Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

BOND:  Welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.  Our guest today is Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich.  She is and has been an author, public scholar, a policy analyst, a community activist, a corporate governor,  and a spokesperson on behalf of creative black leadership and urban politics  and she’s here today in her position as Executive Director and COO of the Black Leadership Forum – that’s a 24 year old confederation of the top national civil rights and service organizations.  Dr.  Leftwich, welcome to Explorations…

LEFTWICH: Thank you for inviting me.  I’m looking forward to it.  

BOND:  We want to begin with a short session focusing on the Brown decision in 1954.  When you heard about this decision, where were you? 

LEFTWICH:  Well, when I heard about it, I was in in college.  I was on the campus of North Carolina Central University  But even more importantly, I was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper which published pretty regularly so what we then called the new civil  decision… we used to call it Brown in those days -- was top news.  And I wrote an editorial about it and of course one of the front page stories was about the Supreme Court decision which once again reaffirmed from the perspective of the people of North Carolina on that campus …..reaffirmed our right to the promises of the Constitution of the American democracy.  I thought that it was a good thing.  I was prompted to look at what I wrote in that time because things -- I think things both blend and sharpen in retrospect and I would have thought that I was  more cynical than I actually was.  I thought that it was a good thing.  I did not think it was going to work in Georgia Alabama, and Mississippi but for some reason that’s interesting when I think about it now, I thought it would work fine in North Carolina and Virginia so, even at that point had feelings that there would be differential applications of the concepts of Brown    --   the  notion of separate but equal being unconstitutional was still new enough that I wondered whether or not American -- African Americans were going to trust the constitutional decision –- trust the Supreme Court enough to send their children to enroll in schools which previously had been segregated.  So, it was a mixed feeling    

BOND:  So would you describe your feeling as a cautious optimisim –

LEFTWICH:  Oh, yeah….

BOND:  good here probably won’t work here?

LEFTWICH:  It was cautious optimism, and It also was sort of idealistic in the sense that I felt that it represented a shift that turned out not to be as deep as I had expected of attitudes toward Afircan Americans by white Americans particularly with regard to institutional access.  And I think that I expected that people who were my peers, because I interviewed students, I interviewed the President, and the Dean of the Law School, and the Dean of Students about what they thought.  I thought that they were going to now go to the next plateau and carry out what had been the objectives and ideals and the activities  –- people don’t  really know but in the 50s, the civil rights movement had already begun.  It hadn’t taken on the breadth and depth that it actually achieved. But there were people sitting in in places.   I got arrested for drinking out a water fountain in Durham, North Carolina that was marked white, which I thought I could plainly see was white, so there was a stirring of determination to make Brown be what we thought it should be.

BOND:  Did the stirring of determination become quickened because of Brown?

LEFTWICH:   I think so --

BOND:  that is pre-existing activists felt encouraged.

LEFTWICH:  Absolutely, absolutely.  You know, Brown was a long time in being argued.   I was also in the Law School for some courses so I was aware of the work of the civil rights lawyers and the NAACP and efforts to have Brown decided in support of equity and justice so it was an anticipated event – certainly for me and for the people that I hung out with on campus. You know – all of the usual -- David

Dinkins says all the usual suspects and rabble rousers – people who were agitating for change.  And many of us were from the North and had gone South to the HBCU.s intentionally to be in that environment to help with this process of the elimination of discrimination.

BOND: Now with the perspective of 49 years…looking back

LEFTWICH: Don’t say that word…

BOND: How does Brown look to you now.? What about that promise that you thought  would be fulfilled?

LEFTWICH: As is true with any profound social policy and that’s what that was -- it was difficult to see some of the ramifications.  For example, while we thought that there would be an impact on the faculty, for example,  in schools like North Carolina Central University, I don’t think anybody really could fathom the extent to which the brain drain would then occur and colleges and universities campuses where we had rubbed shoulders  with and been in close association – intellectual and social association -- with the thinkers in the African American community -- these college campuses were about to lose some of the jewels of those educational institutions to the larger society and yet I talked about in this editorial the need to have courage to take advantage of the promise of Brown and I certainly didn’t remember this but when I looked at that editorial it says that it’s going to require that we push the skin of that envelope -- that we force Brown to be applied as was intended by the Supreme Court and we that had to do that by going to the doors of the schools which had not admitted blacks -- taking the risk, having parents feel that it was a good thing to send their children to environments which they considered and had every reason to believe would be fundamentally hostile.

BOND: At the same time that you could have predicted that some of your teachers  would end up at UNC or some other school over the passage of time, I read a study a while ago of lower school education in North Carolina:  it described the devastating impact of Brown.  High schools principals who were black reduced from the thousands to less than a hundred and in the  lower schools from the thousands to even less than half a hundred – tremendous loss of personnel – and these people don’t go to white schools;  they’re just  out of jobs.

LEFTWICH:  They’re just out of jobs…

BOND:  Now could  you have predicted – did you think  that would happen?

LEFTWICH: I didn’t think that would happen.  I thought there would be more equity in the process of implementing Brown --  that the barriers which you’ve just described  that confronted people who were moving out of the segregated black schools and institutions -- those barriers would also be lowered  so that there would be equal access for people who were then integrating – you know that was the word those days – integrating the system and that they would not be penalized – that they would not be  marginalized by almost reverse discrimination efforts of the larger school systems   -- and it was almost cynical  -- to say you know, you want equal schools – we’ll show you what equal schools are about.  We’re taking  the jobs and the people who are in these jobs can do go do something else – somewhere else.    

BOND: This study also talked about another kind of loss.  This was the loss of the schools themselves – the trophies, the athletic accomplishments, the academic accomplishments, the history, the Saturday night football games – all that wiped away – not completely but all that wiped away at least in North Carolina but quite probably in other states as well.

LEFTWICH:  It was in North Carolina because there’s something that I think is missed in the recollection of the decision and the impact and that is that there had been agitation going on prior to ‘54 for equity . For example, the University of North Carolina had been inviting students to come and do student exchange – I was involved in a student exchange at UNC;  Duke University which was in the same town as North Carolina Central had been involved in having students from NCC there and vice versa. So there was this movement underway to make the systems more accessible --  mutually accessible --   and I think that  that having been the case, it was assumed that the same patterns of equity and camaraderie that had pertained prior to Brown would just be continued and  would be heightened.  I don’t think that anybody thought that –you  talk about the football – the talent drain as the football players then went other places in North Carolina --  I don’t think that – that just wasn’t expected.  I just don’t think that was expected. And yet, when you think about it, it probably should have been because some of the more talented students – those who were not as risk averse as people tend to be – had already explored going to other schools that were not segregated.  For example, I’m sure you remember that University of Iowa, University of Minnesota have a long tradition of having African American students there.  And I knew athletes who went there because they got some good offers to play football.  So you know, we should have known that there was going to be almost a sea change from the perspective of the African American community. I don’t think the sea change – in some places it still hasn’t occurred – you still have this unequal – this imbalance that we thought was going to be corrected because of Brown.  And you have another kind of imbalance, which is the Balkanization that has come about by segregation in living or discrimination in living combinations, access to communities, Balkanization of communities by race.  The New York Times did a study a couple of years ago that showed that in the last decade, there were more communities that had some representative numbers of blacks and whites depending on where you looking than there are now and there are more communities that are exclusively either black or white than there have ever been. So those are things that continue to impact where people go to schools and what kind of school and what kind of education they have  in  addition to what was the intentional undermining, I think,  of an easy and fair transition in southern states in the implementation of the Brown decision. 

BOND: As you look back from this perspective of forty-nine years what if anything did it mean to you personally over this time?

LEFTWICH: Well, it's interesting. When I think about that, at the time I didn't think it meant much because I was a junior in college. So I was on my way —

BOND: This is going to be the lower schools —

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: — and not affecting you.

LEFTWICH: But, when I think about the fact that that same year I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship from North Carolina — realize I lived — my home was in Buffalo, New York. I'd been born in Niagara Falls and grew up in Buffalo. My family was still in Buffalo, and I was in school in North Carolina. But when you apply for a Fulbright Fellowship, you apply from the school in which you are enrolled. And I applied from North Carolina Central University. I was awarded a fellowship. I was the first person from North Carolina Central ever to be awarded a fellowship. I was the first African American from North Carolina to be awarded a fellowship. I was the first person from Buffalo, New York. And when you think that that was just forty-nine years ago, that had to have been in part inspired, in part encouraged by what was being projected as a shift in social behavior and social policy brought on by the Brown decision.

