Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Mother

BOND: I want to talk about your early life and people who influenced you. Now, I know your mother was a big, big influence on you and typically mothers and dads are. But what influence did your mother have on you?

GREGORY: Well, I didn't realize the influence she had on me would be the same influence that King had.

BOND: Really?

GREGORY: She loved everybody. She believed in God. She didn't believe in hatred or bitterness. She was always laughing, always happy. Sad in her heart because of my father, the guy she loved -- and he was never home. As a matter of fact, he was a cook, he ran on the road. Matter of fact during the Depression, my daddy made about $8,000 a year. If there was ten master cooks in the world, he was between one and five. Matter of fact, when he -- if he got off the boat in England, it was a violation for him not to report to Buckingham Palace to see if they needed his services for a party or something.

But we never saw none of that. He was a gambler, a hustler. And with all of that, she just, you know, she raised us in an atmosphere -- and I look back now and I would ask certain questions. "Honor your mother and father." I'll say, "I'll never honor him!" She said, "You have to!" I said, "No, I'll honor my mother and father if they're honorable." And I didn't ask her the question then, but if she was alive I'd ask her now, "Should Hitler's children honor him?"

BOND: What would she say?

GREGORY: If I saw a six-year-old girl get raped by a man, and he took an axe and chopped ‘em up, should his children honor him? She would say "Yeah, because of -- the Bible said." That's how she justified wars, man. I mean I couldn't understand a woman that didn't believe in killing, but I say, "Well, how do you justify war, Mom?" "The Bible said there'll be wars and rumors of war."

BOND: Oh, yes, okay.

GREGORY: I mean pure ignorance, you know. But she also said to me, "You're not poor. You're just busted, you're just broke." And then she explained to me and to the rest of the children, "To be poor is a mental condition and to be broke is a temporary situation." And so that kind of hit me and stuck with me. I know now that poverty and spirituality don't go together, so anybody who's in poverty, you don't know God. That ain't my law, it's a universal law. I mean -- I mean, there's certain things that nobody have control over and this is the problem with racism, with prejudice that affects you in segregation because it kind of molds my mindset. And then I have to spend 90 percent of my time overcoming that.

I remember my mother used to say, "You've got to be twice as good as a white boy." As I just grew up, hated that, and I would never have permitted that to my children because that's like saying to a black child, "When you go to a white store and get change for a dollar, they only will give you thirty-eight cents. But when you go to a black store, you demand a full dollar's change for a dollar." Something wrong?

BOND: Yeah, there is.

GREGORY: -- with that. My mother taught me -- let me tell you how this works now. Let's say I'm going to make you two cops. I'm going to make you a white detective then black detective. My mother had taught us, the boys, "Behave yourselves and that cop pull you over, don't talk too fast, don't talk too to slow." Now, nobody had a car, so it wasn't something for you to put your hands -- just -- she taught us that. "Yes, sir." "No, sir."

But she never taught me how to act when a black cop pulled me over. So when you as black detective pulled, we gave you some lip. "Nigger, how come you ain't out busting dope? What -- ?" You understand what I'm saying, how that works? She gave us instructions how to behave when a white nigger-hating cop that would kill you. But she never told me to behave when someone who look like me, who felt like me. And so these are the hang-ups that you --

And this is what Brown, that decision meant to me. For the first time you say, "We gonna build a new institution here," and then come in with that sledgehammer and crack that first crack, that's what that was. Now, we don't know what the building's going to look like, but this area had been cracked. And when you put a crack in here, phew, things change. Because it's a mindset that changes, not something for one day. It's that mindset that changes. I can walk up in the middle of the night, with my eyes closed, and know how to find my toilet at home because of the mindset.