Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Teacher Organizations

BOND: I’m curious, when the two organizations merged, the black and white organization merged, my memory is that in Georgia, when this happened, they agreed that one year a black person would be the president, the next year a white person would be the president and carry this on. Why did this not happen in Virginia?

FUTRELL: Because, Virginia was the first to merge.

BOND: Oh --

FUTRELL: Okay? And when we merged – and again I go back – I was not part of that, I had not become a teacher. And so, they merged or they were in the process of merging before I became a teacher, and I came in as a teacher afterwards. But by the time they merged, I found out later they were the first. And David Johnson who stepped down as exec of the VEA, he’s talked to me about this. And I used to talk to Rupert Pike and others, and they talked about the mistakes that they made in the merger process. And one mistake was this rotation. And some people thought that was a mistake not to put that in, others felt that it was not. Because right now -- we’ve had three black presidents of VEA, elected through process. We also gave up the buildings. Yes! They sold the buildings, they sold everything. And I’ve heard VEA folks say that was the biggest mistakes that they made, they should have kept the building because that would have given them more space, more property, and strengthened the financial base for the organization.

BOND: Sure.

FUTRELL: I don’t know, I think they gave all the documentation to Virginia State, but that’s basically what happened.

And as others merged, they looked at what had happened with VEA. And then the others decided to go every other year. And as I’ve talked to people in North Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia and other places, and I said, "Well, why did you come up with this system of alternating?" And they said, "Because when we looked at what Virginia did, and you went years without having a president." I was the first black president. They said, "We didn’t want to make that mistake." Now, they had blacks serving on the board. They had a strategy where -- so, the ones who were VTAs, served on the VEA board for a certain period of time, and then it was a natural rotation. And so ours has evolved more naturally as opposed to the other way. Now, there are pros and cons to that, because I’ve been in some states where when the black president is in office, only the blacks were involved. And then when the white president’s in office, only the whites are involved. And I remember saying to them, "Well, what kind of organization is this? This is your organization but yet you’re only involved when certain people are in office? That doesn’t make sense." It took us a long time to get a black president, I think it was 1973, but all the people were there.

BOND: Yeah.

FUTRELL: So, that’s, that’s what I -- we were first. You didn’t realize it?

BOND: No, I didn’t realize that, but I remember Horace Tate in Georgia as head of the Black Teacher’s -- BTA --

FUTRELL: But, I know Horace quite well.

BOND: And the merger, and I wonder whether or not -- I’m struck by something you said about the building. Because it strikes me that this property is so important, and so few black institutions and organizations have any property even though we have ancient organizations. I wonder if in other states, property was maintained or retained -- but you know, this is a subject for somebody to write a Ph.D. thesis on, the history of these organizations.

FUTRELL: Well, at some, you know what they did? They sold off both and they built a new building. And we, what we did, is we just, we sold off the VTA building.

BOND: Now, when you become active in the VEA, there’s a minority caucus.

FUTRELL: No, there was not. We formed it.

BOND: You formed a minority caucus. And the minority caucus must have been controversial.


BOND: I mean, there must have been people who said, "Don’t do it, you’re separating -- we just integrated and now you’re separating again."


BOND: How did you overcome that?

FUTRELL: The caucus really did not come into being until about ten years later. Because, you remember, when we first merged, we had built into the constitution, built into the governing documents that blacks would be on the board as well as whites over a certain period of time. And then what happened was as the blacks began to realize that their numbers were fading on the board and that they were not being replaced as they thought they were going to be replaced, that they felt there was a need for a minority caucus. But it wasn’t just the governance. It was the issue around at that time. We were very upset about the desegregation of the schools, and the fact that a lot of African-American teachers and principals were losing their jobs. Very concerned about so many of the school buildings either being closed or being converted to something else. Very concerned about the historical aspects of the education of blacks just not being included. And I remember being -- we met in a hotel room, and there must have been about fifteen or twenty of us, and at that time, see, here I am this little scared person trying to figure out, "Well, what’s going on?" And so we agreed that all of us would stand up on the floor of the VEA and we would make these speeches. And some of the people wouldn’t do it. They promised they would, but then, when we got there, they didn’t. And I remember that I stood up and I gave a speech and afterwards a lady came up to me and she said, "I don’t know how you read your speech." And I said, "Well, what do you mean?" She said, "Your hand was shaking so violently there was no way you could read it." And that’s how scared I was, but I felt that this was something that I had to stand up along with others. A guy named Reggie Smith was one of the leaders of that movement. Shelby Guss, Fitz Turner was one -- and they had been part of the VTA and active in their local, etc., and so they helped form this minority caucus. And it still exists, by the way.

BOND: Well, how did you deal with those people, whites and blacks, who said, "Hey, this is just a separatist thing. We’re trying to integrate, you’re trying to separate.” How did you deal with that?

FUTRELL: Well, one of the things that I tried to do was to sit down and talk with people, and I can be very emotional when I talk, but I had to force myself just to sit down and try to get them to understand your side of it and see what’s going on. And what we found was that there were a lot of people who were very sympathetic. Especially the teachers from the northern part of the state. They were very sympathetic and we were able to persuade some of them to also stand up and speak up. As a matter of fact, we were able to persuade two or three of them to work with us to put a motion forward to force the VEA to deal with the -- what we considered to be the unfair dismissal of African-American teachers and principals and the pushing out of black kids out of school. And we were able -- we won, but it was a narrow vote. But just sitting down and talking to people and trying to help them understand. A lot of them were not aware of what was going on. And so, when we began to share this information and Reggie and Shelby and Fitz Turner had collected data, and they were able to show that before desegregation, we had this many African-American teachers and this many African-American principals, we had this many kids, and now look at what we have -- well, they sympathized with us and they joined with us and put it forth. There were people who were livid. They threatened to pull out of the VEA, they threatened to boycott the convention, they threatened to do all kinds of things. But we stood our ground, and believe it or not, they didn’t walk away.