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Biographical Details of Leadership
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BOND: I'm going to begin with some questions about Brown v. the Board of Education and then come to some personal information. Do you remember hearing about the Brown case when it was decided on May 17, 1954?
MARSH: Yes. All of us knew that Brown was pending. And at the moment, the day the decision came down, I was working in a restaurant on Broad Street in Richmond. And I was a dishwasher, and I came out to the front of the restaurant with a tray of glasses. I was, of course, a college student and the young men out front were high school students, and they were serving ice cream, and I was back there with the hot dishwashing machine. And as I brought the glasses out they looked at me sort of funny. And I said, "What's wrong?" They didn't say anything. I went back to the back and turned my radio on, and the announcer was announcing, "Today the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education. From now on race segregation in public education is illegal." I knew why the young men were looking at me funny. So I felt different. I mean, I knew about the case. So when I heard that the decision was announced I knew that that was a change, and that in a little while college students wouldn't be sweating over dishwashing machines while high school students, making twice as much would be scooping ice cream.
BOND: Did you and the high school students, who were white, did you talk about it in the immediate aftermath then? Was there any discussion about it?
MARSH: No. They looked funny. And I felt good, I felt pleased that something was happening.
BOND: When you got back to college what about your classmates and your schoolmates?
MARSH: Oh, everyone was excited. Everyone was very excited. I was attending Virginia Union. Of course, an African American college. The students were extremely excited that this decision had come down.
BOND: Now what did you think then that this would mean and when did you think it would mean something?
MARSH: I thought that perhaps in a couple years the public schools in Virginia and Richmond and in the nation would be desegregated, and segregation in employment and other things would break down. In the beginning, I thought certainly in four or five years the long struggle would be over.
BOND: And when did you have your first hint that Virginia would engage in what we now call massive resistance? When did you know that was about to happen or was going to happen?
MARSH: When I read the Richmond Times Dispatch the next morning.
BOND: The very next morning. So May 18.
MARSH: The newspaper predicted the end of the world. And white political leaders began to declare war on the Supreme Court. I mean, it was clear that they weren't going to die gracefully. "They" being the segregationists.
BOND: Did you imagine that they would go so far as close -- actually close -- public schools?
MARSH: No. I was brought up under the Virginia system, Virginia values. We respected the law. And that's probably one reason why we sort of tolerated segregation, because it was the law, and we figured that everybody would go by the rules. So we thought that in a matter of time this would change. I had no idea Virginia would go to the lengths that it went to.
BOND: Now, in the years from '54 until today -- the year 2000 -- what does Brown mean today in your estimation?
MARSH: Well, I was in Charlotte over the weekend, and the city of Charlotte had engaged in a massive choice – choose your own school plan. They have spent millions of dollars, and they had a fair planned where the people would shop for schools. They spent four and a half million dollars just for that one event. When the Fourth Circuit came down with the decision reversing the district judge, setting aside this choice plan, saying that the Charlotte schools had not been desegregated and they could not go to a choice plan, they could continue to use race as a factor, everyone was shocked. The school board voted five to four to discontinue the choice plan and go back to the previous plan. So, struggle to implement Brown is still going on. And it's affected the whole community of Charlotte. The superintendent was very upset that the board voted five to four to go back to the old plan and use race. But apparently the new plan would minimize the amount of desegregation. So the struggle to implement Brown and to eradicate the vestiges of slavery is still going on.
BOND: What about here in Virginia?
MARSH: Well, a similar case in Norfolk was lost, and the Norfolk school board was permitted to abandon the desegregation plan. I had a hand in getting – I was the lead council that got the Norfolk schools desegregated. The Supreme Court denied cert of a case that said that once Norfolk achieved unitary status they could go back and basically do what they want to do. So, the Norfolk authorities are basically dismantling the desegregated systems, going back to the segregated system.
BOND: Have they achieved unitary status in Norfolk or in most places that you know of?
MARSH: Well, let's put it this way -- they achieved it for a while because we had each school balanced to the precise mathematical distribution between blacks and whites, each faculty balanced. But over a period of time, it eroded so that now the schools are segregated again.
BOND: When you were a kid, a young kid going to grade school and high school and then on to college, who are the people who impacted your life, who helped direct your life, who made Henry Marsh what Henry Marsh is today?
MARSH: Well, my father and my mother, of course, had a hand in it.
BOND: Sure. But how so they particularly? I mean, everybody's parents shape their lives.
MARSH: Well, my mother died when I was five years old, so my father sent me to live with an aunt and an uncle in rural Virginia. And they basically raised me from -- I have vague memories of my mother, but very vague. My aunt and uncle were my quasi parents. They raised me. They were strict disciplinarians. They sent me to a one-room school five miles away. And literally, I actually walked to school everyday, five miles, which meant in the early morning we had to leave about six o'clock to get to school. And I walked to a one-room school with seven grades and one teacher and seventy-eight pupils. So it was difficult to get a good education. This teacher did a tremendous job. And when I was in the fifth grade, my father brought his family back together and moved them back to Richmond. I went for the first time to school where I had a separate teacher for that grade. The Richmond public school system did a good job with me. I mean, I was raw material, and they helped me, and so I got a good education in a segregated school system. But I had dedicated teachers.
And my father was an inspiration to me. Your question initially was the impact of my parents. After my mother died, my father worked at night to get the resources to get his children back together and brought us back together in Richmond. And I was in the fifth grade, my sister was in the sixth grade, my younger brother was in the third grade, and my youngest brother was staying in Newport News with another aunt. He brought him back. So the four of us were together. While we were in school my father went back to college. He had stopped college to marry my mother. And we were in school and he was in college, working twelve hours a day as a waiter in a restaurant, continuing his education until he got his degree. So he didn't have to tell us to study. We saw what he was doing. Everyone else in my class and my family was a genius except me. They were all straight-A students. And I was a B+ student. I was the black sheep in the family, so to speak. And that's how I was inspired to – I was never as smart as my sister or my brothers.
BOND: Did the father and children do homework together? Study together?
MARSH: No, because he worked from twelve-midnight -- from twelve-noon to twelve-midnight. We did our homework on our own, but we always did our homework. I had a morning paper route so in the evenings I could do my homework.
BOND: But he – you knew he was a student.
MARSH: Oh, he studied.
BOND: Just as you were a student.
MARSH: He studied before he went to work. He studied because he got off at midnight, got home at one o'clock and slept and got up in the morning and studied. When we were going off to school he was getting up to study. But we didn't study together.
BOND: But you had that example --
MARSH: Oh, yes.
BOND: -- of him being a student held up before you.
BOND: What about particular teachers? Any particular teachers make a mark on you?
