Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Parents

BOND: What about your parents? What role did they play? I mean, everyone's parents generally nurtured, they're nurtured and developed. But what about your parents?

FLAKE: Yeah, they were -- I mean, with Mother and Daddy, what they did was phenomenal. As I said before, they were fifth and sixth-grade educated. But formal education was not really what defined who they were. My daddy could read. He learned to read after going into the Army. Mother could read. But more importantly, what they did was -- Mother could not work, Daddy did not allow her to work. Rather than that, he worked three jobs himself. So he would come -- he would leave in the mornings, go to his day job, come in the afternoons. We cleaned up office buildings at night. And so one of the boys would have to go to work with him. So we developed a work ethic real early in life. So, whichever boy did not go to work with him was home working. Mother taught us all how to cook and wash and iron and sew. She demonstrated love to us in ways that only a mother who was home taking care of children could. And we had to clean up the house before we left for school. We'd come home. Whichever boy did not go with Daddy to clean up the office buildings, he'd go to bed. Three o'clock in the morning, he'd be back up. We threw the morning paper. So whichever boy didn't go to the office would be rolling up the papers, throwing them across the front seat. He'd drive around the neighborhood throwing the papers out of the window. Go back home, sleep for about an hour and a half. And then he'd get up to go to work. We'd get up to go to school. One child would be cooking. One child cleaning the bathroom. One child cleaning the bedroom. And when we left, I mean, the house was clean.

So my mother was just there. I mean, she's the one who took us to church on Sunday mornings until Daddy accepted Christ and started coming himself. And they were a family. And if they ever argued, we don't know that they did. And I'm sure they did -- because after twenty-six years of marriage, I realize it's impossible for them not to have done it -- but what they demonstrated for us was a kind of love not only for each other, but they made us learn how to love each other. And I think that's been expressive in all of our lives in how we interact and how we interface with people. And I think it's been a powerful influence in my ministry and my work in politics because I'm basically a people-person. And I gained that through the experience of having a mother who was that way. Everybody in the neighborhood knew her, and they would come to her with their problems. And so we learned how to have respect for people, how to live among people and love people.