Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Amiri Baraka, welcome to the Explorations in Black Leadership. We're very grateful that you've agreed to do this.

BARAKA: Thank you very much.

BOND: I want to begin with just a couple of questions about the Brown decision of May of 1954. You would have been 20 years old when the Supreme Court decided that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. What do you remember then about conversations, talks? What do you recall?

BARAKA: I know that I was coming out of Howard University and on my way into the Air Force. So it was a transition definitely. It was actually very symbolic, I guess, because I had just gotten cashiered out of Howard and I was going to the Air Force and I remember it struck me as something very significant that had happened and something that I thought meant that it was going to be a little less suppression of my own generation. I mean, I took it as an opening for, you know, some kind of development.

BOND: So you were -- this was optimistic?

BARAKA: Oh, yeah. I was optimistic. I mean, when I got in the Air Force I encountered the slings and fortunes of outrageous fools, but still -- I mean, I was optimistic, you know, about it.

BOND: And you said something interesting. You said, "a step forward for your own generation." Now at 20 years old you weren't about to be in high school where these students who filed suit and their parents were. What would it do for people your age? What would this do for 20-year-olds, did you think, then?

BARAKA: I thought that it would have less -- that the society itself would now be more flexible. That there were things -- because I had been in Rutgers already, but, as I remember, I was doing -- there were about two of us in Newark, Rutgers. And I had to even go through some kind of abusive language with one of the faculty -- the bandmaster -- And so there was a tension in my generation, your generation in the sense that we had -- I had a feeling that all of this stuff was going to pass, that we were going to be able to defeat this, I mean, even in the more passive way that I perceived it then, because I got more aggressive as I understood more, and got older. But even in the more or less passive way, I still had the feeling that we were going to be able to penetrate this kind of, you know, racism. 'Cause I had been told that by my parents, my grandparents all my life.

BOND: They had told you that this could be done, that progress could be made...

BARAKA: No, they told me that all this would pass --

BOND: Would pass -- that all this would pass.

BARAKA: That those people were fools and that no matter what was said, that we were beautiful, that we were intelligent and that we were going to win -- my parents always believed that.

BOND: You came out of optimism --

BARAKA: Oh, yeah.

BOND: -- and hope --

BARAKA: Oh, yeah.

BOND: -- and the certainty that things could get better?

BARAKA: Oh, absolutely.