MARSH: Yes. Miss Owens in the fifth grade, my fifth grade teacher. And Miss Woods was my sixth grade teacher at George Mason school. And my principal, Mr. Joseph Bright, who's now deceased. When I came to Richmond, I'd been skipped in the country because I was smarter than a lot of the kids. So I was in the 5-H instead of the 5-L. They were semesters. So Mr. Bright called me into his office and said, "Henry, I can put you in the sixth low or I could put you back in the fifth. You skipped a half a grade." He said, "Now, you really ought to go back and get it good. But if you want to I'll put you ahead. I think you can compete." He said, "Don't you want to go back and get it good?" I said, "Yes, sir." So he put me back to 5-L, which meant I caught the twelfth grade because they were instituting the twelfth grade, which meant I got an extra year to go to school. And months later I found out what he had done. I said he tricked me. He cheated me out of a year. But when I got to high school, I appreciated that year. When I got to algebra and geometry I said, "Thank God for that extra year." When I got to college, I appreciated that extra year. So he was concerned enough and smart enough to know that this young boy coming from a country school needs an extra year. And I caught twelfth grade, and I had five years of high school instead of four, and I needed every minute of it.
BOND: When did you think about becoming a lawyer? What kind of career plans did you have early on?
MARSH: I wanted to be a truck driver. In a rural area, the only thing I could see was trucks moving up and down the road. And that looked exciting. My uncle was an oysterman. He was 6'8" – 260 pounds. He had to lift tongs down into the riverbed. I knew I couldn't do that. And the other people around me were farmers. They got up at four in the morning, worked till sundown. I didn't want to do that. But truck drivers, that looked exciting. So I grew up wanting to be a truck driver because that was the only thing I knew that looked different from what I didn't want to do.
BOND: How did being a lawyer come to you?
MARSH: When I was in high school I heard about Oliver Hill in Richmond. And I was curious. And a bunch of us went down to a court case in Richmond where he was arguing -- he and Spot Robinson were arguing a case. And I was impressed. I decided then that, "Hey, that's what I'd like to do." As I continued, when I got to college I saw him again. I decided, "I know that's what I want to do." That's when I decided I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer.
BOND: You saw him in the Assembly.
MARSH: But that was later when I was a senior in college. Virginia was – a year and a half after Brown, Virginia was in the middle of this massive resistance effort. And I read in the paper that the General Assembly was going to consider a plan to frustrate desegregation. So I went down and testified. I was the only student, and there were thirty-six adults. I represented the student government of Virginia Union University. Mr. Hill represented the state NAACP -- state conference. He was masterful. He was already at his best. I mean, there was one hundred and forty legislators, all men, all white men, all elderly white men. No women, no young people. And they were assembled in one room in what they call a Joint Session. Mr. Hill stood there and shook his fist and dared them to pass these laws. And I was frightened frankly. I said, "What is he doing?" And then when he'd bang his fists on a desk and said, "If you do this, we're gonna beat you." I looked for a place to hide because I knew they were going to haul him away. But he was intent and his temple was throbbing. And whenever Oliver gets excited his temple starts throbbing. It was a masterful speech. So I got up and made my speech on behalf of the student body. When I finished Oliver came over and patted me on the shoulder. Said, "Good talk, young man." Said, "What are you going to do when you grow up?" He said -- I said, "Well, I want to be a lawyer." He said, "Well, why don't you come and work with me? I need some help." I was a college student. I said, "Okay," and we shook hands. I had a job. Little did I know, that was my future law partner.
BOND: What did you say that day? What was your speech about?
MARSH: I was angry.
BOND: Did you have written remarks or did you -- ?
MARSH: No. I spoke from the gut. I had been brought up with interracial dialogue groups – the National Conference of Christians and Jews had dialogue going on between blacks and whites. I was --
BOND: High school, college?
MARSH: This was college. I was impressed that white – young, white people and I were communicating. We were making progress. When Brown came along, all of a sudden they cut out the dialogue. Just like the Urban League was closed down. The white people drew support from the Urban League. I mean, it was awful, and I was frustrated because I thought that this was wrong. And so when I read in the paper what was going on and these people were actually being unlawful. So I went down and expressed my indignation over what was going on and said that this was wrong and that we, the people, didn't want this. I urged them on behalf of the students because it's our future. I said, "It's our country and you shouldn't do this. You should follow the law." And you know, the newspaper reported it the next day. They had thirty-six adults and one student spoke. Of course, the president called me at Virginia Union. I thought he was going to lay me out. He said, "You didn't get my permission to go down and speak." And I said, "Well, no sir. I wasn't representing the college. I was representing student government. I'm president of student government."
BOND: I'm sure you were already --
MARSH: I had already checked with my officers to make sure they would back me up. He said, "Yeah, but, you know, we are supported by trustees and they are prominent people in the community. You should have checked with me. It so happened they called me and they were very proud of what you did and they were pleased that Virginia Union was represented." He said, "But, you know, next time, you check with me." So I said, "Dr. [Thomas H.] Henderson, if I had check with you what would you have told me?" He smiled and chuckled. He said, "Well, next time you check with me." So I knew I had done the right thing.
BOND: Did you get any kind of negative comment about this appearance?
BOND: None at all?
MARSH: No. No, the students were pleased and Dr. Henderson was pleased. And I felt good about it. At least I'd done something.
BOND: Next step for you then is law school.
BOND: And how did you decide on a law school?
MARSH: Well, I applied at University of Virginia. And they were about to consider African American students. So they sent me a letter back saying that you have to spend a hundred dollars to take a test to see if you have the aptitude to attend law school. I also applied at Howard. They wrote me back and said, "You're accepted. We have a scholarship for you. Because you're a Virginia resident the state of Virginia will pay us $150 or $200 a semester to educate you, and we'll help you get a part-time job if you need to." So I accepted Howard, just like that. I mean, it was an easy choice, and it was the best thing ever happened to me because I was thrown in with other African American students and future leaders who from all over the South. And that helped my development and that helped my growth.
BOND: What was the atmosphere like -- let me take you back to Virginia Union -- what was the atmosphere like among your classmates and colleagues? You know you're living in this segregated system. But Brown has come along and you know there's going to be some kind of change. What are you and your classmates in college thinking about the role you might play in this change?
MARSH: I don't think we were thinking about it like that. You know, we grew up with segregation. We didn't like it. We resented it, we were disgusted by it. But we accepted it because it was the law. I guess the way it affected us directly was we had to ride the bus to school. We had to get up from our seats and move to the back of the bus when white people got on the bus. My sister and I rode the same bus. They didn't bother me as much. But when she had to get up to give her seat to a white man because they had gotten to that point on the bus, it infuriated me. I mean, I was disgusted by it because I knew she had to get up because she was black. I didn't like getting up myself. But when I saw her get up, it really bothered me. Those were the kind of things that -- we couldn't shop in stores, downtown department stores, restrooms.
