Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Pursuit of Graduate Studies

BOND: Now, you mentioned a moment ago a professor who led you into the field of legal and constitutional history, but how did you say to yourself this is going to be my life, I’m going to do this?

BERRY: Well, I wanted to go to graduate school and Elsie Lewis, the professor at Howard, encouraged me to apply to a bunch of places and I got admitted to all of them and I got admitted to Michigan and the reason why I went there was because I needed a job and they weren’t giving fellowships to black students or anything like that or to— And they certainly weren’t going to give me a fellowship even though I got admitted and so a friend of mine got me a job at the hospital in Ann Arbor and that’s why I went there instead of going to Cambridge or some place else and so when I got there, she had told me, Professor Lewis had, which professor to work with, someone she knew that she thought would be receptive and I got there and I went in and met with the director of graduate studies who was a man who was in Greek history and he was quite taken aback because he didn’t understand what I was doing there. He was the one who told me that there had been somebody there years ago, but— And he had to call people all over the campus to find out what he supposed to do with me. He said there’s a Negro student in my office, what shall I do with her?

Finally, I guess people told him to do whatever he did with anybody else and so he assigned me an advisor, not the man I was to work with because it turned out he’d retired and it was Bill Leslie and I went over and talked to Bill and I liked him and he liked me and he was very receptive. There was nothing negative about his approach or anything. He told me it would be hard and he said, you know, when you graduate, perhaps the only options for you will be to teach at one of the Negro colleges because that’s just the way life is but, you know, maybe change will occur and he said I’m in legal and constitutional history but if you work with me, you’ve got to go to law school, too, and I said go to law school, too? He said, yeah, because I don’t think you can understand this stuff without doing both and so I started working with him and then when I finished the degree with him, I went over to the law school and finished the law degree.

BOND: So I guess if he’d told you he was in southern history, what would you have had to do then?

BERRY: I have no idea because—

BOND: Make up a Civil War reenactment or something.

BERRY: A Civil War reenactment, yes.