Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Dr. Davis, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. We’re glad to have you.

DAVIS: Thank you so much for inviting me.

BOND: No, it’s our pleasure. Let me begin with the Brown decision. Do you remember much about it meaning anything to you when you heard about it first? You were quite young.

DAVIS: I was about ten years old, I believe, but, of course, intensely conscious of the system of segregation under which we lived. And I remember thinking that this probably is going to be the beginning of a new era. And I say that because my mother constantly told us that the conditions under which we were living, with which we were living, weren’t supposed to be that way and now, of course, I see myself as an activist, as having been shaped by the fact that as young as — when I was as young as maybe three or four, she emphasized that this is not the way things are supposed to be. It’s true that you can’t go to this museum today, but one day you will be able to go. This is not the way things are supposed to be. So I remember in my house and in our community there was a major celebration.

BOND: And because your parents were school teachers, do you think they placed special emphasis on this?

DAVIS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, because the schools we attended, the elementary schools we attended, were not only segregated black schools/white schools, but, of course, we were aware as pupils that we got the textbooks that were cast off by the white students. We were aware that this was a hierarchical situation. We were definitely aware of the relations of power there and so each time there was a victory — 1954, 1955, it was a cause for great celebration in our household and in our communities and in our church.

BOND: That everyone was talking about it and what it might mean. There was a lot of community discussion about this?

DAVIS: Absolutely, yes. I remember all kinds of little resistances and I can remember teachers, my teachers being called by their first name by the white representatives of the Board of Education and some of them feeling very embarrassed and some of them speaking back and some of them coming under attack because they dared to challenge the right of a white representative of the Board of Education to call them by their first name. And I’ve said this many times, but I can remember as a very young child, games we used to play that actually challenged the system of segregation. We lived in a neighborhood that was right — the border of the white neighborhood and so theoretically — or legally, we weren’t allowed to cross the street unless we were working or whatever, and so as children, we used to play games where we dared each other to run across the street to the white neighborhood and sometimes those who would not only run across the street but run up on someone’s porch and ring their bell and run back and get to safety in time so, I mean, that was a normal game that we played.

BOND: So you were a protestor and an agitator from the very first?

DAVIS: Oh, you know — then, it was fun, but I recognize that we were. Those were little daily resistances that we were producing.