When I went to Miami, Florida, for the first time with my fraternity brothers, it was in 1954. And I joined the fraternity, and my faculty advisor's society would treat me and my buddy to a trip to Miami. On the way down there when we stopped in a service station to go to the restroom, the owner said, "Nigger, niggers don't use these restrooms. Get out of there. Don't you go in that restroom." I hadn't faced anything like that before. It was shocking. I had to hold myself until I got to -- in the woods to go to the restroom. In certain places we had to eat. I used to drive for a living when I was in college. I used to chauffeur an owner of a tobacco company around, because I loved driving, still from my desire to be a driver. He would take me to the finest clubs, country clubs, around. He would take me to the chef and say, "This is Henry. Give him the best food in the house." And they would prepare me a scrumptious meal in the kitchen. But he and his wife and the secretary would eat out front in a restaurant. When we went to Durham, he would put me up with the finest African American families. But I couldn't stay in the hotel where they stayed. In fact, I met the Fishers in Durham -- one of the finest families in Durham. I stayed with them because he made sure I had the best of everything. But you know, I was segregated.
BOND: Why did -- do you think that you and your classmates and others -- why did you not think that you could do something about this? Or did you ever envision doing something about this? Before thinking about being a lawyer, why did you have this feeling that you couldn't do anything about it?
MARSH: Well, before becoming a lawyer – before wanting to become a lawyer to help Oliver Hill and Spot Robinson, I didn't understand how the process could be changed. When I heard them argue the case and heard what they were trying to do, then I realized that this was a way we can change this and that was one of the reasons I wanted to be a lawyer. I mean, I saw him and I liked the way he handled himself. I didn't understand what he was saying but it sounded good. And I liked the way they respected him. This was Spot Robinson.
BOND: Did you know of people who did resist the system? For example, people who wouldn't get up on the bus and move or who resisted in some way or the other? Did you hear of those or people talk about those kinds of things?
MARSH: Yeah. They were fair-skinned African Americans who passed. And I knew -- some of them I knew. They would go in White Tower, which was a local fast food hamburger chain. We all knew that – I won't call his name because he's still around – but blank-blank could eat at the White Tower. And he looked white. Or there were fair-skinned people who went to the Mosque, the seating arena, and went in and sat with white people and no one ever knew the difference. We knew about that, and we laughed and joked about it. But -- and there were instances of people getting arrested, but they were rare.
BOND: Do you know about the Irene Morgan case? The woman who --
MARSH: Yes. Well, I read about it. Mr. Hill was involved.
BOND: Yeah. It was her lawyer. Eleven years before Rosa Parks. I just wonder if there were other incidents like that that – in the paper or in common knowledge or talked about in the community or the barber shop or other places where you know Joe Blow wouldn't put up with this. He said no. Were there things like that?
MARSH: A classmate of mine, Bruce Boynton, was going back to Alabama --
BOND: Yeah, Selma.
BOND: Yeah, Selma.
MARSH: He stopped in Richmond, and they tried to segregate him and he wouldn't move. He wouldn't use the black facility. And they arrested him. He called Oliver Hill -- and they called Clarence Newsome because Oliver wasn't available at the time -- and they represented him. They went to represent him. That became a case that led to the Freedom Rides. That effort. So there were people like Bruce who was in the Howard University Law School environment.
BOND: Tell me about this environment at the law school. It surely is different from other law schools of the time.
MARSH: Yeah. We had the cream of the crop. Yale and Harvard and those schools hadn't opened up to blacks. So we have people not just out of college like myself, but we had people who had been teaching who were principals of schools who wanted to come back to the law school. We had mature people who were in their forties and fifties coming to law school. People who had been successful in life. Governor [L. Douglas] Wilder, for example, had been in the Army for three years and had worked while he was coming along in the medical department of state. He was returning, but he was three or four years older than some of us who were just out of college. So it was a mixture of people. In fact we had sixty-some students and they were very sophisticated. At the freshman party they sat at the table with the professors and beat them at poker, which was a dangerous thing to do for a law school freshman.
BOND: Yes, I'm sure.
MARSH: But they played poker and they hit on their girlfriends. I mean, the professors had their girlfriends there. Some of these students were so sophisticated they would try to get the telephone numbers.
BOND: That must be an exciting mix for a relatively young man, an exciting time.
MARSH: Yeah, I was afraid to do any of those things. I mean I didn't play poker and I wouldn't hit on a professor's girlfriend. I was amazed that people had that much nerve. But they took care of us. We started off at sixty-five and we ended up at about twenty-eight. So they had to separate the wheat from the chaff. They told us the first day of school. Said, "Oh, half of you won't be here because you're not law school material. Our job is to determine which of you can survive, and we're going to make sure. We're going to exact our pound of flesh."
BOND: Now, from the things I've read and other people I've talked to who had the same experiences, this strikes me that the atmosphere at the law school must have been full of civil rights. That even though lawyers do all kinds of things -- criminal law and corporate law and real estate law and all -- it just seems to me like civil rights is just permeating the atmosphere. Is that your memory?
MARSH: Especially during those years. That was between '56 and '59. So Howard University was the place chosen for the dry runs for the Supreme Court cases. We had the opportunity to sit in on dry run arguments by Thurgood and Dean [James] Nabritt and others. It was a wonderful experience. In fact, the Shuttlesworth case --
BOND: Tell me a typical example.
MARSH: The Shuttlesworth case was a good example. In 1959, the Supreme Court had a chance on a summary judgment motion to declare segregation illegal -- to end the resistance. It was like a preemptive strike. They denied it. They wouldn't -- they denied relief in that case, which meant that that was another opportunity to end this separate but equal, all deliberate speed foolishness. I mean "all deliberate speed" is a really misnomer because Constitutional rights are personal and immediate. Everybody knows that. So when you say "all deliberate speed," which means we're going to postpone your personal and immediate Constitutional rights. So when Shuttlesworth came along the Supreme Court had a chance to abandon that, and they didn't.
BOND: What was the Shuttlesworth case about?
MARSH: It was a summary judgment case on segregation, the coming and going out of a case in Alabama.
BOND: Fred Shuttlesworth.
MARSH: Fred Shuttlesworth was the plaintiff.
BOND: They had a moot court in effect about this?
MARSH: On the Supreme Court argument. They had a dry run of the Supreme Court argument.
BOND: So what would happen? Tell me --
MARSH: The lawyers would argue both sides and someone would be the justice and would ask questions and we had a chance to hear both sides and then we heard a critique afterwards. So I knew that the Supreme Court was given an opportunity to dismantle segregation again, which they turned down.
BOND: Now, as a student do you get to participate? Did you get to ask questions or were you just an on-looker?
MARSH: We were on-lookers. These were lawyers. Twenty-five or thirty of the top civil rights lawyers in the country. We were just on-lookers and we didn't have a chance to --
BOND: That's got to be a great learning experience for you.
