Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Let me shift gears radically here and come to some questions that may seem out of what we've been talking about. One reason for beginning this series originally was to focus on the effects of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. I want to ask a couple of quick questions just about that before we wrap up. Do you remember? Do you have a conscious memory of family discussion about the Supreme Court ruling?


BOND: What was it?

GRAVES: You know, I was in college at the time so it was clearly very significant. It happened when I was home. It was during the summer.

BOND: Yes. May of '54.

GRAVES: So, I was already home for the summer and my father was deceased, but my mother was again, you know – there she is, five-foot three – "We won another one, I told you that Thurgood Marshall was a good man, and you remember – " I mean my mother was in there all the time slugging it out. So this was just another victory for the home team. Now we got a whole bunch more, a whole bunch more games to play in, but this one we won. And we won, and it's going to – what a difference it's going to make in the South, and what a difference it's going to make. And it has. I mean, I think that the South has made enormous strides because of that Supreme Court decision – much more so than in many urban areas.

BOND: Now do you remember – were you and your mother optimistic, foolishly, about what the results would be? That is, did you think it would mean more than it has turned out to mean?

GRAVES: I think at the time it did, at least in my case. Yeah, I envisioned people were going to be meeting in the streets. I didn't think it was going to end overnight, but I thought in ten years – go anywhere, do anything, opportunities are okay. The rules are going to change. Everybody's going to love everybody. A little Pollyanna, if you will, in terms of what was the real world. But again in 1954, I was still in college and what – graduated – so I was eighteen years old.

BOND: Looking back over the nearly fifty years since then, how do you think it's affected you?

GRAVES: Well, my father dreamed of owning a candy store, right. I dream of owning candy manufacturing companies. My father dreamed of owning real estate. I dream of owning a city block. So those are the levels of change. If you ask my sons what they're going to do, I mean, you know, I hold my breath because what they see as their vision for what they'd like to do and I see them as my partners, as young men that their mother and I love very much. But their goals and their aspirations are set high. But I wouldn't have it any other way. That's the way it was with me, and I want them to think the same way.