So, while I certainly was competitive and I, of course, throughout my life I think my parents' instructions to be better than anybody else because that was the way to ensure some measure of equality in a segregated and discriminating world. So I think that, I don't think there was any question that I merited it, but why — there had been eight straight-A students before me who had applied who did not win. So there has to have been some impact, some effect of the Brown decision on a lot of things like that, and I think that for me, the Fulbright Fellowship and the access to this whole new environment of learning and of interaction — I think that that was afforded in part by what was happening nationally, by the fact that the Supreme Court said, “You can't discriminate against people because it's unconstitutional.”

BOND: Let me take you back to a period before the Brown decision when you were a little girl. Who were the people — parents, I'm thinking — but parents and others who influenced you early on?

LEFTWICH: I've been thinking about my memoirs, and one day I was thinking about that period of growing up. I was an only child until I was ten. And I thought that I would call my memoirs Blessed because I had a wonderful, wonderful childhood. I had both my parents, who were college-educated and who involved me very much in their lives. My mother was an elected official of the Republican party, because you remember back then that was the party. And I had two godparents who had no children but me. They had a niece whom they also — but she didn't live there, so they were mine. And here's this little kid who has four parents. My godmother was a homemaker. My mother worked. My mother taught and worked and did different things. And my godmother took care of me when my mother, when my parents were at work. And she would take me down to Niagara Falls, down to the falls with the little picnic lunch and we would have lunch there.

So, I had a childhood during which I was the center of adults' attention, and I was — I expected — I grew to expect that I would be able to do within reason — parents were also not permissive in those years. So there were rules — but within the boundaries of the rules I should be able to do whatever I wanted to do. I was encouraged to try to do things that I was interested in. I had the feeling that there wasn't anything that I wanted to do that I couldn't do. And so, while people say, "I owe it to my parents," I really do. I had wonderful role models who mentored me actively because they — my parents and my godparents were born in the South, and they were all living in Niagara Falls. And they recognized that I was in an environment different from the one in which they had grown up. And that I could be given the tools to be able to cope and manage that environment.

You know when I think back, there are many examples of just things that we did together or they said to me that reinforced the fact that I had great potential and it was my responsibility to develop it and take advantage of every opportunity that came around.

BOND: Was it both a matter of them saying, "Here's the way you behave, here's what you should do, here's how you should do in school," and a matter of them serving as silent examples of what the result of hard work and study could be?

LEFTWICH: It was both. There were rules of behavior. There were rules of etiquette. There were rules of interpersonal relations — the way you ought to treat people and how you ought to treat people as you would like to be treated. But then there was the other side. My grandfather was a physician and also was an author. There were his books around that were an active part of my life. I had cousins who had won the medal for having the highest grades in school or in — we then moved to Buffalo where these cousins lived. And it was just understood that these two cousins who were older than I was had won the Jesse Ketchum Medal for having the highest grades, and I was supposed to win the Jesse Ketchum Medal. So it was both in terms of expressed and implied expectations and a nurturing that made me feel protected and able to take the risks. And so as the opportunities came on — like I started traveling by myself when I was eight or nine years old.

BOND: Really?

LEFTWICH: Yeah. When we moved to Buffalo my godparents stayed in Washington. They owned property — they owned the homes, both the homes in which we lived in Niagara Falls, and they stayed in Niagara Falls. I would visit them for every school holiday and several weeks in the summer. Well, the way you get from Buffalo to Niagara Falls is by train. My father had been on the railroad like many educated African American men. He was a sleeping car porter, and he would take me to the train station and he'd find one of the porters there and say, "This is my daughter. I want you to take care of her. She's supposed to get off at — in Niagara Falls." And they put me on the train.

This — of course, this is something I think that just recently is being discussed again a lot about the network of the African American community. But it was clearly understood that I was to respect this man as though he were my father when I was on the train. He was going to look after me, make sure nothing happened to me. He was going to make sure that I was turned over directly to the hands of my godparents. So there was little risk. And so I was able to travel and do this kind of thing on my own. Really, I know that I had to be under ten because my brother was born when I was ten, and there was just me. So I was — we moved when I was five. So it was five years running up and down the road by myself.

BOND: You know, I met a fellow recently who is doing a study of Pullman porters. And everybody's familiar with the role the porters themselves played in the civil rights movement, E. D. Nixon in Montgomery, but he's also making the argument that the children of sleeping car porters became people of prominence in black affairs. And I'm confident it's true. You just have to look deeply into the lives of many of the people we know about as prominent figures and right there is a father or an uncle who was a Pullman car porter. What is it about Pullman car porters?

LEFTWICH: I think it's the — I think you have to look at it from the other perspective. What were the employment opportunities of dignity for African American men in the '20s and the '30s and even into the '40s up to the Second World War? You could be a postman. You could have a profession, be a doctor or a lawyer or dentist or something of that. You could be a teacher. Or you could work on the road as it was called where — there's a book out called A Man Named George.

BOND: Yes.

LEFTWICH: This is about that —

BOND: George Pullman's boys.

LEFTWICH: That's right, everybody was named George. But they were the elite of the service industry. They considered themselves to be skilled and expert at what they did. It was a closed system, you have to remember. Everybody couldn't be a Pullman car porter. The porters themselves decided who was polished enough and expert enough to be included in their ranks. They were the people who represented the upward mobility of the black community.

BOND: And they were economically independent.

LEFTWICH: And they were economically independent because their earnings were based on how well they did their job — however you define that, it was a question of how well they did the job because they were tipped and their tips were what they used to elevate their — raise their standard of living, to send their kids to school, and it was expected of the children of the sleeping car porters and the railroad men that they would be better off than their parents, that they would go further.BOND: You know, I met a fellow recently who is doing a study of Pullman porters. And everybody's familiar with the role the porters themselves played in the civil rights movement, E. D. Nixon in Montgomery, but he's also making the argument that the children of sleeping car porters became people of prominence in black affairs. And I'm confident it's true. You just have to look deeply into the lives of many of the people we know about as prominent figures and right there is a father or an uncle who was a Pullman car porter. What is it about Pullman car porters?

LEFTWICH: I think it's the — I think you have to look at it from the other perspective. What were the employment opportunities of dignity for African American men in the '20s and the '30s and even into the '40s up to the Second World War? You could be a postman. You could have a profession, be a doctor or a lawyer or dentist or something of that. You could be a teacher. Or you could work on the road as it was called where — there's a book out called A Man Named George.

BOND: Yes.

LEFTWICH: This is about that —

BOND: George Pullman's boys.

LEFTWICH: That's right, everybody was named George. But they were the elite of the service industry. They considered themselves to be skilled and expert at what they did. It was a closed system, you have to remember. Everybody couldn't be a Pullman car porter. The porters themselves decided who was polished enough and expert enough to be included in their ranks. They were the people who represented the upward mobility of the black community.

BOND: And they were economically independent.

LEFTWICH: And they were economically independent because their earnings were based on how well they did their job — however you define that, it was a question of how well they did the job because they were tipped and their tips were what they used to elevate their — raise their standard of living, to send their kids to school, and it was expected of the children of the sleeping car porters and the railroad men that they would be better off than their parents, that they would go further.

BOND: Now your mother being in public office — that's a rare, rare thing of this —

LEFTWICH: Oh, so rare.

BOND: — that time and place. What did that mean to you?

LEFTWICH: Oh, it was great fun. She used to take me with her all the time, and it meant that I learned politics from the age of five, right from the grassroots. She started out as a — well she started out as an activist for parent-teacher relations and founded the parent-teachers association at the school that we all went to. We all went to the same elementary school. And then she became involved in politics because it was clear to her that school policy was related to political policy, and she became a committee woman and then a ward leader. Or I guess she first was one of the poll watchers. And I was always with her. I would go with her. It meant that I was learning about political power. I was learning about caution inside white institutions because my mother, although she was — she finally seconded the nomination of Thomas E. Dewey at his last convention. And so she was moving around in the rarified atmosphere of party politics.