MARSH: Oh, it was tremendous, tremendous. You know what made it so helpful later on? I took cases to the Supreme Court and gave them an opportunity to dismantle segregation and they did the same thing. In 1965, I took Bradley v. the City of Richmond to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court outlawed faculty segregation but didn't say anything about the so-called freedom of choice. So that was a second chance they had to dismantle segregation, which told me something about the Supreme Court. And then in 1968, Mr. [Samuel W.] Tucker and I took Green v. New Kent up there. And finally they said, "Now means now. Dismantle it now." But I mean, root, branch and burrow. But it was '68 as opposed to '54. They had fourteen years -- the Supreme Court gave the South to get ready for Brown. That was one reason why I decided to go into politics because the legal process was so slow, and I felt frustrated that we finally had a decision and the Supreme Court keeps giving them more, and more, and more time. So I said, "This stuff will never end this way."
BOND: One thing that happens in the big movement for civil rights between the Brown case and your becoming a lawyer -- well, is that more opportunities for more people to participate in this movement in more kinds of ways come up, the sit-ins come along.
BOND: And all of a sudden you don't have to be a lawyer to argue a case. You can put your body there and get arrested and go to jail. The Freedom Rides -- the Boynton case produces the Freedom Rides. It becomes possible -- you don't have to be a lawyer. You can get on the bus, and so the areas of participation are much wider. But this also means that lawyers have much more business -- civil rights business -- to handle. Now what did this change in the business? It used to be that you'd file a lawsuit against some aggrieved wrong, perceived wrong. But now, people are creating wrongs and bringing them to you and saying, "Help me. I've been arrested for something." How does that change in your -- or does it change?
MARSH: Civil rights lawyers rarely made a good living. Most of these were people who were committed. When Sam Tucker and I inherited Oliver [Hill]'s law practice in 1961, we handled school cases for a couple years before we even thought about submitting a bill to anyone. The Legal Defense Fund was subsidizing the cases to a certain extent, and when we'd finally submit the bill it was two years after we'd been handling cases. And they reimbursed us on the basis of $50 per day for a case. You know, lawyers were making $100 an hour. We didn't care. I mean, most civil rights lawyers weren't involved for the money. In fact, they could have engaged in personal injury practice and other things that made more money. What the Civil Rights Movement was, it was such a volume of litigation and because of the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund there were some resources available to take care of expenses.
BOND: How would you keep your office open?
MARSH: We got other business from time to time. And the stipend – what we called the stipend – from the Fund. And finally we generated a notion called "attorneys' fees." That was generated in our office. The school board was so obstinate and so hostile. What happened was – it reminds me of Florida now – they took the application forms and moved them so that the parents had to run around the county. They couldn't get the forms to apply to the white schools. And we finally got the case to court, we said, "Look, why should the plaintiffs have to pay lawyers to go to court to get what these defendants are hiding from them?" So the court came up with – said because of endured obstinacy – the defendant has to pay the fees. And that was the first case that allowed attorneys' fees in civil rights cases. Eventually it was adopted by HEW, and attorneys' fees became a part of the law. But that started in our office.
BOND: I'm getting ahead of myself here, I want to take you back to high school. In high school you were just active in an amazing amount of things – the NAACP, the editor of the school paper, you were president of the Student NAACP, vice president of the senior class. What is it that made you jump into all these activities?
MARSH: Maybe because I wasn't a good academic student, I picked the extracurricular activities. No. I've always liked people. I've always liked to get involved with people. And I joined NAACP because I was struck by what they were trying to do. Remember, in those days in segregated schools you could have NAACP chapters. When integration came, of course, that was no longer the case. But I just felt like it was a way of expressing myself. I had a little poet in me. I wrote the school poem, the school song, and I was editor of the paper. And that was a way of expressing myself.
BOND: The same kind of activity continues when you go to college.
MARSH: Yeah, I was involved in college. You see I've always liked people. I like to be involved with people.
BOND: At the same time you're working --
BOND: Working your way through college.
MARSH: All the way except my senior year. I'd worked all the way through. My sister, who was a year ahead of me, had gotten a job. She said, "You never had a chance to show what kind of student you are. So I'm going to let you go to college your senior year without working," and she helped me. I was the -- Dr. [Thomas H.] Henderson called me in and said, "You're going to want to go to college. You want to be lawyer." He said, "Your grades aren't good enough." He said, "If you want to make Dean's List you better stop all this foolishness and concentrate." He said, "So I'm not going to let you get on the tennis team because you don't have time to study. I said, "Dr. Henderson, I'm going to get on the tennis team, and I'm going to make the Dean's List, too." He challenged me, and I did it. I got my only letter my senior year in college, being on the tennis team. I was so proud of that letter. But also in my major I got nine As and three Bs. I needed eight As and four Bs to graduate with honors. I got nine As and three Bs. I didn't have to worry.
BOND: Very good.
MARSH: And my professor challenged me -- Dr. McGuinn. I didn't like the challenge. So he would call on me everyday and I'd be ready for him.
BOND: You said a moment ago that the pace of the law was so slow that you decided to go into politics. Was that the totality of the decision, or were other things saying "come on and run"?
MARSH: When I started off, I went to Atlanta too because we really didn't have much opportunity to participate in the political system. You know, there were very few black elected officials. In Atlanta there was an organization called the Southern Regional Council -- a bunch of goodwilled, white people who were speaking basically for poor people and black people. And Vernon Jordan, who was my classmate in college, got me interested because he wanted some of his friends, I guess, to be his bosses at the Board of Education project. So he selling me to Atlanta, and I went to Atlanta. That's how I got mixed in with what they call the Atlanta Mafia – Senator [LeRoy] Johnson and the Atlanta leadership. There was a female senator. I've forgotten her name now.
BOND: Grace Hamilton.
MARSH: Grace Hamilton. And a bunch of very enlightened white people. So I got to learn a little bit about what was going on. And I stayed with that for quite some time, and I learned that there was a tremendous need for black elected officials. I mean, without the Southern Regional Council, at one point, there was no voice for African American people.
BOND: So, this was the Board of the Voter Education project right after Vernon takes over from Wiley Branton?
MARSH: Right. And so that's how I got involved. I learned a whole lot from that association. I was still involved in the desegregation struggle in Virginia. I was handling school cases all over the South. Those cases were so slow. There was a need for black elected officials. So, the poll tax was eliminated in Virginia, and a local organization called the Richmond Crusade for Voters was working to stimulate black voters. They were paying poll tax and getting people registered. So the political organization from the business community picked a black to run, and he was elected. Then the next time, because of the Voting Rights Act, they picked two blacks.
BOND: The white organization picked two.
MARSH: Yeah. And I was okay until I heard them on the radio one morning say that – blacks now – say, "Our civil rights have been achieved. Now what we have to do is prepare ourselves." And my breakfast came back. I was so upset. So I began to run around to black leaders, those who had run for Council before. Said, "Man, you have to run." I went to Governor Wilder and said, "Man, you gotta run." He was a promising young criminal lawyer. I said, "Somebody's gotta run for City Council because we need somebody who's independent." Everyone I went to said the same thing -- " I don't have time. Henry, you do it." I was running all over the state litigating. I didn't have time. But I was running out of time so I said, "Well, I'll do it for two years. That will give me time to find someone." When I went to the first meeting I realized that – well, I won't say. I don't want to characterize their intelligence. But I was so amazed at how little these people knew about what they were doing. So I came out of the first meeting and said, "You know, I could do a better job of providing leadership to these guys." And I immediately started to form a coalition to take over the Council, of white and black. The next time around, two years later, we ran a coalition. I was just a freshman Councilman, and we almost got it. Three members of my coalition were elected, and the three whites, the other two whites and myself. But the blacks were defeated. But they came close. So ,at that point I began an eleven-year crusade to provide leadership for the city.
