Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Mentors: George School

LEFFLER: So looking back at that time, were there people at the George School who sought you out, who served as mentors? Who were nurturers for you?

BOND: Yes. A couple of people. One was John Stretts, who was this black guy. I went back for a class reunion a couple of years ago and Mr. Stretts came, and now runs a barbecue stand in Oakland, California. Got out of teaching.

LEFFLER: What did he teach?

BOND: I don't know. I never had him, so I don't know what he taught. But he was a presence. Again, this little community, the teachers, some of the teachers lived in the dormitories -- had apartments or suites in the dormitories, and he lived in the dormitory I lived in as a freshman. But there's one guy -- I just thought of him. Julius Larrimore who was the Latin teacher. I took Latin from him. He was a Georgian. You know I had this idea of white Southerners: "I don't want to be around this guy." But he was just warm, friendly, a bachelor who had devoted his life to this kind of teaching at this school. Probably making less than he could have made in public schools, but how many public schools taught Latin? So he was just a wonderful guy. Had a great sense of humor. Slow. He smoked, and nobody at this school smoked. But you could smell the smoke coming out of his apartment, and you knew he smoked. To us that was high drama or something, or excitement or some kind of risqué behavior. So he had a great deal of influence.

But, also the headmaster of the school was a man named Richard McFeely. Was paralyzed from the waist down. Wore braces, big braces on his legs and had a mechanical cart he drove around the school in. Somehow to me he was a Rooseveltian character because Roosevelt was paralyzed, and he looked like Franklin Roosevelt. Great big chest because he had to pull himself along on these crutches. Ping-pong wizard. He would lock those braces so he could stand upright and with one crutch under one arm [sound effect] he could just beat anybody. He was a constant presence and friendly and welcoming. I think not just for myself, but for other kids who were lonely and frightened and afraid, he made us all feel at home. So after an initial period of real loneliness and feeling "I don't belong here," I felt at home there.