Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Legacy of Brown

BOND: Speaking of segregation, and the segregated society, do you remember the Brown decision, May ’54? Do you remember hearing about it at the time?


BOND: It just passed by?

FUTRELL: Now, I was in the eighth -- what you have to remember in the South in those days, a lot of that stuff, you know, you would not get a lot of coverage, and we didn’t have TV.

BOND: Sure.

FUTRELL: And it wasn’t really on radio and I vaguely remember, I tell you what I remember -- I remember the schools being closed in Appomattox. A lot of concern in Appomattox. I remember the Brown decision when I went away to Virginia State College. And this is why I remember -- they asked all of us that when we went home to bring back the books that we had in high school to give to kids in the state who were not allowed to go to school because the schools had been shut down because of Brown. And I was astounded because Appomattox is right next door to Lynchburg. And so here you are saying that the schools are going to be closed, and let's give them our books, our old books. And, so then in college, that’s when I had really learned what had happened with the Brown decision. My schools did not desegregate until I was well out of high school, well out of Lynchburg. I think it was four or five years after I left college that my schools finally desegregated. My sister, Marianne, went to desegregated schools. I did not.

BOND: So you don’t remember any discussion among your teachers in 1954 about what this might mean?

FUTRELL: No. I’m not sure it was even discussed, but you have to understand at that time, also, if they discussed it, they may have discussed it among themselves, but I don’t remember it being discussed as part of a lesson. I don’t remember that.

BOND: Now, because you did not go to integrated schools, until you go to graduate school --


BOND: -- how has the Brown decision affected your life? It didn’t affect the education you received. What effect has it had on you?

FUTRELL: Well, first of all, I think it affected me as a teacher because the school where I first taught was segregated. And then they desegregated the school. I think it affected me as a student in graduate school because I was able to go to George Washington University, University of Maryland. I even took courses from U. Va. And if that had happened ten years ago, ten years earlier, I would not have been able to do so. It affected me by really focusing on equal educational opportunities and that you shouldn’t judge a person’s ability to learn by the color of their skin. And so, you know, when I finally taught in those integrated schools, I treated my children as equals. And I say "my children" because that’s who they were. That they can learn just like anyone else. And I tried to use the opportunity to help all sides learn more about one another, respect one another, appreciate one another, and understand that we can learn. Because you’ve got to remember too, that I came along at the time, when basically, the impression was, we couldn’t learn, that we didn’t have the intelligence to learn.

And I can remember sitting in classes and the white kids thinking that the black kids couldn’t learn and the black kids thinking that white kids were -- are arrogant and racist and all kinds of -- and so as a teacher, you’re trying to bring all that together. I appreciate Brown because I think that Brown did what should have been done at the beginning. All children deserve an equal opportunity to be educated, and to be educated at their maximum potential. Brown helped us achieve desegregation. I don’t think we’ve achieved integration. There’s still too much segregation in our schools. And I think we still have a long way to go, but Brown opened the door. A lot of people don’t know, for example, that Brown also helped desegregate schools for children with disabilities, special needs. And when we look at children like Ryan White, who had AIDS, one of the things he used to open up the door was the Brown decision. "As a sick person, I have the right to go to school." So I have deep appreciation, and deep respect for the Brown decision because I think it has changed the face of not only education but the face of America.