But she never went to social events. She would go to the meetings. She would go to the conventions. But she did not go where people drank. Why? Because when people drink they forget themselves and they begin to act out in ways that were unacceptable to her and which would not have respected her. And so she handled it by not putting herself in that situation. So I learned that. And I learned that also you don't always win even if you're the best candidate and if you run a very good campaign because there was then, as there is now, differential treatment of women in politics.

My mother ran for what would be considered councilperson-at-large now. The unit of government was most influential where I grew up was the county government. Erie County, like Chicago, had come to terms with the very large African American population. 35 percent of the population when I was growing up was black. Erie County had decided that there were wards that ought to be represented by the people who live there. So the fifth ward in Buffalo was the ward that — where most African Americans lived. And it had, before my mother ran, had a member of county legislature who was an African American who was the undertaker. He was very prominent, very effective person. And he died.

My mother ran for his office having been very prominent, having — my watching people wake us up at two or three o'clock in the morning. "Mrs. Scruggs, could you get my son out — he's in jail." "Mrs. Scruggs, can you get — we're being evicted." It was on and on. So I saw all of that. But I saw that when she ran for the supervisor's job, she was defeated, and she was defeated because she was a woman. People didn't even know this man that they voted for to fill that position. So I learned that. I learned also that my personality wasn't suited to public office.

My mother was very genteel. She was a very strong woman, and she was very clear and focused and she was very visionary. But she had come up in an era where manners and behavior were of a kind that I found constraining and restricting, and she would be very diplomatic just by nature. She wasn't being deferential.

BOND: Seeing her do these things must have sent some kind of signal to you, conscious or not, that women can do these things.

LEFTWICH: Absolutely.

BOND: This is not men's work.

LEFTWICH: And my father said to me any number of times, "You're going to finish school. I'm not going to have you marrying and having to be subjected to treatment that you don't deserve. You will finish school." And when he said "finish school" he didn't mean high school. He didn't mean college. He meant graduate school. So I had all of this reinforcement from the role model from my mother, but my father also, who was a staunch feminist, and his father had been. My grandfather who was the physician wrote a book published in 1893 called Women of Distinction. You can find this book in the Library of Congress. You can find it in the libraries of all of the historically black colleges and universities. You can find it in the bibliography of women — of people who do studies of black women, for example, Where and When I Enter [The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America]. It's in —

BOND: The Paula Giddings title.

LEFTWICH: Right. My grandfather wrote this book and he surveyed. He tried to survey a hundred women whom he considered to be influential in the African American community. He did profiles in this book of ninety-one women. Do not ask me how he got these surveys scheduled in an era where the pony express was probably a privilege. But he said that he was writing this book because he was really tired of going in train stations and seeing newspapers posted which denigrated the contributions of African American women. That's what he called them. African American women. Not Afro-American, not colored, not Negro. And he wanted to make sure as he called it, that "this bark transmits," which is the old fashioned word for a treatise, transmitted information about the rich contributions of African American women. Not only to the African American community, but to the larger community. When you looked at schools and orphanages and social welfare agencies and churches and church programs that women had started. Not to mention the doctors, and — there were no lawyers in this book, I don't even know if there were any lawyers who were African American women in those days. But he wanted it to be clear that these were the contributions of these women. Now in the book are a few women who you'd recognize — Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary [Church] Terrell — people like that. But there are a lot of women who started schools whose names, I guess, passed out of memory when they died. But from the biographies you could tell these were very important women. And so I had all of this history of the rights and the possibilities of women and the fact that opportunities ought to be made available. And when the opportunity came, you ought not to — you ought to take advantage of it. I see some of that in what I was writing about Brown. Saying — I wish I could recall why I thought that would be a problem. But saying that half of the — the proof of half of that pudding was going to be in the use, the access of the opportunity and that people should be encouraged to do that. So, when I think back on my growing up years, I just really do feel that I had unique kinds of encouragement.

BOND: What was your grandfather's name?

LEFTWICH: He was Lawson Andrew Scruggs, Dr. Lawson Andrew Scruggs.

BOND: Where'd he go to medical school?

LEFTWICH: Well, you know, in those days you interned. He went to the Leonard School of Medicine at Shaw University. There's more to that story. My father's name is Leonard, and of course my brother — I have one brother — he's Leonard Jr. His son is Leonard the third. All growing out of that Leonard School of Medicine. But my grandfather then went on to be associate dean of the Leonard School of Medicine at Shaw University because in those days there were — when you think of the fact that Mordecai Johnson was the first black president of Howard University, you can imagine that you did not have African American deans at schools, even schools that were exclusively for African Americans. So, he was the associate dean at the Leonard School of Medicine which was where people who went to Shaw University trained, and he taught anatomy there at Shaw.

BOND: When I think about Shaw I think about two things. One is the founding conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was held there in April of 1960. But also the graduate of Shaw I know the most about is Ella Baker. I wonder if your grandfather, Ella Baker, if there's any relationship?

LEFTWICH: I don't. Ella Baker —

BOND: They're different times.

LEFTWICH: I think it's kind of out of —

BOND: Yeah. They're out of chronological sequence.

LEFTWICH: Out of chronological sequence. But I know he didn't know all these women who were assembled there from all over the country. There were many women whose — there were not many women whose names have continued like Ella Baker. But neither did he know all of these women that he wrote about. They're from all over the country, and I know he didn't know them all. So there was a network of information, of communication in the African American community in the end of the nineteenth century that had made it possible for him to contact and write to and get information back.

BOND: And something else struck me — that also he knew who they were. If we don't know who they are now, he knew who they were then because these were people who were talked about, were written about, whose names appeared in the black press at the time.

LEFTWICH: Right, right. That was of course why he wanted to do the book, because he thought it was one thing for there to be this episodic reporting on the good works of African American women. It was another thing entirely to have it all collected together so anybody could see that these women were important contributors to American life.

BOND: What about teachers?

LEFTWICH: Oh, that's — I'm glad you raised that, because my mother is a teacher. My grandmother, my mother's mother, was a teacher of teachers. Her husband, my mother's father, my grandfather, was a minister. He was a Baptist minister who taught at the seminary in Virginia and also had a congregation and also had a big farm. My father's mother was a teacher, and of course my father's father was a physician and a teacher. So there are teachers all throughout my history. And it's interesting you raise that because I can remember when I was very involved in things from, as you can see, from a very early age. But there are other things that I did that sort of had me in interface with the people in the community where I grew up. And they would always say to me, "Oh, I know you're going to go to college and you're going to be a teacher." And I would say, "I am not being a teacher." And actually, I didn't intend to become a teacher. I didn't want to be a teacher. And I didn't want to be a teacher not because there wasn't something really wonderful about teachers. It was because people thought I ought to be a teacher. And I knew that if that if that were the case, then I needed to do something else. That I think I've always felt that I needed to be at the frontier of change. That I needed to be a — not a revolutionary, necessarily, but a person who tried to make changes occur.

BOND: And that while teaching was a perfectly legitimate, a fine profession, it didn't —

LEFTWICH: It was predictable.

BOND: — make this kind of change.

LEFTWICH: No. It was doing what people expected of a girl to do. And I would say that. First I said that I was going to be a doctor, because in those days not a lot of women were becoming doctors, and I had already a role model in my grandfather. I didn't really want to be a doctor. I mean, I was good in biology but terrible in chemistry. So that was probably as much defiance as anything. But it was — I was choosing something that permitted me to make the choice. I didn't want somebody else to make the choice for me. And teaching was clearly something that obviously I have gravitated toward. I have taught since — well, I guess since I was about in my twenties. I have taught sometimes as a primary job. But usually as something I did in addition to whatever I was doing because I liked doing it.

BOND: What about people who taught you — grade school, high school?

LEFTWICH: Well, I never had — well, first of all, my mother was a teacher. My mother had graduated from Saint Paul's College. She majored in French and romance languages. She served as a substitute teacher at the grammar school that I went to and during the years when they used — the substitute teachers were people who were teachers, but weren't working at the time. And I never had an African American teacher until I got to college.

BOND: Really?