BOND: Now, you now know it took eleven years. But at the beginning you must have initially thought that it was achievable right away at that first election.
MARSH: Oh, yeah.
BOND: That had to be a disappointment. What made you keep going? Was it the closeness?
MARSH: No, it was something that had to be done. If you can imagine black people serving on the City Council speaking for you, saying the things that were detrimental to your race -- for example, when Dr. King was assassinated in '68, as a member of the Council I asked Council to let the school children watch Dr. King's funeral. We were very indignant about Dr. King's assassination. A lot of us felt that we let him get too far out in front of us and we felt guilt over his assassination. So we really got extremely aggressive -- some people say so -- we just asked for three things: the right to watch the funeral, a human relations commission to discuss things, and one other thing. They denied us -- and the two blacks on Council voted -- to deny us the right to have the children watch the funeral. That was the crowning blow. We said, "What reason?" They said, "Because Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist, and we have to protect the separation of church and state." I said, "You're kidding. John Kennedy was a Catholic and they watched his funeral after his assassination. Why wasn't that a violation of the separation of church and state?"
And they couldn't explain it. From that point on – this was in April. The election was in June. We turned the rascals out. They didn't get – they got – the blacks got overwhelming votes in the white community but they didn't get hardly any votes in the black community, and they were defeated from that Council. And of course, I was reelected overwhelmingly, and from that point on I was recognized by blacks and whites as a leader in Richmond. And it also repudiated this Uncle Tom-type leadership. But that was because Martin had been assassinated, and we tried to get Council to step out, and we got the Human Relations Commission. We had to picket and demonstrate. We got the Human Relations Commission with a staff for the first time.
BOND: You spoke a few minutes ago about Virginia values and respect for the law. And It is true to an outsider looking on that there is a kind of gentility in Virginia and a kind of moderation in most race relations that you wouldn't find, say, in North Carolina or South Carolina, states further South. At the same time, there seems to be a relatively large percentage of pretty conservative black figures and populations in Virginia. We look at the most recent election, this 17, 19 percent vote for the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, former Governor George Allen. What's the basis of this? Why -- ?
MARSH: I think it's an historical remnant of the kind of population we had in Richmond. Richmond was the center of African American activity at one point. We had the largest group of black business people in the South, the first -- the oldest African American bank, the oldest insurance company. In fact, they're still there, or their successor organizations. Maggie Walker did a lot to establish business. We had a large black middle class. And -- because it goes back to the slave trade, because Richmond was a focus in the slave trade. And other than New Orleans most slaves came in through Richmond and were bred and exported throughout the South. So, you had developed there a group of blacks who were sort of accepted as a part of the system. And so that carried on, I think, and contributed to some of this conservatism that you find in moderation among African Americans there. I had to deal with that when I got ready to run for public office. The black organization that had stimulated the elimination of the poll tax and encouraged blacks to vote --
BOND: The Crusade for Voters.
MARSH: -- the Crusade for Voters, they said that they have two blacks on the ticket. That's enough. They didn't want me to run. In fact, I read the editorial by the President of Crusade in the paper saying that we don't need any more blacks, and that's when I really decided to run. So another example was when they've always hired poll workers at $50 a day to work the polls. They decided that for the first time they weren't going to hire poll workers. And of course, the Richmond Forward organization were paying poll workers $75. So I realized that that money meant so much to people that the voters would go to these people that they always go to and vote for the Richmond Forward ticket if I didn't have poll workers. So I went to the bank and borrowed $3,000 and hired the experienced people as my poll workers. And I invited the Crusade leadership to come to my mass meeting the night before. And when they got there I had people worked up to a white heat. They were fired up. They walked into the room and saw the fire, determination that was there. And they realized then that I was going to get elected. But I did that so they would understand what was going on. And the next day, I swept into office. Then I went to the Crusade and praised them for endorsing me and for their support. So -- and from that point on I had no problem with them because, you know, I protected them by saying you deserve credit for this victory. I never exposed that they were really trying to get me defeated.
And there was another group that was a tool and a Byrd machine. They endorsed my opponents and didn't endorse me. So I went to their next meeting and thanked them for their support. And everybody looked around. I said, "I know you didn't fully endorse me, but many of you in here worked to get me elected and I really appreciate it. I couldn't have been elected without you." Well, the next year when the Byrd machine organization came and told them, "Don't endorse him," and they said, "Get the heck out of here. You crazy." From that point on they loved me.
BOND: But, you know, this history you've been telling us suggests that there's a long tradition, at least going back thirty or more years of white political interests recognizing that black political interests are there to be manipulated, worked with, cooperated with, opposed, that white political interests in Richmond at least and in Virginia generally – you talk about the Byrd machine creating this black group. Where does that notion come from? You don't see that further South, or you didn't see that further South.
MARSH: The sophistication of the Byrd machine was one of the most diabolical political entities in the history of mankind. The pay as you go philosophy -- and they found ways of perpetuating themselves in power. So as black political strains began to emerge they adopted their tactics to take that into account.
BOND: To co-op it if they could.
MARSH: Co-op it if they could.
BOND: And you think it's their sophistication as opposed to less sophisticated elements in the white political structure. In Georgia, I cannot imagine this having happened in the early 1960s. It just would not have happened. With some rare exceptions there was no black/white political cooperation except in Atlanta, not in the state at all. It's just a remarkable look at this state, which is so different from all the other states of the region.
MARSH: Yeah. I think it has to do with the historical remnant in Virginia, what happened in Virginia and the recognition of some white people in the city and in the state that this is a smart thing to do.
BOND: Now, you talked a moment ago about Virginia values. To what degree are you a product of Virginia? To what degree do you reflect Virginia?
MARSH: I think each person is product of all experiences they've had. And I find myself being very deferential to people who are older than I am, to people in authority and very polite to people. I can't imagine young lawyers coming out of law school as they do now and the judge asks them a question and they'll say "yeah" or "yes." I mean, intuitively I say, "Yes, sir," to a judge because that's what a lawyer's supposed to do. I've been conditioned to honor my word. That's something that Virginians pride themselves on. You don't need a contract. If you give your word then you live and die by that word. And that's something that you do in Virginia. So -- and I think those kind of things -- and there are exceptions, of course.
MARSH: There's treachery, always.
