Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam

BOND: Now, what effect did the sort of burgeoning civil rights movement have on you? It was happening heavily in Nashville where you’re from. It was happening all over the south, happening on the college campuses, university campuses where you were. What did this do to you?

BERRY: Well, I was in Alabama the day that Autherine Lucy was denied admission to the University there. I happened to be passing through. We were on a bus, Greyhound bus trip, and stopped at the bus station and the police were out in large numbers and they were yelling and using the “N” word about that gal who was trying to get into the University and all the rest of it and so we heard all about that and felt those tensions.

I was at Howard for much of the civil — the sit-ins and the movement and many of the people who were my classmates and especially in the philosophy department got very much involved in the movement. Stokely Carmichael, Courtland Cox, and others, and so I was very much in touch with them.

I went to Michigan and was there when the March on Washington took place and I was there all during the rest of that period and got very much involved also in the anti-war movement.

I also remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated. My friend Gerald Poindexter and I, a law school chum, one of the few black students in the law school and I were sitting out on the bench in front of the Student Union and white students came out cavorting in some festival that they had, pretending they were Indians or something, and someone walked up and told us that he had been assassinated and we were, of course, in shock like everybody else. We went into the law school and got further information and some law school classmates came up and hugged us; others were saying nasty things about Martin Luther King to each other and we came out and sat back on the bench with our notebooks and started writing what we called an article expressing all of our bitterness about what was going on, which we said we would publish. We didn’t.

The anti-war movement, I was very much involved and interested in trying to end the war in Vietnam. I was so much interested that I decided to be a reporter one summer and went to Vietnam and got some local newspapers to credential me as their reporter so that I could write dispatches from the front, so I was deeply affected by everything that happened during that period.

BOND: I thought I knew you pretty well but I didn’t know about this Vietnam experience. Where’d you go?

BERRY: I was everywhere in South Vietnam from the Delta up to the DMZ. I was with the Marines. I was with the Navy. I was with the Army. I was out in the field. I went everywhere and I wrote articles which they published in the Michigan Daily and I usually would start out by saying today I’m in X place and we’re not winning the war.

BOND: You ought to collect these and have them published sometime.

BERRY: Some day I should do that.

BOND: Yes.