LEFTWICH: No. And it was a big deal when Thelma Hardiman became a full-time teacher in the elementary school in Buffalo, because if I'm not mistaken she was the first. If not the first, she was certainly one of the first. I had teachers who — I had a few teachers whom I felt close to and who encouraged me. But school for a person like me, in the so-called liberated North, was always a challenge. I can recall that there were teachers who tried to encourage me and who tried to take advantage of the talents that I had. There were just as many, maybe more, who were obstacles and who would give me grades that I had not earned because somehow in their heads they thought that I didn't deserve the A.

BOND: That you couldn't have earned those grades.


BOND: You could not have earned —

LEFTWICH: — couldn't have earned those grades. My mother beat a path from the front of our house. We could see the grammar school. If you stood on our front porch and you looked down two blocks you could see the students coming out of the grammar school that we all went to. My mother beat a path from our door to the school at least once a week to go and talk with someone about the way that I had been treated. And I laugh at my own children because I have done the same thing, and their response is "We're not telling Mommy because she'll go to school." Or I would find out about it and "Mommy, please don't go to school. Please don't go to school." But there were teachers who helped, but mostly — mostly I was encouraged by — from home and by things that I was doing in the community. People who were prominent who were interested in what I was doing in the community who were involved with the schools. So — and those students, and it's still true— the students who obviously have a network of support get the best treatment in the schools. The colloquial way of saying it is they don't mess with you. And that was pretty much what emerged. That while I knew there were teachers who didn't particularly like me, it got to the point that they gave me grades that I earned and not grades they thought I ought to have because they think we didn't — I guess they didn't want to deal with my mother at school.

BOND:  Tell me about the decision to go to North Carolina – to school now  - you make two choices – one is to go South which is very different from what you’re used to in Buffalo, and the other is go to Central as opposed to Shaw.

SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH:  They’re all linked. I was going to be a lawyer.  I finally settled on being a lawyer – and I was going to be a civil rights lawyer.

BOND:  Modeled after whom – who…

SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH:  Well, reading.  Of course, we all read a lot

BOND:  What did you read?  What  night paper did you get besides the Buffalo paper?

SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH:  There were two papers in Buffalo.  There was the Pittsburgh Courier.  It’s funny you ask.  There was the Pittsburgh Courier – there was a paper in Buffalo, even back in those days.

BOND:  The Challenger

SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH:  The Challenger – no, there was another paper, run by the Merriweathers.  I don’t know why I can’t remember, but my mother wrote for it.  The Merriweathers were a family – prominent family – the daughters were teachers and judges. The sons ran the newspaper – the Criterion. -- the Criterion.  We read Crisis Magazine – back in those years, I can still see those Crisis magazines.  And listened to the news and my parents discussed what was going on in the country and who was being abused, and who stood for civil rights;  who was a race person.  The phrase back in those days was “He’s a race man.”  And so I know that I was  influenced by the lawyers at the NAACP and the lawyers in town, because of course we had lawyers in town.  Mr. Mahoney and others were friends of my parents. But I decided I wanted to be a lawyer because  -- I competed in oratorical contests.  I was on the debate team;  the only African American on the debate team.  I got put off the debate team because I won debates. And I was the only black on the team, and the parents of other children complained to the school.   And they said I was just a freshman. And so weren’t allowed to be on the debate team.  The debate teacher didn’t agree with it.  She gave me A’s.  But I had to get off the debate team, because I was the only freshman on the debate team. So I had a little of this experience -- hand-on-experience.

But I need to step back a little.  I also, in this traveling by myself up and down the road, I also became involved in the High-Y organization, which was a youth in government incubator in NYS and went to Albany as a delegate from my Hi-Y and was elected Speaker of the Assembly. It was wonderful experience.  And there were three African American kids in Albany.   Francis Cook from Nyack, and a young woman from Brooklyn and me. 

And I got to be a legislator. I went to Albany two or three times. And so all of these things -- being around politics. it all sort of said to me, I want to be involved in this fight having to do with unfairness and inequity and injustice. So I was going to be a lawyer.  Well, I got accepted at what is now Case Western Reserve.  And it was very clear – I had never been South.  My father would go South every year to make a pilgrimage to Bedford, Virginia where his sister – it was really his cousin but he’d been raised with his sister – his father died when he was 13 – and his uncle and his uncle’s wife raised my father along with their children.  So, he would go to see my aunt, and then he would go to see his half-sister in St. Louis. And I would beg to go with him.  And he would refuse to take me.  And he would say: “ I’m not taking you down there because we will both end up on the end of a rope at the bottom of some tree. I am not taking you.”  So he would never take me.  Well here I was wanting to be a civil rights lawyer, having lived in what was then thought to be the liberated North. I didn’t know anything about segregation as it was being experienced in the South. 

So, I decided I wanted to go south to undergraduate school.  My parents said that was fine. I wanted to go to Shaw.  Shaw was on its heels at that time.  It was not accredited.  And when we got the catalogue, my mother says, “You’re not going to Shaw.”  And we then back to the catalogue of colleges and universities, and she said.  “Well, if you want to be in North Carolina, NC Central is NC College is accredited “A”; My friend, Helen Edmonds, my classmate from St. Paul, is on the faculty there, I’ll call up Helen.”  So she called up

BOND:  That’s what you call being connected.

SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH:  Oh, right.  She called Dr. Edmonds.  I always take the opportunity to say that Helen Edmonds was one of the first women – first African Americans to be a delegate to the United Nations.   She was a Republican and just a marvelous historian, and     I knew her for the rest of my life. But my mother called up Helen Edmonds, and said I’m sending Yvonne down there to school.  And she said, Have her come on….she can major in History.  So I majored in Political Science and History.  And went to NCC. I was going to be a lawyer still.  I went on to the law school because I finished my course work early, and so I took several courses in the law school, but then I got the Fulbright fellowship. . . 

BOND: Let me take you back before then. Here you'd been living in Buffalo all this time and going back and forth — Buffalo, Niagara Falls. As you say it is the liberal North. Compared to North Carolina, it's extremely liberal. All of a sudden you find yourself not only going to school with black people and having black teachers but in the segregated South. What kind of a shock was that for you?

LEFTWICH: Well, the shock was — first of all, I knew all of this existed, I had read it —

BOND: Yes, but you hadn't lived it.

LEFTWICH: But I hadn't lived it. The first shock was as my father put me on the train taking me to North Carolina. He said to his friend, whoever it was, the Pullman porter, that I was getting off and changing trains in Washington. I remember distinctly the man said to my father, "Brother Scruggs, I'll take care of her. You know she's going to have to move in Washington." And he came and woke me up. It was almost midnight, and took my bags and took me to another car before we got to Washington so that I had a seat. But I was appalled. It was the middle of the night and somebody's moving me around. It was an outrage that was not born of ignorance. I knew that this happened. It was just experiencing it.

But when I got to college — you have to remember in those days, in loco parentis was really strong. You got on the campus and you were assigned a dormitory. And when you went off campus, and as you know, and I certainly remember fondly the campus of North Carolina Central was just beautiful. Everything you wanted was there and that was intentional because they didn't want their students wandering around Durham and getting in trouble, and being abused by people who were racist and who were bigoted and who would do things to them.

So that for my first year, except for the time my roommate or my friend who was from Philadelphia and I went shopping down in Durham and drank out of the water fountains because we knew they were white and we didn't need a sign to tell us, I rarely went off campus in my first year. And by the time I was a sophomore I was going around and doing news and government in North Carolina, and going to Raleigh and stuff like that, I had lived with people who had been from the segregated — there were very few Northerners on that campus. We all knew one another. I had lived with people whom I respected and loved who were from the South. Who told me what their experiences had been. I'd learned about it vicariously as I then gradually, then, to experiencing — to experience it.

But you know the educators at North Carolina Central had developed whatever rapprochement there was with the rest of the community. And they made sure that we stayed out of harm's way. So you didn't really do what students do now. You know, you didn't go wandering around the community until you were mature enough to be able to differentiate between a situation of danger and one where you could challenge. And it was — there were a lot of things that I learned. I never really adjusted. I have never since then lived in the deep South. We — my husband and I — had a business in Florida for two years which we sold in January because I hated being in the South. I hated it. And I still do. But what I experienced made me feel very strongly about equity and justice and doing away with segregation and doing away with people who do bad things to you and being a real advocate for change.

