Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Dr. Franklin, welcome to these Explorations in Black Leadership. Thank you for being with us.

FRANKLIN: Thank you.

BOND: We've asked others what recollections and memories they have about the Brown decision, 1954, but you were born in 1954 so I guess you don't have any immediate recollection. Do you recall at all any discussion in your family as you grow older about this decision, what it might mean, what it could mean?

FRANKLIN: I recall both my parents were part of that great migration of so many African Americans who departed the South, in my case, from Mississippi, to Chicago and Detroit. My family remained in Chicago. And after -- you know, there were quite a number of significant decisions in the civil rights movement that followed the Brown decision. So by the time I was able to understand a bit of the adult conversation around the table in the early '60's, Brown was a reference point a few years back, I understood that. But that it was very decisive, turning point for making America a better nation. This -- the rhetoric that I heard was suggesting that there is a momentum now, of change in this nation that will be good for -- for African Americans and Brown was sort of referenced as sort of one of those turning points. The Montgomery bus boycott as another, although many of the Northern -- at least in Chicago -- African Americans who talked about Dr. King and the Montgomery bus boycott also had some ambivalence about that style of change -- civil disobedience, that is. But to have the Supreme Court of the United States weigh in on the side of African Americans was a tremendous sort of bolt of encouragement.

BOND: Would you describe your family's outlook, your neighborhood's outlook, generally speaking, in this period, in the early 1960s, as optimistic? Things are getting better, things are going to improve?

FRANKLIN: Yes, I'd say it certainly was. Often sort of pegged to local developments in the city of Chicago, and so here again in the mid '60s and late '60s, there was a lot of unrest and a lot of sort of pushing against the old boundaries. And in Chicago's own way, you know, black and white politicians sort of sat down in smoke-filled rooms and made deals and tried to mediate some measure of change. It's interesting that my pastor was one of the sort of black power brokers that dealt with the Daley machine. And so we often had, through his interpretations on Sunday morning, a sense that things were getting better, that there was an upbeat mood, that anything was possible. It registered in the Motown music we listened to, certainly in the church music, the triumphal hymns, the sense that we are marching to Zion, we are on a journey, God is with us. Angels keep watch over us by night. So there was, I'd say, despite occasional moments of great tragedy and sadness, tremendous hope and readiness to face the future.