Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Introduction to Writing

BOND: Yeah. When did you start writing? I'm sure in school you had to write things, but when did you start writing for yourself?

BARAKA: Geez, about the seventh grade -- sixth or seventh grade. I had a newspaper when I was in sixth or seventh grade.

BOND: What was it called?

BARAKA: I don't even know what it was called. It was called -- geez, that's a good question. I had a newspaper. I only had ten copies of it because I'd write each one out myself. You know, it was like four pages. You know, you'd fold the sheet in half and you'd have to write everything, you'd have to copy everything.

BOND: Uh, huh.

BARAKA: And I would pass it out to members of the Secret Seven. We had an organization called the Secret Seven that used to meet up under our house. You know, under the crawl space under the porch. What were we doing there? We'd would eat Kits and -- you know, candy -- and, you know, drink Kool-Aid.That was our secret purpose, to drink Kool-Aid. I guess because your parents didn't want you to eat all that stuff -- eat all that candy and stuff. So that was the real mission of the Secret Seven. So when I got to about the sixth grade and started this newspaper -- so, then in school, I think I put out two issues of a newspaper, in elementary school. But mostly this newspaper consisted of cartoons that I drew with strange commentary. I remember one of them, every time -- wherever someone was, there would be a hand poking out and saying "Your money!" I don't know what that means. It was like -- oh, it was called "The Crime Wave." I don't know what that was. But people would be jumping off a diving board going into the pool and there'd be a hand coming out of there and say, "Your money!" or they would open the door, there'd be a hand coming out saying, "Money!" And I'd try and figure out what was that about. Why were you so concerned about robbery? I also sent President Roosevelt a letter then telling him how he could win the war quicker, you know. It was a house with guns coming out of it on wheels, which I guess is a tank. But this house -- the only problem with that letter is I stuffed into the radio because that's where I would hear --

BOND: That's where he came from.

BARAKA: Yeah, that's where he came from. So I figured he must be in that radio. So, I would put those letters in there. And what was interesting is that I don't think -- I was wondering why my parents didn't tell me that you can't get to President Roosevelt in that radio. You gotta mail it. But --

BOND: Especially your Dad --

BARAKA: Yeah, World War -- yeah. But that writing thing, I don't know. I was a great storyteller. You know, my mother said I was the biggest liar in the world, because I would make up stuff. Why I would make it up? 'Cause I could make it up. I mean, one time a woman came, the teacher, came to my house and asked my mother, and said, "Why do you keep snakes in your basement?" "Snakes?" Said seems that her son being late for school one day --

BOND: Had to tend the snakes?

BARAKA: Right. Said I had to go downstairs in the basement and feed the snakes. So this woman actually believed this fantastic story, you know: He had to go feed the snakes. So she was coming, you know, to find out about this health hazard. But it was that, always having to conjure up an extra aspect of reality, you know what I mean? Of trying to create some kind of magical quality to reality, to foist some magical quality on it that I thought it lacked, you know. And so then later in elementary school is when I started to write.