BOND: Now, let me take you back again to high school, even before that, and to college as well. When did you first — we know you became the editor of the newspaper and that's a leadership position. But before that, how were you exhibiting, if at all, this — these leadership capabilities which clearly you had?

LEFTWICH: I think I always did. I wasn't always aware of it, but I remember that since we all went to the same high school you sort of had these friends that you made from the neighborhood and they became — they were your friends forever. I remember one of the students who had started kindergarten with me, when were in like third or fourth grade, there was something that required us in that class — we were in the same class — to get into groups. And her name was Mary Louise Byrd. She said, "I'm getting in the group with Yvonne because Yvonne walks like she's hearing music in her head." I thought, "That's funny." But since then, she and I have talked about it and it was apparent then to her, and I don't think it was necessarily to me, that I made decisions based on what I thought. I was not — I didn't really follow people. And it was not long after that that I was a leader in school. I played in the band. I played in the orchestra in grammar school. I competed in speaking contests. I won them, some of them. You know, some I didn't win. And we didn't have student government in grammar school. But I went to a high school, which would now be called a magnet school which was an academic high school. And I started working on a newspaper there. Worked on the yearbook. Was president of a couple clubs.

BOND: And the High Y. What attracted you to that?


BOND: Yeah.

LEFTWICH: Well, something to do — it was a question of where I was going to go after school with my friends and what was acceptable. The YWCA was run here again by an old friend of the family who was from a very prominent family in Buffalo. He was a social worker and his brother was a mortician. So — my father was a mortician. So they knew one another. And so the question was, what are the activities at the Y, and it wasn't the YWCA. It was the YMCA. There wasn't a YWCA that African Americans could go to when I was a kid. It was what activities would I be interested in, and the High Y was focusing largely on youth in government and civic issues. So I joined that. And they had developed a relationship with High Y's from other YMCAs which were — it was the only black YMCA so these other Y's were white. It then became a very positive learning experience and then I went to Albany and youth in government was stuff that I told you about that. So, it was reinforced and rewarding and was still giving me — I think I was president of the High Y, now that I think about it — giving me the opportunity to make things better, to change things.

BOND: I was thinking as you're talking about these experiences that the black world of educated people is relatively small then. And you're fortunate that your father, a mortician, your grandfather, physician, your mother, a teacher, all belonged to networks that made them know other people like them in other town and cities around the United States. I don't know if your father or your grandfather went to the conventions doctors had or the conventions morticians had of their professional association.

LEFTWICH: My father went to some. My father, though, was a Mason, a Shriner.

BOND: There you go.

LEFTWICH: He was the head of the Masons and the head of the Shriners. And he would go to these conventions, and he was an Elk and he was an Odd Fellow. When the conventions came to Buffalo it's a big convention town. So he would — and the way that people went to conventions in those days — this is interesting — is that there was this network of homes because you couldn't stay in the hotels if you were African American. We had a home that had rooms in it that my mother made available to conventioneers. And so the network grew because you would meet people who were from other places who would stay in your home and everyone knew they were staying in your home. They were like family. And they were treated like family. My grandfather had made notes to write another book about the World's Fair in Chicago. So he was out there wandering around making notes and looking at the women's pavilions and all of these kinds of things. So he was having tangents with other people who weren't necessarily in his professional circle, but he had traveled and he knew people from other places. So you're right. I think that my mother was involved with the companion organizations of the Masons, Eastern Star. I can't —

BOND: Daughters of Isis.

LEFTWICH: Daughters of Isis, Daughters of Isis. She was also a Lady Elk. She was president of one of the — women who wear the white around their heads — so you can see don't — but she helped found the sorority, branch chapter of Iota Phi Lambda in Buffalo. So we had all these tangents that — right, that helped me and my brother and my sisters as we ventured forth. There were, there was always somebody, like you mentioned, there was always somebody you called when you went to another city.

BOND: Yes, that you knew and your parents knew.

LEFTWICH: And somebody that my parents knew. "Call up Mrs. So-and-So and tell her you're, tell her you're my daughter. And let her know that you're there." Even when I went to college in addition to Dr. Edmonds, there was a doctor there. My family doctor was Dr. Scruggs also. We're not sure there was any relationship but he had been my father's friend forever. And Dr. Scruggs called up a physician in Durham who was a friend of his and said, "We've got Yvonne coming down. I want you to look after her." And so when I got to Durham I called them up and the Palmers, Dr. Palmer, and went over and I would go there sometimes.

You know how college students never have enough to eat?

BOND: Yes.

LEFTWICH: I would go over there. That pattern sort of continued. When I went to the University of Minnesota, Carl Rowan was in Minneapolis writing for the paper there. Carl Rowan's wife is from Buffalo. She was the daughter of — or is the daughter of a family, a large family the sister of which was the head of the Urban League and the brother of which family was my mother's physician. So when I went to Minnesota, I called up Carl Rowan because Vivian was his wife and "I'm from Buffalo. Mother said to call you up." Went over there to — babysat Carl Rowan, Jr., babysat the daughter. There is this network, and it developed because two things. Because we did not have access to the major support, commercial institutions that people — that non-black people, white people and other people — relied on when they moved from city to city. And because it was dangerous. It could be dangerous out there.

BOND: Yeah.

LEFTWICH: And it could be dangerous not in the terms that we use today. It could be dangerous because you were an African American who was not usually in the community that was typically African American. And there needed to be somebody there who knew you were there, whom you could call if anything went wrong. What did that mean? It could have been anything.

BOND: Yeah. It could have been anything. You could have lost your luggage.

LEFTWICH: Could have been — yeah, just a simple thing. But you don't want to be in a town with no money, in a town where you don't know someone, in a town where they can't reach your parents.

BOND: And this circumstance, while rare — this tight network which is quite small at the time, and that's why so many people knew other people because the network was small. [It's] very, very different today I would think. The networks exist, but the population has grown so large.

LEFTWICH: That's true. I think as a general rule the kind of defensiveness that that fed to that network is not as important, is not as needed today as it was then.

BOND: Indeed.

LEFTWICH: By and large, if you go into a strange city, some single individual, if you're not in the deep South — Mississippi I don't include in this statement — but if you're in a city where civil rights and civil liberties generally are respected, if something untoward happens it's usually an individual rather than an institution. Unless it's the police, there are ways of — very well accepted ways of —

BOND: Where you can navigate.

LEFTWICH: — to navigate that.

BOND: You don't need someone to intercede.

LEFTWICH: Yeah, you don't need —

BOND: An intercessor.

LEFTWICH: An intercessor. But we did need them in those days. And especially women needed them. To the extent that your family could provide that, to that extent were you well protected and given opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise.

BOND: Now, you had these leadership experiences in grade school, high school, now in college. Did you ever think, say, "I'm a leader"?

LEFTWICH: Well, yeah by the time I got to college I did.

BOND: And you expected that you would take leadership positions?

LEFTWICH: That's right. In the first week of the first semester that I was on campus, I ran to become the freshman representative to student government and I won.

BOND: Within a week.

LEFTWICH: Within a week. It was — it's funny how certain events presage a series of other events that you could never had anticipated absent that one event. The defining moment, I think they call it, so that being elected as a freshman, brand new on campus to a very important position meant that I was then expected to step up to the plate with the other leaders who are on campus.

BOND: So the election of you to this relatively small leadership position, the lowest on the rank of student governments, creates opportunities for you to take other leadership positions.

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: It opens the door.

LEFTWICH: That's right. There are a lot of things like that, and I think that when I talk with young people I try to encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along that you think you can make something of, you can contribute to, that will broaden your horizons because you never know where that's going to be. You never know when the interface between you and some new situation is going to result in the opening of a whole — of other vistas that you could — I think I ran for office because I was a political scientist student, and this was the first election on campus and I'd been hanging out with this politician mother all those years and I got homesick. So I —

BOND: But you obviously had to have the kind of personality where enough people knew you in this class of strangers for them to have elected you.

LEFTWICH: Yeah, I think that's true, although it's helped by the fact that I was the only one from Buffalo, New York, and nobody knew where Buffalo, New York was. People used to come up to me and say, "I have this cousin who is from New York." I'd say, "Oh, where?" "Brooklyn." I'd say, "You're right, okay."

