Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Brown

BOND: Now, you said a moment ago, we’ve desegregated but we haven’t integrated. What is it going to take to achieve an integrated education, or an integrated America?

FUTRELL: Whoa, that’s a tough one. If I knew the answer to that question I probably would be the richest person in the world. We still have a lot of work to do, I think, with changing attitudes and changing behavior. If you look in our schools and you look at our churches I still think that in many ways they are two of the most segregated institutions in this country. And I’m a religious person. I’m a Baptist, foot-stomping Southern Baptist, and I believe in God, but when I go to church, very few white people are in my church. And if I go across the street or down the road to a white church, it’s going to be just the opposite – very few black people. So, I keep asking myself, if God created all of us as equal and we’re all his children, why are we so segregated?

When I look at schools, schools are segregated by tracking. Look at the schools. If you look at the gifted and talented, primarily white, maybe Asians, maybe one or two African Americans or Hispanics. You look at the academic program, a little more integration. If you look at the general track, that’s primarily Hispanic. You look at the vocational track, that’s still primarily black, and special ed is black and brown males. And so it's one of the things that we talk about, for example, with the standards movement. And I keep asking people, "If we want children to meet the same standards, when are we going to change the schools?" Because as long as this structure is in place, you’re not going to meet the standards. And these children are going to look as though they can’t learn. It’s not that they can’t learn. They’re not being taught the basic math, the basic science, the basic English, the basic whatever. So a lot of it has to do with politics. A lot of it has to do with educational policies. A lot of it has to do with attitudes that we still have.

But what America has to understand is we’re becoming more diverse, not less. I read a study from ETS that shows that by the end of this decade we will have somewhere between fifty-five and fifty-six million children in our elementary and secondary schools alone. The vast majority of the increase will come from African-American and Hispanic-American backgrounds. Same thing at the college level. So the question becomes, can America expect to continue to be a leader and not educate those children as well as it's educating the whites and the Asians, etc. Can we? And the answer in my opinion is, no. I think we need to do a better job of desegregating and integrating our classes. We need to do a better job of integrating our teaching force. We need to look at the curriculum. And the focus should be on helping people develop their intellectual potential. Just as it was when we were in those black schools.

BOND: Now what has been lost? You know it was a great victory to do away with segregation but also loss is involved in this. Jobs lost, memory lost, history lost. What was lost in this transition from the segregated society to the desegregated society?

FUTRELL: You mean as far as education is concerned?

BOND: Yes, education, or generally, but education particularly.

FUTRELL: Well, I think that if you look at what’s happening in some communities now, a lot of the black parents are saying, "Well we want to go back to the neighborhood schools. We want to go back to these schools even though they’re segregated." Because they’re looking at how they were supported and encouraged and how they were -- it was insisted that you learn. And what a lot of the black parents and the Hispanic parents are saying is that we don’t see that same kind of push in the schools today. Now, there’s blame on both sides. There’s blame on the side of the schools and there is blame on the side of the parents. Because you go back to what I said -- my mother was a major force in making sure I did what I was supposed to do in schools, and the teachers were as well. But we look at what I see as being lost is the kids who were at the top academically. I don’t see them at the top academically. I see them at the top athletically. But not academically. And I would say to you, we can do both. And so, I think that one of the things that’s been lost is where are those black kids and those Hispanic kids and those poor kids who were role models when I was coming along? And why can’t we have that now? And how do we do a better job of training the teachers and preparing the teachers? How do we do a better job of nurturing the students so that we have that kind of integration? How do we do that?

I see in our society – and I have the opportunity to travel a lot internationally – America is more integrated than any other country in the world. Now more countries are becoming integrated. When I go to England and when I go to the Netherlands and France and all those places now, they’re far more integrated now than they were when I started going in the '80s. But no one is like us. We represent every country in the world. So people have a lot to learn from us, but we also have a lot to learn. And when I look at society in general, society, I think, has to accept the fact we’re not going to change. We’re going to become even more desegregated, even more integrated. And we’re going to be part of a world where we are the minority. And that world is a very culturally diverse world. And so if we’re going to be global leaders, we have to make sure that our children, our citizens, understand what it means to live in a multicultural, intercultural type of global society. And help us deal with that, those changes as we move forward.

BOND: Now, that’s a big challenge and it’s a challenge that calls upon leadership.