Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Air Force Experiences

BOND: So you leave Howard before graduation and join the Air Force. Why'd you do that?

BARAKA: Because I had gotten kicked out of Howard for being uninterested. And that was what I was supposed to do. And so I was actually embarrassed to go back home say, "Oh, here's your boy. You know, he's come back home. He just got kicked out of college -- because he won't study, he's in there reading poetry and reading stuff and writing stuff, you know. But he won't study, you know, the stuff you want him to study." So I joined the Air Force, which was a very, very stupid move. But the other hand, the dialectic of that that is very funny because, like I said, I became the night librarian down in Puerto Rico, which gave me the opportunity to order books from all over the world, order records from all over the world, and so complete my education, so to speak.

BOND: And this little group -- I'm just amazed at the group you described that studied at night with you.


BOND: Blacks, whites, a wide variety of Puerto Ricans.

BARAKA: And Puerto Ricans and Latinos. Yeah. Even a Chicano. Right.

BOND: Yeah.

BARAKA: How did they get together?

BOND: Yes, and are you in touch with any of them now?

BARAKA: Well, the one that I came close to was the painter, William White, who died maybe ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Occasionally I hear from one or the other of them. But you see, the thing about the service, that's such a forced kind of relationship, you know, that a lot of times it wouldn't exist otherwise.But these were people who had some affinity, first, through the music, you know, and from the fact that we obviously were intellectuals and gravitated to each other in the context of that, you know. I mean, I got kicked out of the service too. I mean, I had a perfect record. First I got kicked out of college, and then I got kicked out of the service.

But these were people who loved the music or who wanted to be artists, you know what I mean, or who just were very curious homeboy-types. We had this Mexican guy in there who was absolutely white. Blonde hair, white-looking guy. You wouldn't -- He looked like a movie star, you know that type, except when he opened his mouth. Or if he opened his hand, he had a -- the cross between his finger that -- you know, the pache -- What is it? Pacheco?

BOND: Pachuco.

BARAKA: Pachuco thing.

BOND: I think.

BARAKA: And so one time somebody said something about, you know, "these Spics" and he said, "So what'd you say, brother?" -- because he had those slow Texas drawl -- "What'd you say, brother?" He cut this guy from his eye to his [chin]. So he used to be in there too. I mean, his name was Grego. I mean, he used to be sitting there, we'd be learning about -- so I sometimes wondered about Grego. I said what -- somebody that violent yet, who looked like Brad Pitt -- a Brad Pitt, Mexicano-looking dude. Where is he today? What is he doing? What was -- what became of his life? A guy who sat with us through our reasoning from Bach to Mozart, you know what I mean, to Beethoven to -- what was -- what did -- what happened to his life? I mean, what was he studying actually?

BOND: So far as you know, did any of them become artists of any kind?

BARAKA: Yeah. One Phil Perkins was a photographer. There were two photographers in the group. Two photographers -- yeah, one was a writer/painter, a guy who used to call himself "Udolfus T. Celublah." He had been in the service twelve years when I met him and he had three stripes. But, see, a lot of people in the service when you get in there are there, like, you know, it's a steady job. As they used to say, "Three hots and a flop." You know, it was a gig. You know what I mean. They could be there.

So he had been there twelve years because he really had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. You know, he educated himself to the extent that he did, there. And our little salon in the library -- which I was the librarian, so I was in charge -- so this was post-graduate study for us, you know. But I -- a brother named "Carl Lombard" who gave me his complete works that I have to publish one day, you know. He was a painter. You know, William White who went to New York. I kept telling White, "Then don't go to Howard. Whatever you do, don't go to Howard." He immediately went to Howard and then went to New York. We met again down on the Lower East Side. He died unfortunately much too early. But he was a painter. As a matter of fact, one day William White's paintings will emerge. I mean, I know that, that one day people will understand that this guy was a formidable kind of painter.