Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Parents

BOND: Your mention of your pastor and of your parents gives an opportunity to segue into another section of questioning. Everybody has people in life who influence them. Who are some of the people -- talk about your parents first. What did they do for you -- not just food, clothing, shelter -- what did they do for you?

FRANKLIN: I'd begin with my father who worked for over thirty-eight years at the Campbell Soup Company in Chicago, on the West Side of Chicago, some distance from our home in the neighborhood on the very far South Side of Chicago. Everyone knows about the kind of segregation, hyper-segregation in Chicago. And there was a kind of daily courage and audacity on his part, I thought, as he walked through largely white neighborhoods to get to the bus in Chicago that would transport him to work. Very early in the morning, you know, four a.m., Dad was up. And there was a kind of work ethic that he modeled. He worked hard and he'd come home and, you know, read the Wall Street Journal. He was a working-class guy, but he was paying attention to the stock market and so he really broadened our sense of participation in the larger society. You know, Dad went to college, junior college in Chicago at night, and I still remember -- I cringe today when I think about the streets of Chicago. There were three of us young boys at that point, three sons. He'd sort of leave us in the car while he went in for his hour-long class in business organization, and come back. Of course, everybody did that then. It was safe. So anyhow, his pursuit of education at night, working hard during the day.

And I mean, I think I contrast that with so many urban poor families today that never see anyone sort of get up and go to work in the morning. And we had that example. He didn't talk much about race relations in Chicago or in America. He'd often reflect on his own experience in the family of being sharecroppers in the South, and sort of being disenfranchised and cheated, and why they made the move to Chicago. He was also, although he attended church, not very active in church, and often didn't attend because he was either exhausted from work or went in on Sundays for some special project.

My mother, on the other hand, really was the sort of mediator in terms of racism in Chicago and America and would talk about it, would warn -- you know, there were four boys before the two girls came in my family. And it's interesting now, I reflect on the way in which she and my grandmother sort of socialized us to be survivors on the mean streets of Chicago, both in terms of neighborhoods we shouldn't enter and interracial settings in which there's a certain etiquette and behavior we should display. Not to call attention to ourselves. To be polite and well-mannered in dealing with police officers and so on. This is all very practical wisdom about how to sort of negotiate touchy situations. And then, of course, during this period, the experience of Emmett Till was very much in the air. We attended the church on the South Side of Chicago that -- it actually wasn't the very same congregation, they were sort of brother-sister congregations almost, just a few blocks away. And our pastor and the pastor of Emmett Till's church were colleagues and best friends. And so that tragedy sort of struck home and prompted us as young men to listen very carefully when Mom and Grandma talked about you know, kind of how you present yourself in public and what to do and what not to do, etc. But they were sort of pillars of the local church in a church that didn't ordain women. These were women without title, but with significant portfolio, and they ran all sorts of youth programs and they organized recreational activities. They encouraged mentoring and after-school tutorials and so on. So they kept us very busy and tried, in some ways I think, to insulate us from the racism in Chicago and in the larger nation.