Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Legacy of Brown

BOND: But even in 1954 when the Brown case was initially decided there were those black people who said "this is awful. We are going to lose teachers. We are going to lose schools. We are going to lose history. We are going to lose memory." And, of course, in many cases that's exactly what happened. How do you — can you reassure people who honestly believe that this process is not going to work out for the best, it hasn't worked out for the best in the years from '54 to today, it's not going to work out in the future, it's a big mistake." How can you reassure those people? Or convince them that they are wrong?

CHAMBERS: I think if one looks at what really has happened over the years as we've moved from a rigidly segregated society to where we are today, it is not a completely integrated society, but it is one where African Americans and other groups have been given some opportunity to work and to make contributions they hadn't been able to do before. And I think that all of us are the better for it. I look today at African Americans in business, in major industries. I look at African Americans in education and how they have cut across the different institutions and one can go down the line. And they are making meaningful contributions. And I looked at how many people had benefited, African Americans in my opinion, from integration over the years, and saw the increased number of middle-class African Americans, as we call them. And I know, that as I counted, there were like 30 percent of the black people still disadvantaged. But bringing up two-thirds of the African Americans to a decent standard of life was a tremendous accomplishment.

BOND: At the same time there is this almost constant thread running through African-American thought from the earliest years, certainly in the 20th century, until today. And that notion that, you know, we just can't get along with these other people. They are not going to get along with us, they don't like us, they never will, we need to separate. We can be with them on the job, let's say. And maybe, on occasion, we can be with them in the school, but as much as we can, we need to be by ourselves. And you see this in the growth of such areas as Prince George's County, Maryland, this enormous enclave of successful black people who flock there in order to be with others like themselves. You see it in the great demand for vouchers. About 60 percent of black people want these vouchers. Many I think so that they can send their kids to elite black schools as opposed to failing black schools. All of these phenomenon argue that this separatism strain is very, very strong, not a majority, by any means, but strong in black America. Is that ever to be — will that always be the case, you think?

CHAMBERS: Well, it certainly has been the case for many years in our history. I notice even back in the 1890s we had the strong move toward preserving a separate society. But as the world grows and expands and as we bring many more people into this society, I don't think that we are going to be able to survive talking about a separate existence. Certainly we can talk about a separate residential area. But then at some point even residentially we have to begin to worry about whether we would get the city/state services we need for a convenient lifestyle. And as we do that, and if we are not in a position where we can communicate and influence others who are allocating the resources, we will be at a terrible disadvantage. So the other thing that I think very strongly is I think that people get along better and they help to promote the malls of society working and living together and not as separate entities. And so for morality's sake, as well as, in my opinion, for the Constitution, it's always better to promote an integrated society than to talk about a separate existence.