MARSH: But I remember we had a discussion over the bonds. We used to put the full faith and credit of the city up to get bonds for building highways. The city attorney said, "There's no legal way that that can be enforced." I said, "You don't need" -- and I think that was mayor at the time – I said, "You don't need a legal way to enforce it." I said, "We put our name behind it. We're going to stand behind these bonds." That's the way we do things here. That's the way you're brought up. So that influences your thinking. It helps me now in the Senate because the Senate is a collegial body, and even though it's controlled by Republicans you have friends on the other side who respect you because you keep your word.
BOND: Now, you become the mayor in 1977.
BOND: By that time you'd been on the council ten years, seven years as Vice Mayor. But there's a period when the same council stays in office longer than it might have done. This is a kind of complicated story. But take us through this story. How does all this happen?
MARSH: Well, we have two-year terms. And so on the eve of the election in 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States enjoins the Council election. So instead of going from '70 to '72 that council stayed in office until '77, until the litigation was over. The litigation was necessitated because the Voting Rights Act required that any change in procedure has to be approved and cleared by the Justice Department. When they annexed that change had not been --
BOND: And the annexation involved what?
MARSH: Well, in Virginia the way the state provides for cities to survive is to expand into surrounding counties and recapture some of the growth that it has spawned. So that's the traditional way. We have thirty-six cities and a hundred counties. The suburbs are growing around the cities. Well, what the legislature did was they realized they couldn't get a constitutional amendment, so they put a moratorium on annexations. Before that occurred, the city filed a legitimate annexation against Chesterfield. That procedure was winding its way through the courts. The city would have gained a lot of taxable material, taxable assets. But if they had waited until the end, the city -- another council election would have ensued, and my team would have won which means we could have stopped annexation. We could have turned it down. They thought that's what we were going to do. Only the hairdresser knows for sure what we would have done. But anyway, they got together -- the mayor and majority faction of council -- and compromised the annexation with the surrounding county and suddenly, quickly so that it would be effective by December 31st.
BOND: And the affect of the annexation is that the white population of Richmond expands.
MARSH: There wouldn't have been anything wrong with that if they'd done it lawfully. But when they compromised it, the mayor had a big mouth, and he told a white member of council who's a member of my team that "We gotta do this to keep the niggers from taking over the city. We don't want another Washington, D.C." He also told that to people at a ball game. He told it to a lot of people, the white people. I guess he figured that "we're all white, we're gonna stick together." But they told it. So when the court case came up, that evidence was before the federal court. That the motive for annexation was to keep blacks from exerting influence in the city. So the federal court in the District of Columbia said, "Well, wait a minute. This is illegal motive. The annexation was proper but the settlement, the premature settlement, was for racial reasons. So you have to give the territory back or go to a district system." So, the city didn't want to give the territory back because that would have had the same effect. They would then have to stand election from the old city which means blacks would have taken over. So they decided to go for the district system. So we – they approved a district plan that both sides agreed on for nine districts. And we won five of the nine. Of course, I'd been a leader since the first day of council. I was a logical choice for mayor, and Richmond had its first black mayor.
BOND: Now, while you're the mayor, there are a couple of times where there are votes along racial lines. And your opponents charge, in effect -- although I guess they didn't use this term -- that you were playing the race card. That black people and black council members are voting one way only because they're black, not because the issue may be right, but these are racial votes. How do you respond to that?
MARSH: The obvious reasons – I mean, obvious answers to that – the five blacks came from the five lower socioeconomic districts in the city and our interests in public education. We had common interests in that. We had common interests in development of housing because the housing dilapidation was occurring in our communities. So if you just forget about race we had so much in common we would have voted that way anyway. That's one answer. The other answer is, of course, that we didn't do what they thought we were going to do. They thought we were going to do what they had been doing to us. They thought we were going to get revenge on them after all these years. And so they had secret commissions going down to Williamsburg to study ways in which they could keep their monuments on Monument Avenue. As if we would remove the monuments. You know the irony of this is that all of these negotiations were secret. The three of us on council and my team were not even advised on it. The five -- I mean, six whites were and the male was representing them, which is unlawful. And these secret commissions going down to Williamsburg to find out what we'd do if blacks took over. All those things were secret. We didn't even know about them later.
BOND: Did you ever in your heart of hearts think about removing those monuments?
MARSH: Oh, no. No. A funny story -- when I was mayor, I kept a secretary that the former mayor had. So she would give me my invitations. She said, "Of course, Mayor Marsh, you don't want this one." I said, "What is it?" She said, "Well, the Daughters of the Confederacy are having this assembly of the states in the Confederacy on Monument Avenue at the Jefferson Davis statue." So she'd throw it in a pile. I said, "Wait a minute. No, I want to go to that." She said, "You want to go to that?" I said, "Yes." I said, "I'm the mayor." So I went to that dedication. These little old ladies and everything and drinking tea. And they sent their note to the mayor, but I don't think they knew who the mayor was. And they were shocked to see me. I made them feel so at home, so welcome. They couldn't believe it. And I thanked them. I didn't tell a lie. I thanked them for coming to Richmond, that we're always glad to have people from outside, to come to Richmond, and help us with our economy. We want you to come back and enjoy yourself while you're here. And I said a whole lot of things that were true, but I never lied about being committed to Jefferson Davis or his values. And they were so pleased. They wrote her a letter. They just thanked me for coming. And I realize that I was the mayor of all the people. I don't have to agree with everybody. But they got a kick out of this ceremony, and I felt like I was going to act like the mayor and treat them with courtesy.
BOND: Do you think in your lifetime, from this first high school internal political activity, student council activity, and NAACP activity, on up through college and law school and the law practice, and the city council and then the mayor, with the mayor particularly, where for the first time you're serving a really wide, diverse constituency -- do you think you have different styles when you're speaking for, or to, black audiences, and a different style when you're speaking for, or to, mixed audiences or white -- these Daughters of the Confederacy, for example?
MARSH: Sure. I think it's about educating people. Like I told you how people do things in Virginia -- I used that opportunity to bring those people along. To let them know that, you know, this might be an African American mayor but he doesn't have a tail. And he can make me feel at home. I would like to think that I helped advance their education by doing that. I didn't like their cause, but I was the mayor. I could have done it differently. I could have written them a letter and say, you know, some -- but that wouldn't have helped anything. Of course, when I go to black groups my idea is to challenge them, to bring them along. We haven't achieved in the past here. The problem's got to be solved by us. Nobody's going to solve these problems for us. So what you do is, you use the situation to help people advance, to educate people. That's what it's all about.
BOND: There is often criticism of leadership figures like yourself, who are black, from people who say, "Well, he just thinks about black things all the time. He doesn't think about the common good." Now I'm not asking whether that's true or not -- I don't think it is true. But are there occasions where you do say, "I've got to put the interests of black people first and believe those interests fit into the larger interests"? Or -- how do you look at these things?
