took the telephone off the hook at night and put it in the trash can next to the bed. From 1947 until I went to Washington in 1960. Every now and then, after six or seven months, we'd try to see if it's going to let up and they didn't, so the only way we could get a full night's sleep was to put the phone on the hook. Telephone company raised hell about it, and I told them, "You could trace these calls if you wanted to, and you won't cooperate, and I'm not going to put up with it." So you just stand up for your rights. That's the only way I know to deal with things.
BOND: Now how did you deal, during this long legal career? I'm sure many of your clients couldn't pay. How'd you deal with that?
HILL: I just didn't get paid. That's all. We just didn't get paid. I mean, I bet you six bits to a dime that you can't find, over the years that we worked from – first as Hill, Martin, & Robinson, on down to Hill, Tucker and Morris – that people did as much free legal work as we have done down through the years. We never turned away anybody because they didn't have money – that we could afford to do with it. I mean, supposing somebody come in with some kind of case that required expenditures of two or three hundred thousand dollars to ultimately win. We couldn't do it because we didn't have that kind of finances, that kind of capitalization, but anything that we could do within reason, we did it, whether we got paid or not.
BOND: Do you ever think that had this been a very, very different world, that you could have been the senior partner by now in a big downtown Richmond law firm, charging $500 or more an hour to clients to come in, to get your advice?
HILL: No, I never even thought about things like that. That's just some kind of fantasy and waste of time. I was never dissatisfied with situations which I was in, so far as that was concerned. I never aspired to be rich. All I -- we made a fair income, have been able to live comfortably, with my wife's help, and that was -- we were doing things that we wanted to do, and that was all we ever aspired to. You remember now, great wealth is not only a blessing, it's also a burden, and you can't -- it's not always benefit. You know when I was a kid, we used to feel sorry for poor little white children, I mean poor little rich children, 'cause they couldn't run all over the field and play baseball and do things they -- according to the movies, the only thing they could do was play along with the butler and the maid.
BOND: Now, look back over your life and career, are there some key moments, key things that happened that had an impact on you that made you turn in this direction, or that direction, or take this choice and not that choice?
HILL: Well, in minor things. I don't know of anything of a major nature. I was always busy, and as I say -- I just don't know. I never --
BOND: Well, the gift of that Constitution turned you in one direction.
BOND: The annotated Constitution --
HILL: Yeah, that's right.
BOND: Any other things like that?
HILL: Well, could have. I remember riding on the train, going to Washington, when I was going up to Dunbar. I was talking with a man about what I was going to do, and I told him I was going to study Spanish 'cause I may go to South America. And I did. I started taking Spanish, and I stopped Spanish after a couple of years because I just disliked the instructor, and took up German. And when I was in high school, I remember also after I started taking German I remember writing an essay for a guy named – remember guy named Hill that used to teach it at Lincoln?
BOND: Yeah, J. Newton Hill. Yes.
HILL: Yeah, well, he was at Dunbar at that time.
HILL: And I wrote this paper, and I thought I'd written a pretty nice paper. And then I ended up with "das man will, das man kan," and instead of giving me credit for trying, he scratched on my paper, "Don't try to be so philosophical." And I say now, I've often thought that if he had taken the proper attitude and encouraged me I might've been a philosopher. I might have turned out to be a scholar, I don't know. But anyway I took his advice...
BOND: And you turned out to be a Oliver Hill, the lawyer?
HILL: I turned out to be Oliver Hill, C student.
BOND: Well, you've done pretty well for a C student, Mr. Hill.
HILL: Another thing, another thought about along those lines. I remember, we had a big ol' dictionary, I mean, Bible – it was large print. And I started reading this thing, and somebody – I don't remember now who it was one of the adults in the house, said, "What you doing, Oliver?" I said, "I'm going to read the Bible through." They said, "You going to read the Bible through?" I said, "Yeah." They said, "That'll take you a lifetime!" When I thought about it, I said, "Damn, this probably will take me a hell of a long time because I was a slow reader, all the time." So that, I gave up on Genesis before I got through Genesis. Now maybe if they had said, "Well, that's a great ambition, keep on going," I might have turned out to been a theologian. I don't know. My grandfather was a founder of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. He was one of these fire and brimstone preachers, but --
BOND: Well, we're glad --
HILL: -- lot of things of that nature could have happened.
BOND: Yes, well we're glad you didn't go to South America, you didn't become a preacher, somebody gave you that Constitution. We're very happy with the way your life has turned out and --
HILL: So am I.
BOND: -- we want to thank you for doing this.
HILL: So am I. 'Cause also – you didn't ask me about my family but I, when I was about eleven years old, I -- there was a young lady who – Miss Mauldin, who was a student at Howard in the musical department, and she was there in Roanoke. They didn't have a piano where she lived – she used to come by our house, to practice on the piano, had a beautiful natural voice and used to sit and when she come up there I'd sit there and listen to her practice and sing. And then when she got through she'd always let me join on her the bench, and then she'd say "Now we're going to sing our song." She was a long, tall brown-skinned woman, and our song was "A long tall brown-skinned gal make a preacher lay his Bible down."
BOND: All right.
HILL: And the sheet music had a song called "Brown-Skin Gal" [illustration of a woman] moving off and the preacher trying to chase after her and throwing his Bible over on the table and that was my ambition, vision. And I married a long tall brown-skinned gal who was a wonderful helpmate and we lived – she died about three weeks after our 59th wedding anniversary – and we had wonderful years together. We had a fine son. He teaches experimental psychology at Virginia State University. He has one daughter and she's graduated from MIT and does, with that Lucent – one of the spin-offs from AT&T --
BOND: Lucent Technologies?
HILL: Lucent Technologies. In an experimental unit. They just sent her to the Netherlands to work over there for awhile.
BOND: Well, as I said earlier, we could talk for hours and hours and hours and hours, but we don't want to tire you out.
HILL: Okay. But all I'm saying is -- he divorced that wife and married another girl, and she teaches philosophy at Virginia State and they had two children, she had two children, so he had two stepchildren as well as his own daughter. And so, we've had a wonderful time. I've lived to be ninety-three. Not too bad.
BOND: No, not bad at all.
HILL: My vision is try to make it to twenty-seven . That'll give me a hundred years.
BOND: Good for you. I hope I'm around to come to the birthday party.
BOND: Thank you again, Mr. Hill.
HILL: Okay, thank you.