Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Civil Rights Movement

BOND: Now -- I'm trying to wrap up a lot of things in a very, very few minutes. You’ve talked about yourself as the beneficiary of civil rights activists, and you’ve expressed concern that young people don’t seem to appreciate this legacy. How can we make them, or should we even make them? Some people say, "You know it’s great that young people don’t remember the segregation era. They shouldn’t, they didn’t live through it. They shouldn’t have to worry about these things, let them go forward in this different world."

FUTRELL: Well, let me give you two examples. About three years ago, George Washington University celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the march on Washington. And we had a number of the civil rights people come back and we invited students to come. And one of the things that really surprised me was, number one, a lot of the students didn’t come. But those who did said, in the end, "Why have you not done these kinds of things before? What you are telling us here -- this is the first we’ve heard of it. And if you don’t tell us about what it was like and what the struggle has been and what we have achieved, we just assume this is the way it’s been." And these were like high school and undergraduate students telling us these things. And so, part of the problem is ours. We have not been vigilant about making sure that future generations understand what it was like and what the struggle was and how much we’ve achieved.

BOND: But you know, I’ve also heard people of this younger generation, and not quite so young, say twenties and thirties say, "Look, I’m tired of this."

FUTRELL: Right. You’re absolutely right.

BOND: "I’m tired of this stuff."

FUTRELL: Right. And you hear them say that about, "this is the way it’s always been," "I don’t care about the struggle", etc., etc. And what I try to say to them, "If you don’t care, you’ll lose it. If you don’t continue the struggle, and the struggle isn’t over, then you can’t complain when all of a sudden what you thought you had isn’t there." You know, a good way to look at it is what’s happening with the election. If you don’t go out and vote, then when somebody takes the vote away from you, you’ve lost. You can’t go back now. If you look at jobs, you look at opportunities to live where you want to live. All of these things, did not just simply happen, somebody had to fight for them to happen, and if you don’t continue to fight, they won’t stay there. And it’s not just with minorities. I hear the same thing with women. "Well, I’m tired of people talking about the women’s movement." As if we have always been able to be in these different positions. But not lecture, but involve.

You know, my kids, when I go – and I still demonstrate – when I go, I take them with me. So they can see what it’s like. They can understand what it’s like. They can be there and they can be part of it. And that’s part of what I think we have to do. But the fight is not necessarily one that’s in the streets. It has to be in the school house, it has to be in the courthouse, it has to be in the political -- it has to be everywhere. Now, you know that better than I do.

BOND: How did you learn that it had to be everywhere? Because some people don’t learn. Some people think, you know, "If we can just file lawsuits, that’ll be okay. If we can just do this, that’ll be okay."

FUTRELL: I learned it from Virginia State College, which now is Virginia State University. Because, when I went to Virginia State, we had not had a lot of demonstrations in Lynchburg. I mean, it was -- it was almost unheard of for blacks to stand up and demonstrate in any kind of mass way. But at Virginia State, we did. At Virginia State we marched, and we sat in, and we paraded, and we had rallies on the campus, and we brought people in. And all of a sudden, here was this world that I didn’t know existed, and I was part of it. And so, you know, a lot of us in those days made commitments. And those commitments meant as long as there was a need, we would be there. And so that’s where we are.