Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Mentors: Teachers and Ministers

BOND: Were there particular people — teachers, particularly — who had an influence on you who shaped you in some way or the other?

DAVIS: Well, I suppose during my career as a student, the teacher who most influenced me was Herbert Marcuse.

BOND: What about earlier, when you’re still in Birmingham?

DAVIS: Oh, when I was — ? Oh, absolutely, yes. I had a whole number of teachers. As a matter of fact, I had a teacher whose name was Mrs. [Maggie G.] Hrabowski, the mother of Freeman Hrabowski, who is the president of the University of Maryland, yeah.

BOND: We’ve done him in the series.

DAVIS: Oh, okay. I remember that she and other teachers pushed us. I mean, what I remember most about my time in Birmingham and elementary school and the first few years of high school was how exciting it was to learn and our teachers gave us a passion for learning, not just the mechanics of reading and writing, but they gave all of us and, of course, my mother’s a teacher so I have to count my mother as a part of that influence in terms of education, but they taught us how to love the whole process of acquiring knowledge and that I will be forever grateful for.

BOND: What about other figures in the community, neighbors, ministers, people you knew as political activists? What about them?

DAVIS: Yeah, the minister in the congregational church which is now of course United Church of Christ. I can remember Reverend Harold Long who was a young minister and encouraged us to be involved in interracial discussion groups, for example. I was part of a relatively short-lived integrated discussion group for young people that took place at the church.

BOND: And who were the white children in this?

DAVIS: The white children — you know, I don’t remember their names, but I assume that they came from homes — I assume that they came from Jewish homes, for one, because from my memory, it was Jewish people in Birmingham who first expressed solidarity with the quest for black equality and I know my mother had a number of white friends which was — up until a certain point, it was a very — they were clandestine relationships. They were relationships that weren’t supposed to exist, but occasionally, there would be white people in our home and I can remember once even— this was a person who, I think, who came to New York, a friend of — from New York, a friend of my mother’s. My mother had to have her lie down in the back seat of the car while she drove because you’re not supposed to have a black person driving a white person unless you are a chauffeur. So I can remember those moments.