Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Historical Events: Assassinations

BOND: Do you remember as you were coming along, both before you entered school and after, as you went away to college, or before even when you were in high school, historical events that had some impact on you? What do you remember from these years?

CANADA: There were a number of things. I was in the sixth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated and I remember my teacher just burst out in tears and this was a time now when — again, this is history, it’s so interesting — when we used to have these drills preparing for the Soviets to drop an atomic bomb on us where we used to get up underneath the desks and the idea was that you would get up underneath the desks and you would stay there and they used to practice this sort of stuff and so we were always worried that something was going to happen and when she broke out in tears, we were all thinking could this be it and then she explained that the President of the United States had been assassinated and I remember just being devastated and we all were, and the enormity of it because I wasn’t —

The thing that my parents and grandparents told me about President Kennedy was that he liked us, us being African Americans, that he really liked us and I was thinking, "This is — he really likes — no, he really likes us." And so when I found out that he was killed, it really I think devastated me.

Now, the next — so, from sixth grade through high school I lived in one of the most turbulent times I think in this country’s history because we had not only the assassinations taking place where you’d get Bobby and you’d get King and you’d get Malcolm X, all of that happening in the next eight years or so, but you also had the cities burning in the summertime. We had the long hot summers where there were riots in the street and each — I remember by the time Martin Luther King was killed, I remember thinking that we would never — we, meaning African Americans — we would never see anything that looked like equality in my lifetime. I really— and I don’t think I was the only one that felt that way.

I felt after President Kennedy I was trying to explain to people why President-elect Obama was so powerful for so many of us because the last person that looked like they were really listening to the cries from the disenfranchised was Bobby Kennedy and right in front of our eyes, they killed him, and with that, I felt, well, there it goes, that’s the end of that. All of this stuff about, you know, we’re going to make sure there’s equality, that it’s equal playing field and really opportunity — it’s all over. They’ll murder anybody who says that stuff again and I just thought this country will never allow African Americans to reach their full potential because it seemed clear.

Now, at my age, and at that time, we thought it was one big conspiracy. There’re just a bunch of them. They’re killing all of the leaders and if you say certain things in this country, you will be killed and we just believed that and then, you know, you look at history and you figure out who and there’re some people who still believe it and some who don’t, but it was just, among me and my friends, we all believed that if you crossed a certain barrier in this country, you would be killed and so you could not say certain things and we thought they were symbols of those kinds of things, so how do you juxtapose that feeling, that they’ll never allow us our true opportunity. With my previous statement, that a bunch of us felt it was our duty to smash through these doors —