Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

High School in New York

DAVIS: I had the opportunity to attend a predominantly white high school in New York. And I don’t know whether I would’ve considered that possibility. I don’t know whether the program which allowed me to live in New York with a white progressive family and attend a private high school there, I don’t think that program would’ve been set in place during the pre-Brown era. It was a program established by the American Friends Service Committee and I’m sure that organization was motivated to create a program that brought black students from the South to study in the North by all of the developments that surrounded Brown.

BOND: In your autobiography, you write that you felt restless and exceedingly limited in Birmingham and at age fourteen, you’re the recipient of this program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and you find yourself in New York going to a progressive school in New York, a predominantly white school. Was this an adventure to you?

DAVIS: Of course it was an adventure. Well, I should also point out that I had been admitted in the early entrance program to Fisk University at the same time, so my choice was to go to Fisk or to go to high school in New York and that was a difficult decision.

BOND: Oh, I bet.

DAVIS: Because I was inclined to want to go to Fisk. At that point, I wanted to be a doctor and I had my life all plotted out that I would graduate from Fisk when I was nineteen or eighteen, and then I would go to Meharry across the street and so forth, but it was my father who actually persuaded me that I wasn’t ready, that I wasn’t socially mature enough.

BOND: It turned out, do you think, well?

DAVIS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

BOND: Any regrets about not being a doctor?

DAVIS: No, not really. I just wonder sometimes where I would be today had I chosen that trajectory, but I had been to New York several times. My mother attended graduate school at NYU during the summers, so I had been to New York, I think, three or four times and I had friends there, so it wasn’t an entirely new experience. But, yes, once I arrived at Elisabeth Irwin High School, I was the black girl, the Negro girl from the South, right? So, I had a hard time trying to figure out, you know, how to understand all of the attention that was focused on me and students asking me to come to dinner and to come to their country houses and so forth and some of them had black servants and would feel compelled to bring the servant to the table and, you know, it was —

BOND: And introduce you.

DAVIS: Exactly. Exactly. Because we didn’t have the conceptual apparatus at that time to understand the extent to which, you know, racism — so, yes.