Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Law School: An Unlikely Mentor

BOND: But let me ask you this. Here's Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Martin Luther King. These are very different men.

BISHOP: They are.

BOND: Very different men. How did you take inspiration from each of them and make them into something that was good for Sanford Bishop?

BISHOP: Well, I guess it was a combination of all of the experiences in my life. While Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad seemed to have initially believed that the white man was a devil, my experience taught me different. It taught me that there were good white men and there were bad white men and there were good black men and there were bad black men.

I should share an experience I had my first year at Law School at Emory. I went in 1968. There was a professor, receding hairline, wire-rimmed glasses, a stubby cigar in his mouth, a big wide-breast particular tie on, deep southern drawl and he was a real property instructor. His name was Professor William Agnor. Dr. Agnor walked in that particular day with a Wallace for President tie clamp on his tie. I was sitting on the front row. My name started with B. I said, "I'm in the wrong place. No sense in my even trying to do anything here. This man is for George Wallace." So I did not push myself. I might cut class; I might not. If he called on me, I might be prepared; I might not, but the only thing that really counted in law school was what you did on the exam.

I got my examination paper back. I had a C. I was incensed because I had gotten an A in one class, a B in others and, you know, and so I march in to see Dr. Agnor. "Dr. Agnor, why did I only get a C in your class? I got an A in this and a B in this and a B in that. Why did I get just a C in your class?" And he looks at me and he says, "Well, Sanford, you got a C because you wrote a C paper." He said, "If you try a little bit harder, you might do a little bit better." So the second quarter I worked a little bit hard harder, not full force, but just a little bit. I got a B. So I said, "Hmmm." The third quarter I gave it everything I had and I aced the course. I got the top grade in the course. They called it booking the course. You got a jurisprudence book from one of the book publishing companies for that. That was the prize and, of course, then I went to see Dr. Agnor.

"Dr. Agnor, I had you wrong." I said, "I thought you were a racist, a segregationist and I didn't think you would be fair." He said, "Well, Sanford, I tell you the truth. I was one of those professors at Emory that fought the admission of blacks to the law school but I'm happy to say that I lived long enough to realize I was wrong." He said, "There're black students that belong at Emory and there're white students that belong at Emory. There're white students that don't belong here and there're black students that don't belong here, but you're one that belongs here and you're going to make a fine lawyer." And from that moment on, I took every course he taught and he was a mentor even after I got out of law school.