MARSH: I'm not sure that there's that much difference. In other words, what is in the interest of black people is almost invariably what is in the interest of the community. I mean, there's very little difference, because black people are part of the community, too. We focused on public education first when I was mayor because we recognized that it was the key ingredient to change that helped me when I came from the country. And there are a lot of -- we have five major housing projects with lots of poor people. There are geniuses in those housing projects, and they need that kind of help. That was not only an interest of the black community, but that was in interest of the total community. We focused on preserving and expanding our housing stock because we realized that over the years, the decades following us, state funding formulas, federal funding formulas, political power all would be based on population. If we didn't expand our housing stock the state projections of Richmond going do to almost nothing would come true. So we took that discretionary money we had and poured it into education, and poured it into rebuilding our housing stock. So now even though we're losing a half a delegate, it came out yesterday, we would have lost a delegate and a half or maybe two delegates had we not done that. So those decisions might look like they were in the interest of the African American community, but they were in the interest of the total community because everybody benefited. There is no such thing in most cases of African American interests and the larger interests. They're identical. Because in America it's what's in the best interests of the community because African Americans have more need, they are affected by these decisions in a different way. But I don't recognize the distinction of choosing between blacks and whites. I represent a suburban constituency, an inner city constituency, and a rural constituency now in the eight jurisdictions I represent. It looks like I have to choose for the different issues between what interests have I represented. But it's not really. It's usually in the interest of everybody to do the right thing.
BOND: It is usually. But sometimes what the suburban people want isn't in the interest of what the urban people want --
MARSH: You're right.
BOND: -- yet the suburban people's need is real and great and true, and they've got to have what they want. How do you balance these? Help the suburbanites, hurt the city people. Or vice versa.
MARSH: Again, I'm not sure the interests are divergent there because you can't exist in a suburb without a healthy inner city. I mean, they recognize that in Europe and other places. But in this country, inner cities are catching hell. Pardon my French. But the inner cities are an integral part of suburbia. The corporations wouldn't come to the suburbs if it weren't for the cultural environment in the city. If it wasn't for the airport facilities or the stadium facilities in the inner city. The interests are inseparable in most cases. Now, there may be a few situations where somebody wants a building and you can't put the building in the inner city. You can't put it in there. But even there if you put the building in the inner city and that helps stabilizes the inner city that's not hurting the suburbs because suburbs need the inner city. So, I mean, I don't find that a problem. I follow Spike Lee's advice -- "Do the right thing." It looks like it's going to fall out one way or the other. But it doesn't.
BOND: Let me ask you something that some people who've sat in that chair find hard to do, and that's look at yourself. Is there a difference between Henry Marsh's vision, Henry Marsh's philosophy, and Henry Marsh's style? Or are these somehow connected? I know they're -- I'm guessing they're connected, but are they the same thing?
MARSH: No, there's a difference.
BOND: What's the difference?
MARSH: There's a difference.
BOND: What's your vision?
MARSH: A community where artificial differences such as race and nationality will not limit a person's opportunity. That's a vision that I have that I think is achievable.
BOND: And your philosophy?
MARSH: Educate people and bring them along. It's tough to do, but you have to bring people along and educate them and use opportunities and situations to help educate people so that they can be motivated to do things for themselves. And you mention the Virginia values -- one reason why I approached the Daughters of the Confederacy like I did was because you don't hurt people's feelings unnecessarily, and that's not the way we do it in Virginia. So I'm saying, you know, it's all connected, but they're different things. And what we haven't learned as a people is that we have to earn freedom in every generation, and we have to earn it for ourselves. I mean, we have failed because we have not instilled in people the necessity to work for their freedom and to work for equality. My partner, Mr. Tucker -- the late S. W. Tucker -- used to say that the fight for equality and the fight for justice is all consuming. It'll burn you up. And he literally committed his life to fighting for that, every minute of it. And once you get hooked on it it's like being addicted to something. You just – you're wrapped up in it, and your every thought is caught up in how you can advance this thing. And you know the people who've gone on before you and what they've done. You know how much has to be done in the future, so you keep working for it in any way you can – politically, through the courts, through any other kind of way. That's what – you know, and it's enjoyable because you enjoy what you're doing and you know that it makes a difference. I mean, you see the difference when going from a situation where everything connected with the city and power is white to a situation where it's balanced.
BOND: What about your style?
MARSH: It varies with the occasion. You have to do what's necessary to achieve your objective, as long as you do it legally and gracefully and possibly with the Virginia gentility.
BOND: You know, you talked about gentility and persuading people and educating people just a moment ago. But two important parts of your life -- being a lawyer and being a politician -- involve forcing people to do things, not simply educating them or convincing them, but forcing them. If you win an injunction integrating a restaurant, you have forced the owner of that restaurant to integrate. He didn't want to do it. You forced him. The court forced him to do it. If you -- the City Council in Richmond, decide to annex a block in the suburbs, you have forced those people to come into the city. They didn't want to do it. So there's some force involved here, too, some exercise of power involved here too. So --
MARSH: There's nothing wrong with exercising power. That's why power's available. That's why it's created, to be exercised. I don't shrink from that. But just like we decided to change city management in Richmond, I guess that got a lot of publicity. We did that with gentility. We could have gone to the meeting without any forewarning to him, call for a vote. Somebody made a motion, and he would have been discharged summarily. People would have said, "Well, that was rude. That wasn't polite." We went to him privately and said, "Bill, we think it's time for a change." Fifteen months we tried to put up with him. He was the manager that the white folks had had who'd been working and testifying against us in court to keep us out of power. I persuaded my colleagues, "Let's keep him on. People will be more at ease. We can get more done. He's got to follow our policy."
Well, he didn't. For fifteen months he tried to sabotage us. So I finally went to him. I could have fired him. I said, "Bill, we're going to make a change." He said, "Well, when is this going to happen?" I said, "Well, you set your own timetable. Take your time. Look around." Instead of him doing what he should have done, he went to the other folk and said, "The blacks are going to fire me." So they called and sounded the alarm. They went to their friends in the black community to call the press and raised hell. They summoned me and my colleagues down for a meeting with the white leadership. We went down there, and I said, "Look, nobody say a word except me, because we don't want them -- " So I went down there and I listened to them and they threatened, and they said, "Look, you can't do this way. We got these bank buildings down here. We this, and we this, and we that -- we considered this and we won't bother you. We'll let it go. We realize you made a mistake," and they went on. So when they finished I said, "Is that it?" They said, "Well, yeah. What do you got to say?"
I said, "Well, thank you for inviting us down. You're an important part of our constituency. We heard your views. We'll consider them, and we'll let you know what we're going to do. Anything else?" "Well, we want -- " I said, "No. Do you have anything else you want to tell us? We don't have any response right now." So we left. We went out and had a drink and a chuckle. And I went back on my vacation -- I had had [my] first vacation in five years, and I interrupted it and halfway through, had gone four days and went back out on my vacation. Got my thoughts together. Came back. Called a press conference and announced thirty-three indictments against the City Manager. Not that we had to give interviews. Here's thirty-three reasons why we're doing this. They had a trial. The power of the city was assembled, black and white. We voted five-to-four to fire him. And I have no regrets on any of that. They said, "Well, you must have had a secret meeting to decide to fire him. That was illegal." I said, "Well, you don't know if I had a secret meeting or not." But the point is that we made that decision and we decided to be Christian about it and not to destroy his ability to get a job somewhere else. We wanted to give him a chance to move on. We had a right to make the change, and we did.