Now, I think that I really was — I'm fundamentally a very private person. When I say that to people they laugh and roll all around the floor. But there are real oases of insularity that I crave and as I have grown older have learned to make for myself because I tend to be very reflective. I write a lot. I mean, you can't write when you're running around talking to people all the time. And I always wrote.

So — but there's another side of me that wants to know what's going on, and — which is a friendly side. I'm not mean-spirited. I think that sort of living in a dormitory, which I had never done, living in a dormitory was really interesting. But living in a dormitory and feeling — I think I felt responsible for people for no good reason. I mean, it's just my personality. I didn't have to take care of — I had to take care of my brother and my sisters, but that was not — you know, there are some people who are caretakers. I wasn't a caretaker child. I was taken care of. But I extended myself and I still do in situations where everybody is strange or where people are strange because I am really at ease in the world having traveled so much. And I know that a lot of people are not. And that helps in a situation where everybody — a lot of kids have never been away from home before. And there were a lot of opportunities to be nice to people because that was what I thought I should do. You know, it was fun. And, yeah —

So I was elected. Then I was — that continued because once you are in the student government you were there. I finally became president of it in my senior year. But I was also on the newspaper, which gave me a platform and a voice.

BOND: Sure.

LEFTWICH: And I played — I did music. People who did music sort of gravitated toward one another in that small environment. It was like a family.

BOND: Let me take you to Germany. You said off camera that you spoke German. How'd you come to speak German?

LEFTWICH: Well, that's taking — I think I mentioned earlier making an opportunity.

BOND: Your mother talked French.

LEFTWICH: Yeah. My mother didn't speak German. I speak a little French. I don't read or write it, but I learned it from my mother. No, my mother was the reason I applied for a Fulbright. You know, these things just don't happen out of the blue. My mother said, "I've been looking, thinking about your graduate education. Have you thought about going abroad?" I said, "Well, yes, I've thought about it. How do you think we're going to do that?" She said "Well, there's a Fulbright Fellowship. There's no reason you shouldn't have a Fulbright Fellowship and you're eligible." But she said, "You know, it's my assessment that to the extent the country you choose is a non-traditional choice, to that extent, are your chances of winning better."

BOND: So if you had, say, chosen to go to England?

LEFTWICH: I would — I don't think I would have won anything. Or France. But I didn't really want to go to France. I said, "How about Germany?" She said, "Well, why do you choose Germany?" I said, "Well, Dr. [Helen Gray] Edmonds speaks German." I had studied Latin, four years of Latin in high school. So when I got to college I had to choose a different language. I wasn't taking Latin. And I found out somehow that Dr. Edmonds spoke German. I took German for, you know, to meet the college requirements. So I had fundamental German grammar. And then the head of the German department [Dr. Raleigh Morgan] was also sort of faculty member who was around a lot. I contacted him, and I said, "If I were to apply for a Fulbright for Germany, how would I learn German well enough that I could win?" He said, "I would tutor you." So that was that — the die was cast. I —

BOND: That's amazing to me, in first place that they taught German at all.

LEFTWICH: Not only that they taught German but two of the professors, the Manasses, were German. Mrs. [Marianne] Manasse also taught German and Dr. [Ernest M.] Manasse taught philosophy - ethics and logic. They were on the faculty.

BOND: Were these refugees?

LEFTWICH: Well, yeah. I'm presuming they were. I didn't —

BOND: The reason I ask, very quickly, is because this population of Jewish immigrants, refugees from Nazism, who just populated these black college campuses, their credentials destroyed, they could't get jobs they were qualified for at white schools?

LEFTWICH: — at white schools. And they —

BOND: And they — anyway, let's go on.

LEFTWICH: No. And they both had Ph.D.s in the European system. There were some several on campus who were refugees. So there were all these people, I took ethics from Dr. Manasse. So I knew people who knew German, which meant that I didn't feel I was speaking Russian or something. And I applied for the Fulbright to Germany. I studied up on German. And I took more German. And then when I was notified that I had won, I went into overdrive with daily lessons in German. So that by the time I was ready to sail — and we sailed in those days, we did not fly — I was comfortable in German, and German was taught on the ship because all the Fulbrights to Germany went on the same ship. We all landed at Hamburg and then we spread out where we were going to.

BOND: What did the others say when they saw you?

LEFTWICH: They thought I was strange because there were only two blacks on the whole boat [and I was the only black woman]. And there were some — it was funny — there were some Indian soldiers on the boat. I don't know what they were doing on there. But they [the crew and many Fulbrighters] kept trying to make me one of the Indian soldiers. The Indians also tried to adopt me. I have pictures with these Indian soldiers. But no, it was really strange to them that I was going to Germany. Fortunately, the woman I spoke of from — who had been born in Vienna [Inge Breitner Powell], and Werner [Dannhauser], who is a scholar who had been born in southern Germany, and Marvin [Tartak], who was a musician with whom I had simpatico because I was also a musician, and Marion Magid, who was from New York. New York Jew, actress. The three of them, not including Marvin, had sort of been friends for life — Marion [Magid], Inge [Powell] and Werner [Dannhauser]. Marvin was just a wonderful person, so he became a friend. For — in some way I became very much involved with them in part because I could speak some German.

Inge said to me, "Scruggs, you're not going to make it if you're not bi-lingual. Don't speak any more English." So we became a team. And I went to — all the eight days on the boat we had German classes. Then when I got to Bonn where I was supposed to go to school I transferred to Berlin because they were all going to Berlin and they said "Scruggs, you don't want to go to Bonn. It's boring. Come and go to Berlin." And so I transferred to the Free University at Berlin and the Institute of Political Science which is officially called the Die Hoch Schule fur Politik [or the "Institute for Political Science / Institut fur Politike Wissenschaft]. We were — we were all political scientists except for Marion who was — well, Marion and Marvin. They were arts people. But Werner, Inge and I were political scientists. So it [transferring to the University at Berlin] turned out to be a wonderful selection and a wonderful choice.

BOND: What did the whole experience — what did that leave you? What did it do for you?

LEFTWICH: It changed my world.

BOND: How so?

LEFTWICH: Because being a Fulbright Fellow is a very important distinction. And in those days when there were not scholars — Rhodes Scholars — who were women or black, the leading honored scholars in the United States who were not male and white were Fulbright Fellows. So that — and I had never — I was going as a Fulbright Fellow because I wanted to live abroad. I wanted to learn things. I just wanted to go. I had no idea that as I moved through life that being a Fulbright Fellow would be as much of a passport to things as it has turned out to be. During the spring vacation while I was living in Berlin, Inga and I traveled together and we went to lots of places. I had heard about Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. They had a Bologna center. So we routed ourselves in through Milan, down through Florence into Bologna so that I could be interviewed. I was accepted and given a scholarship to SAIS for when I decided to come back. I have been nominated just recently to serve on the board of the Fulbright organization. As I have gone through life I've run into people who were Fulbright Fellows who've said, "Oh yes," and with whom there's been this relationship.

BOND: Isn't this another one of the networks we were talking about, different from the black network?

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: But a network nonetheless.

LEFTWICH: A network. No, absolutely it created a tremendous network for me. Just like politics has created a network. In the meeting that we had earlier today there was a mayor, a former mayor of Charlottesville, who came because I was there. A former deputy mayor of Philadelphia. There are these linkages. There are these networks that help people connect when they travel through life. And I just feel that we need to try to help people. What is it called? It's called the — well, it's called networking now, but people, I think, mean something a little different by it.

BOND: Doesn't mean getting a job.

LEFTWICH: It means — it's much more driven by an objective. It's much more task-oriented.

BOND: And it's about connectedness rather than material gain.

LEFTWICH: That's right. This is about connectedness, and it's sometimes there has been some gain. For example, I went to work for the Ford Foundation because Paul Ylvisaker who at that — and I know you know who Paul was — was the head of that very advanced, creative division of the Ford Foundation that made the poverty program possible. Paul was a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

BOND: I was about to ask. How'd you get to Minnesota?

