Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on the Legacy of Brown

BOND: You tell about a teacher, Bunny Vance, who says never mumble who you are, stand up, feel good about who you are, speak to the world. Why is that -- if it's true, why is that not happening today? Why aren't there Bunny Vances today?

COLE: Well, there are. And I think that we do a great disservice, myself included when I critique American public education with too large of a brush. There are Bunny Vances. Our task is to socially reproduce the Bunny Vances. But there are so many non-Bunny Vances. So many teachers who really have decided that the easiest way for them to get through a day is to color code their kids. And so the brown ones and the black ones will never achieve what the white ones will. And so out of a kind of least common denominator of thinking they begin to give off the signals to these kids as to who can and who cannot. I think in these days, teaching no longer has the prestige. It no longer has by comparison with other occupations even the material rewards. Teachers in my community, these were heroes and sheros. I mean, little kids wanted to grow up to be a doctor or a teacher. These were wonderful, wonderful people. Now our kids tell us they want to grow up to be the CEO of General Motors. That they want to be a Johnnie Cochran and be a great lawyer.

BOND: And they can. And they couldn't before. Now some of this creates in some people a kind of nostalgia for the segregation era. Now, as someone who --

COLE: Oh, don't misunderstand me!

BOND: I'm not. I'm asking. As someone who lived in the segregation era what do you make of these people who say "Well, we need to go back to the good old days. We need to go back to where Granny sat on the porch and watched Junior as he walked down the street and paddled him if he misbehaved"? What do you say to those people?

COLE: I say we've got to be far more careful about what we want from the good old days. How can we be selective? That is the issue. How can we recreate for this era some of those amazingly positive attributes of a segregated community in which I lived? For example, it's been clear to me that these days folk don't live in a mixed class neighborhood as I did. Granted, I was the great-granddaughter, one of the great-granddaughters of A.L. Lewis. But I played with kids who had not an inkling of what I owned in terms of my family. I lived on a block where in a given block there could be someone who worked in construction, a postal worker, a school teacher, a prominent doctor. We as a people as an African-American people now live in very class-based communities, including those that are gated, walled off, from others. And so how do we selectively have some of the real value of cross-class community without going back to the fact that that's the only place that black people may have been able to live?

BOND: Yes, and it's a big dilemma which we may not solve today.