BOND: So you're not afraid to exercise power?
MARSH: Enjoyed it.
BOND: And would do it again.
MARSH: I would do it the same way. I would go to him and say, "Bill, we're going to make a change. Why don't you decide where you want to go and you can resign." You know, the WICs program was just one example. He had kept information about the WICs program away from us for two or three years, and pregnant mothers who could have had nourishment for their babies were being denied because he wouldn't share that information with us. I mean, that's mean. He's our city manager and he's doing things like that. I mean, there were a whole lot of things. We were just very tolerant and very patient. And we just couldn't take it anymore. So we let him go, but we did it with gentility.
BOND: Let me put you in another place. Imagine that you're somewhere out of the country, and somebody comes up to you and gives you a form you've got to fill out and it's got some boxes to check, and one of the boxes asks where you're from and one says Virginia and the other says the South. Which one of those boxes are you going to check?
MARSH: It depends on where I was and what answer --
BOND: Which identity, just off the top of your head, is strongest?
BOND: Virginia, stronger than Southerner?
MARSH: I'm -- you know. I'm from Virginia.
BOND: Because Southerner's too big, or too complex?
MARSH: The reason why -- it depends on the person I'm talking to, because to that person the more relevant answer might be from the southern part of the United States. But if it's someone who knows something about the United States, I would say from Virginia. So I mean, I would try to make my answer relevant to the question. That's why I said it depends upon who I was talking to. Because I've traveled around the world everywhere. People ask me -- if it's somebody that knows something about the United States, I will say Virginia. But if it's somebody that doesn't know anything and says, "What country are you from?" I'm from the United States. I might say southern United States, but I'd probably say United States.
BOND: Before we started talking on this videotape session, we were talking about a leadership institute that you're wanting to begin. Some people think that leaders are thrown up by movements. A movement begins and it throws up a leader. Some people think that leaders start the movements themselves. And of course, some people believe the combination of these things happen. Do you have an idea -- where do leaders come from? How do we come across leaders?
MARSH: That's a -- that's a difficult question. You look at people like Martin and Andy Young and people who I really regard as true leaders. And sometimes the circumstances contribute to the man and then the man reacts to the circumstances. And --
BOND: You were exercising leadership roles in high school. Did your classmates go around saying, "Gee, I think Henry Marsh ought to be this, that or the other," or what happened? How'd that happen?
MARSH: I can't explain that. It's just something that I've always -- I've always done. I'll give you one example. I went to Puerto Rico for a conference of mayors and leaders. And one of the issues was whether or not the cities would take a position supporting affirmative action. And I wanted the National League of Cities to take that position. I had not gone to the Resolutions Committee so I had to get a two-thirds vote. So I rallied the African Americans at the conference and said, "Look, we got to go and get the two-thirds vote so we can support affirmative action." And they said, “Well, man, you know this is party time. This is the last days of the convention.” And I would literally go around and drag guys off the beach and drag them to the meeting to vote so we could get this resolution passed on affirmative action. I was a vice mayor, I wasn't a mayor. But I raised -- and we debated and raised so much hell, we got 63 percent of the vote. We needed 66 percent, but that was a great victory. The guys looked at me and said, "Okay. If you're that stupid, we're going to make you the president." So I was made the president of the National Council of Black Elected Officials. I wasn't even a mayor. People like Tom Bradley and Maynard [Jackson] and Coleman [Young]. All those guys were in the group. They said, "We're gonna fix you. If you're that gung-ho, we're gonna make you the president." I was president as vice mayor. So I'm saying --
BOND: You exercise leadership, and then were rewarded with a leadership role?
MARSH: I'm not sure it was a reward.
BOND: Well, it was a reward, it was a reward. So you both -- you exercised this leadership and one result was that you were rewarded with this leadership role. So that's one way it happens. Has that been your life story, or has it been a mix of other things?
MARSH: I don't know what motivated me to want that resolution passed. Because I could have been on the beach, I could have been on the beach --
BOND: What motivated you to say, "Gee, I'm not going on the beach. I'm going to do this instead"?
MARSH: Because I knew the issue was coming up and I was interacting with some white members of the National League of Cities who were from cities in the North. I played tennis with them, and they said, "You know, Henry, it would be nice if we had a resolution on affirmative action." I said, "Well -- "
BOND: Why didn't you say "Okay, why don't you get one up"?
MARSH: Well, they said but the problem is it didn't go through the Resolutions Committee. We could have gotten it through the Resolutions Committee, but we didn't do it. They said, "Well, we should have done it." I said, "Well, why can't we do it now?" They said, "Well, you can, but you have to get enough votes on the floor to get this thing through." I said, "Why can't we do that?" I said, "Can you get some support?" They said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I can get some. I'll get the blacks." And that's when I went around, and I found the guys were enjoying themselves on the beach. And I literally dragged them. I said, "You come on in here and vote. We need your vote. This thing going to be close," and we almost made it. See, I'm saying that was something that I really wanted to do because I recognized in 1960 when it was early as it was, that it was important to take a stand on affirmative action for cities.
BOND: We have a few more minutes left. This will be the last question. How could we – that’s black people particularly or the larger society – how can we make sure that people coming up are going to be effective leaders, or that there're going to be effective leaders in the future?
MARSH: I'm not sure we can make sure of that. I mean, we can try. I have a theory that knowledge is power. And I think if you don't have knowledge you're ignorant. I think we have to do a better job of giving knowledge to people, empowering people. I'm devoting a lot of my time now to finding ways to empower people with knowledge. And I think if they have the knowledge they'll make the right decisions. So and whether or not the leadership will rise to the surface is something that we just don't know. But if they don't have the knowledge, if they don't know, they have no chance of exercising leadership. It's a problem in the age we're living in now because there's so much information out there that people don't focus on the right knowledge. I mean, we've got to find a way to use the information age better to get our message across.
We're still -- in civil rights organizations and other organizations -- we're still operating under the old ways of communicating instead of getting a video that we can pop in and show people with a picture, what we want to show 'em. We stand up there and tell them or send them a memo or something. We have to find a way to impart knowledge to people. That's why I think training leaders is so important. I mean, training people to be leaders now. If 1 or 2 percent of them become leaders then we are successful. But if we do nothing -- our opponents are working hard to indoctrinate and brainwash people. If we don't set something up to counter that we have no chance. The other thing that concerns me is greed. I mean, greed is like a disease that's infecting our progress. I don't know -- if you have the antidote for greed -- let me know what it is.
BOND: As soon as I get it, I'm going to get it [for you]. Henry Marsh, thank you for doing this.
MARSH: Thank you. I enjoyed it.