Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Teachers and Preachers

BOND: Who, including your parents, helped you develop as a young man? Who had influence on you as a young man?

FLAKE: I guess that there are several people. One of them – two of them are teachers. Mrs. Greis and Mrs. Houston. Mrs. Greis in elementary school because in one particular year when I had to stay out of school – I had I guess what was classified as emphysema – and I could not be in the midst of other students. Mrs. Greis, who lived in a place called Grapeland, Texas, but taught in Cornville, which was about a hundred miles from where she lived. And then I lived fourteen miles from the school. But every Friday, she brought homework to me and picked up the homework from the week before. And she did that religiously for a whole school year. And it just had an impact on my life. Because I probably learned more in that year than I probably would have learned if I had been in school because I had personal attention from her.

And then Mrs. Houston because by the time I got to high school and had graduated from eighth grade, honor student, I got into high school and started drifting a little bit. But Mrs. Houston had known me because of church connection and took me under her wing, literally. Because after lunch, I had to go into the bookstore where she was the book steward for the school. And my responsibility was literally to work there. But more importantly, she forced me to deal with homework and make me function. And then after school, because I was one of the youth leaders in the church groups, and though she was a member of another church – I was in an AME denomination – she took me all over the state of Texas. And I became Boy of the Year. I became president of what we call the Richard Allen Youth Council, NYPD and all those youth programs. So, she played a major role in helping me to develop leadership skills. So by the time I was fifteen, I was leading several groups in the whole state of Texas.

And then Reverend [O.L.] Dawson, who was my pastor. I would go to church Sunday mornings and I did not come home in the afternoons. If he went out to preach, I was out to preach – went out with him. And so by fifteen, I was preaching. And he helped to nurture and develop me by having me preach every Sunday night for the Sunday night services. So, by the time I was nineteen, I was already pastoring. So those three people outside of my parents really played major roles in my life.