LEFTWICH: I got to Minnesota because I left the SAIS because SAIS was racist. I had these people who — (here I am, bilingual in German and English, and I had a class with a woman who was an Austrian who kept acting like I couldn't speak German. Here I had given papers because I was always a serious student. I had done research on papers and given papers in graduate classes. I was in graduate school there. I wasn't an undergraduate in Germany -- in German, and had not really spoken much English. All my friends spoke German) -- who acted as though I didn't understand German and that my German was poor. And I got sick of it.

My parents were supporting — although I had a scholarship that paid my tuition and it paid for my books. But my parents were supporting me to live in Washington, D.C., and I said, "This is ridiculous. I am not paying money to get a degree from a school I'm going to have to fight half the time I'm there." Plus, I took the Foreign Service Exam, and — you get passed around to all these agencies when you're at SAIS. There are only fifty students there. Twenty-five were first-year students and twenty-five were second-year students. Interviews were set up, and these people in the State Department and CIA and USIA and all of these foreign aid — all these international organizations and federal government kept asking me about my secretarial skills.

And finally, when I'd been in Europe I had a very good relationship with the USIA and America House. And I would give lectures for — in the East, in East Berlin — for people who were interested in the United States whom the United States was hoping would defect. I would go over and give lectures to them in German. So I, then, in the United States, am hit in the face — it must have been like the soldiers coming back from the Second World War — with all of this bigotry and bias. I decided, "Enough of that. I'm not paying money for this abuse."

I had been accepted at the University of Minnesota before I got the Fulbright, and when I got the Fulbright I wrote them and told them that I had an opportunity I couldn't turn down. Well, I wrote them again. I said, "Well, I'm back. I'd like to come back." They said, "Come on. You'll get an assistantship. We'll give you--" I said "I don't have any money for things like room and board." Of course I was a big girl, I was a grown up then. [They] said "Well, we'll give you a job as a senior— as a counselor in the senior women's dorm." And between the scholarship for tuition and the work in setting up a public administration library for the University of Seoul in Korea, which was my project, and living in the women's dorm, I was able to finish my master's degree.

But Paul had been a graduate of the Public Administration program, which is now called the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs. And he was invited to come back and spend some time there with the graduates. A small graduate class. There were like twenty-two of us — just as Senator Humphrey was at the time. But Paul came and he stayed for a year. Here again I was the only African American anywhere around. And he and I just sort of bonded. He went on back to the Ford Foundation. I wrote him when I was leaving Minnesota saying I wanted to go work in the United Nations. And Paul said, "No. The Ford Foundation has some other things that are I think much more down your alley. Why don't you come on to Philadelphia?" Because by then I had married my then-husband. My late husband lived in Philadelphia. He said, "Why don't you come on and hang out with me for a day?" I hung out with Paul Ylvisaker and was employed by the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement, which was a Ford Foundation-funded project for city renewal. I mean, all of these — it's networks.

BOND: Yes, it is networks.

LEFTWICH: It's networks.

BOND: The University of Minnesota alumni network.

LEFTWICH: Yeah. That's right. He remembered that — you know, he remembered me from when he was there in the school.

BOND:  The University of Pennsylvania – You’re in Philadelphia – the University of Pennsylvania --does that naturally follow?

LEFTWICH:  Well, yes and no.  Working for the University of Pennsylvania was – you asked me about people who had been influential in my life.  And I named my parents.  Let me name the other people:  Dr. Charles Ray at North Carolina Central;  Dr. Helen Edmonds at North Carolina Central; and the man who is now Ambassador,  Horace Dawson, who was the advisor to the newspaper at North Carolina Central. 

In Philadelphia and for the rest of my life, Dr. Howard Mitchell,  who was at the time that I went to work for the Gray Areas project the Deputy Director -- Sam Dash, the lawyer – Sam was the Director - and Howard Mitchell was the deputy director.  And I came on as initially a planner and then became Assistant/ Associate Director.  Howard Mitchell then went back to the University of Pennsylvania, because he was a tenured professor.  He was doing this because he was such a brilliant man. 

And I worked around Philadelphia for a while but then --, I have always wanted to reflect on what have done.  And I worked for PCCA and then I went to work for the Poverty – for Model Cities -- it had morphed into Model Cities.  And I did that trouble shooting.  I was really hired by Washington.  I wasn’t hired by the regional office in Philadelphia.  And I was sent to troubled cities to try to make them do right.  It was really hilarious.  Here I am, some 20-some year old kid, going out to Chicago – being sent to Chicago – to help Mayor Daley write a proposal that would yield him a $5 million planning grant so that he could get a $25 million grant to do Model Cities in Chicago.  I was one of five people – it was just really uncanny, because I had never been to Chicago before and I certainly -- when I think about it, I think I did a good job, but it was really strange to be a young person writing programs for a city of which you are not a resident in a hotel room for two weeks and having your meals.  It was like you were a prisoner. They’d bring you your food, and whatever else you needed. 

So, anyway, I had gotten tired of those kinds of things, and I wanted to reflect.  I wanted to do some research again.  I had done some research at the Wharton Centre.  One of my mentors was Claudia Grant, social worker, the Wharton Centre.  And the other I should mention was Bill [William Robert Snowden] Meek.  I think you may know Bill Meek -- real Civil rights activist. 

BOND:  Yeah – I think so –

LEFTWICH:  Bill and his wife Sylvia – both of whom are no longer living.  That’s sort of the core of people who made me who I am.  And I say to them – Howard died last year --  but I would say to them:  “You’re responsible for the kind of person I’ve become.”  Because both Howard Mitchell and Bill Meek were very active feminists.  And they took the same position my father had taken:  Look, if you’ve got the skills and you’ve got the courage, do it. Nobody should stop you from doing it because you’re a woman.  And I’d tell them – “Well,  when people come and complain to  you about how difficult I am, just take responsibility for it, ‘cause it’s your fault.”  Anyway, Howard was back at Penn.  And I called him up, and I said “You know I really need to get out of – I really need to do some research.  What’s over there?”

He said: “My Human Resources Center here in the Wharton School.  Come over here, do some research with me.” I said:  “Well, I sort of want to work on my Ph.D.”  He said: “Fine, I’ll be chair of your committee.  Come on over, let’s get you going.”  So, I was there.  I finished my work, I finished my coursework, finished my prelims, and designed a dissertation which I didn’t do – I did a different dissertation. Before I left Penn, -- I went to Penn in 1970, and I was there working with Howard at the Human Resources Center and teaching in the City and Regional Planning Department – taking courses...

And then I got a call from Jerry [Jerome] Lindsay who was the dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Howard University.  And I had met Jerry Lindsay  through a very good friend of mine – who was one of my closest personal friends – who was a planner named Joyce Whitley out of Cleveland. Joyce’s brothers were architects and she was a planner. Jerry had called her, saying “I need a chair for my department of City and Regional Planning.  Do you have anybody in mind?”  ‘Cause Joyce was in the private sector – he knew she wasn’t going to come.  She said: “Why don’t you call up Yvonne?”  And he called me up and I left Philadelphia and went to Howard.  Served as chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning  until --

Pat Harris and Bob Embry – invite[d] me to become Deputy Assistant Secretary -- because I had had interface with her.  And I was doing what I have always done, which was writing, speaking out – the confrontation with the editors and the editorial board of the Washington Post  about how poorly they were treating and representing African Americans – I told about earlier – with Vernon Jordan, Carl Holman and – sitting down Eddie Williams saying, “you’ve got to stop this.”

She knew who I was.  And she said:  “Go ask her if she will be the Deputy Assistant Secretary for…” – it was a long title – but it was for planning.  The day that I got there, she had decided to make changes in the urban policy structure which President Carter had created and handed to her to chair.  And she then said

“I want you to be Executive Director of the President’s Urban and Regional Policy Task Force.”  So I did two jobs for a year, and then the policy was finished.  And I stayed on one other year as Deputy Assistant Secretary not doing the policy – the policy went to the White House.  My position is :Don’t ever try to run anything in the White House.  You will lose.  And so I didn’t want to do that.

BOND: The clock is ticking down. Talk about being deputy mayor of Philadelphia.

LEFTWICH: Ah, that's a part of a network. When I was at the Ford Foundation running that project, a young man came in my office one day who was working for Allstate Insurance. And he was a community leader, and he had made some real changes in his neighborhood using urban planning and development techniques. And he wanted a new job, and his name was W. Wilson Goode.

