Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Impact of Brown

BOND: Now, so, fifty-plus year later, what do you think it means today?

BUTTS: Well, we know, particularly in urban areas, and I can speak about New York, that the schools are just as segregated as they may have been forty or fifty years ago, and that has a lot to do with the discontinuation of the kind of open enrollment and people getting on buses to travel across town as well as economic and social status because if you happen to live in Harlem, where I have the privilege of serving the Abyssinian Church, it is predominantly an African American poor community and therefore you won’t find much integration and you don’t find whites busing their children even though we have developed through our Abyssinian Development Corporation some excellent schools, so segregation in public education is still a reality and I’m sure it’s not only in New York and where busing has been discontinued, it is just going back to the way it was.

On top of that, the old paradigm of saying, well, if that’s where you’re going to go, we’re going to put our children in private schools, religiously-based schools, so that they won’t have to deal with this notion of integration, which hurts the nation because you can’t imagine what it did for me. Now, I was already fine. That one-room house that we learned in, Monitor High School, I could read. I could handle numbers. I was proud of who I am. I was proud of who I was and I am proud of who I am.

When I went to the segregated school in Queens, you know, I had a great time, good teachers, you know, but when I went over to the junior high school in Forest Hills, I met some wonderful people there in terms of my fellow students. I remember some of them now. One came to the church the other Sunday, Nicky, to visit. He’s a dentist and we got along just fine, but I discovered something and that was they were no brighter than I was. They were no smarter. Matter of fact, I could read and count, but what happened was I also, as I looked back, recognized that what I was receiving in terms of resources, training to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test, field trips, it was a lot more than I would have received had I remained in a segregated situation. They were no brighter, brought no more skills. They just had greater opportunity and more resources, and so, as a result, it built my confidence to let me know I can compete with anybody, that there is no such thing as racial superiority — you know, white people are no smarter than black people. Black people are no smarter than white people, but there was this matter of the equitable distribution of resources so that whatever natural or innate ability I had could be enhanced and there was a huge difference between P.S. 92 and Russell Sage Junior High School.