Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

From Rutgers to Howard

BARAKA: So Howard University -- I got sick of Rutgers because -- I had gone to Barringer, which is all Italian school, you know, and fought that battle for three, four -- for three years 'cause I went -- but I went to an Italian junior high school. I mean, I was -- I had got sick of that, you know, of being in a minority --

BOND: Yeah.

BARAKA: You know, I got to -- Rutgers, you know -- as a matter of fact, one time we had an intramural track meet and I won about four events. And I said, "Well, this is not even real." I mean, I'm moderately fast up on the hill where I live, but -- I can't come down here and just sweep everything, the 100-yard dash, the 220-yard dash, the 440-yard dash, and the 880-dash. I just ran away with it. I said, "This can't be real. This is not real. This is some kind of aberration. I gotta get out of here." And that's when I went to Howard, you know, to try to get away from what I thought of the lack of reality, and not wanting to be marginalized, not wanting to be the minority student. I began to feel that everything in these schools was for "them."

BOND: And not for you?

BARAKA: Not for me. You know what I mean. I was on the margin looking in. I didn't really like that so -- and my mother who claimed, and she obviously did, influenced me to go to a black school. And so I got out of there and went to Howard.

BOND: You get to Howard and obviously the big change racially from Rutgers to Howard -- how's it different in other ways?

BARAKA: Well, the most important thing is that I felt, now, at ease. You know, I mean, because when you're in school in that minority position and always going to -- I'm not talking about the -- you know, every once in a while you'd have to get into some kind of overt racial confrontation with some jerk, some nut, you know -- 'cause actually I was always ready to deal with that. But it was that you didn't have to think of yourself as being marginalized, being left out of everything.

And so -- immediately I met some people, you know, who were friends of mine, who are friends of mine today. I don't think I know anybody who I went to Rutgers with. You know what I'm saying? You show your -- but the people at -- from that first day, the first day at Howard I met my dentist. I mean, you know, Jimmy Lassiter who's head of the, you know, the Black Dental Association. I met him the first day I got to school. We were playing basketball, you know, waiting to register. And the other people that I got to know -- there was a big change socially. It was a big change psychologically. I could relax, first of all, you know, and not think about things that were really extraneous to me at that time. You know, not extraneous in the way that they would never occur, because we were always certainly aware of the kind of, you know, racial kind of oppression, so to speak…

BOND: Yeah, I'm going to focus on Howard and teachers in a minute, but what about the difference between Washington and Newark, the cities surrounding Rutgers and Howard, what -- ?

BARAKA: Well, it was funny because for we Northern students, it was funny, you know. And we -- and some of the Southern students, we would defy it all the time. We'd make fun. We'd go to the People's Drug Store, like I said, and order all this stuff. You know, they wouldn't let black people eat in there, you know. So, we'd go in there and say, "Give me five hamburgers, and six sodas and some french fries, and this and this and this," and they'd bring it in the bag, and we'd say, "I don't want to -- I want to eat it here." "You know you can't eat here." Well, I said, "Well, I don't want it."You'd go away and you'd leave it there, you know. That was the kind of thing we loved to do.

Then there was the thing where you couldn't even go to the movies downtown, you know, unless you were a British subject or a French subject, you know. In other words, if you were an African and can show that you were, you know, a British subject, you could get in the movie. But if you're just plain old black American, they wouldn't let you in. So we began to do all kinds of wild things -- put turbans on our head, go down there and speak weird things. And, like as not you wouldn't get in anyway, because they'd say -- they want to see, you know, your passport, you know. But it was funny. And for us it was always a question of defying it. I mean, we were not fixed on defying it, in that sense, but whenever it came up, that was our line. It needed to be defied. It was stupid. Who were these people? They dumb anyway. You know. And then occasionally we'd have to actually... You know, I mean, we got into a fight with some marine, some white marines one time as students. And that was funny to us because there wasn't enough of them to be, you know, I mean, threatening. You know what I mean? But, I mean, they seemed to think that they wanted to box with us. I mean, that kind of stuff. So it was always between some kind of low comedy.