I was ready to leave the foundation because I'd been tapped to go be troubleshooter for Model Cities. I said, "Aha! Just the person I need." We hired him. Gave him some orientation, but he knew housing. He knew the housing to work. Left him there. Went on to do what I had to do. He then subsequently went on to become a member of the Public Utilities Commission for Pennsylvania State. He called me up, said, "Should I do this?" I advised him. Then he was asked to be managing director of the city of Philadelphia. He called me up. I advised him. I said, "You should do this." Then he decided to run for mayor. Called me up. I came down to Philadelphia. We talked it through. I said, "You should do this." He then contacted me and said, "Would you come and run housing for me?" I said, "No, the governor of New York has just named me Commissioner of Housing for the state of New York. I cannot leave this job." But then the terrible tragedy of the MOVE fire.

BOND: The MOVE fire, yes.

LEFTWICH: — occurred. And he asked me if I would come and reorganize his office as deputy mayor. He had thousands of people in the Office of Mayor. Thirteen agencies. Tremendously bad span of control. And I said, "I really am tired of government." Now I had been commissioner of housing for three years which is a story all by itself. It was hard. Sometimes it was really hard. It was very rewarding and I was fully supported by the legislature, but it was a hard job. I went and I did that for— that reorganization for Wilson Goode. And then I quit, because I really had had enough public service.

My husband, my present husband, had created a business which was a system of non-depository banks. And using — he's a very creative person, understands entrepreneurship like I would never even begin to understand it. But I understand running things. And he created this system which grossed $7 million dollars a week. Had between 40 and 50,000 customers a week. And we ran that for eight years until the bank that we were using failed. Was taken over by FDIC, and we lost everything because FDIC insures only $100,000 of deposits. And we finally had to go out of business.

I left being deputy mayor to work with my husband on that project. But meantime, my daughter had — we have four children. My daughter, my second daughter, was working as an investment banker at a firm, African American firm, Pryor — was then Pryor, Govan, and Counts. Became Pryor, McClendon and Counts. I was invited to come help them open up some markets like Connecticut and Florida. So I left being deputy mayor, went into the private sector. Did that for a while for — in municipal finance. And then went to work on the business that my husband and I owned until 1991.

BOND: Now, the Black Leadership Forum — how'd you come to that?

LEFTWICH: I decided to leave New York state and to go be near my children. Either my daughter Cathryn, who is a resident of Columbia and is a mortgage banker, or my daughter Rebecca, who is an investment banker, who is in Philadelphia. I didn't really want to go back to Philadelphia, and I had — I've known Eddie Williams since I was chairing the Department of Planning.

So I called up Eddie Williams and said, "I'm thinking about coming to Washington. What do you think I might do?" He said, "You're going to come help me do this Urban Policy Institute." So I left New York in 1991 and came to Washington. Was working with Eddie but also once again in touch with all these black leaders who had gone to me — gone with me to the Washington Post to complain in the '70s about the way blacks were treated. It was convergence of opportunity and timing of a forum. Had done a strategic plan. The plan had called for a number of things including incorporation, making a 501-C3, and hiring an executive director.

And I was invited to be the executive director if I would agree to help them get on their feet in terms of funding and to work part time for the joint center until I did that. And that was great. It was just — I couldn't have designed that sequence better had I tried. It was moving through a number of systems back into the civil rights community. Back into activism in a very high profile and deliberate way with people I had known and admired. Dorothy Height and Joe Lowery and Jessie Jackson and C. Delores Tucker and Eddie Williams, Elaine Jones. These people are people who are making a difference. And to be able to work collaboratively with them on things that we — on things of mutual concern. Sort of the cat's meow.

BOND: Now, earlier today at lunch, a young woman asked you a question about youth and you answered in such a wonderful way. You said, in effect, that you have to earn leadership. Leadership isn't given to you. This is not a relay race where some older person says, "Here, young person, here's leadership, you take over." But it begins to push the question, how do we create leaders, young leaders? They seem to have in past years have come out of the civil rights struggle. That's my training and background. And I was critical of the older leadership of my time. But none of them handed me the leadership.

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: You know, I had to grab it.

How do we rid young people of the notion that somebody's going to give them leadership?

LEFTWICH: I don't know how we rid them of the notion, but I think what we have to do is include them more, and I've really been fighting for this, including them in the day-to-day activities of leaders— of leading. It means having them be members of the board. Having them in the strategy sessions, giving them responsibility for some of the elements of the strategy. Calling on them when you're having a — putting together a panel so that they get to be in contact with —

There's nothing better than spending time in the company of somebody like Joe [Joseph] Lowery, who talks just out of the litany of his life experience in ways that you could never read. And hanging out with Dorothy Height, who makes it clear what the trajectory has been of both women and blacks in gaining equal rights and equal opportunity. And I think that making those opportunities available to younger leaders — I don't know what you do with people just out of high school. That's not my forte.

But I do know that the mentoring kind of camaraderie that you can certainly do easily. Inviting them to dinner, being part — I mean, it's all — it's all a matter of feeling comfortable in their skin and comfortable in all kinds of company. And I think that that can happen. I think we can do that. And I think that it's — what has happened is that there's just such competition now to hold onto the gains we've made that there sometime isn't the inclination to trust some of the leadership responsibilities to people who haven't had as much experience as we have.

But look at it this way — nobody lives forever, and tomorrow is not promised. And we either make people comfortable with this transition and give them the tools and the self-confidence and the courage, or we die and they pick up the mantle not knowing which is the collar and which is the tail. And having to find it out for themselves, which I think by far is the least desirable strategy. And if we could just begin as a group of leaders to see it that way I think there are a lot of leaders who have been politicians, and politicians always see their next primary competitor over their shoulders.

I think that in the interest of strengthening and maintaining the gains that have been made in the black community, we have to regenerate ourselves and we have to regenerate ourselves so that the people who are coming right behind us don't say, "Well, you know the civil rights leaders they just talk a lot." And they will know that that's not true. That doesn't— yeah, we talk a lot. We have a lot to say. But that's just the tip of that iceberg of experience, and they need to have this experience because I'll tell you, it is not fixed yet. And when you look at the budgetary discussions that are going on now and look at what's happening in Iraq, in our pre-emptive war with our young people dying, it clearly is not over yet, and you need people who have the courage of their convictions to stand up and say that and to be willing to do what you did, Julian. Every time you went out on a civil rights foray you could have been killed. That's what you know. But the options are really not all that great.

BOND: Do you have a philosophy of leadership that you follow or have followed, and has it changed over time?

LEFTWICH:  Well, I think at the base of my philosophy is that I’ve been greatly blessed.  I’ve been given a great deal.  And that it’s my responsibility to see that it stands for something.  It’s not going to be good to anybody if I die….and I don’t try to change things….

And in the context of that philosophy I have seen giving voice to those who have things to say but who don’t have a voice is something that I can do.  And so I write, I speak, I can remember my mother always saying – when she would have confrontations with people and  my mother was not a person you would assume anything derogatory about and she would say, If they treat me like that, I wonder how they treat Mrs. So and so…. Who would be someone who – may not have have finished school – who was poor and she wuld take off after them, having nothing to do with what they did to her, but recognizing that if people had the temerity to mistreat her, there were other people they were mistreating on a daily basis.  And that really is one of my guiding forces, that I see injustice, and I know that if I see injustice, and if I am visited by injustice, there are a lot of people out here who are visited by injustice much more frequently than I am.  And I have the voice and the power to try to change it and that’s what I want to do.  It’s really I think as simple as that.  I think I could have stayed in business and made a lot of money, but in the final analysis I want to feel  -- it sounds cliché and trite – but I really do want to feel that I’ve made a difference – that I’ve left the world better than I’ve found it.

Now I’m also savvy enough to know that as soon as you leave things, it reverts to whatever it was before. So I don’t know that the changes would be lasting.  But at least I’ve got that responsibility to try.  And I have tools that other people don’t have.  I write.  I am not uncomfortable in any setting.  And I know a lot of people.

BOND:  Thank you for trying.  Thank you for what you have done.  Thank you for what you will do.  And thank you for being with us. 

LEFTWICH:  Thank you for inviting me.  I’ve enjoyed it.