Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Bill Gray, thank you very much for doing this. We appreciate your taking the time. Part of this is a look back at the Brown decision. You were thirteen years old when the court decided in '54 that separate schools were illegal. Do you remember any discussion in your household, in your family about that?

GRAY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you got to remember I came out of a family of educators. My father had been president of two black colleges. My mother had been a dean of a black college. Her mother had been a schoolteacher in Louisiana, and her father had been a professor at a black college. So I mean, when that decision was rendered, I mean, there was much discussion at our home for weeks about the importance of it, and the implications.

BOND: Do you remember feeling optimistic about it, "This is great, things are going to change right away," or anything like that?

GRAY: I remember being jubilant. I remember, you know, the feeling that, "Hey, a great thing has happened," you know, "We're on the way to the Promised Land -- inevitably, things are moving in the right direction." There was a strong feeling that everything was possible now. There were just new possibilities for folk of color in this country, and for black folk. I mean, it was -- I picked that up at thirteen, even though I didn't know what they were talking about sometimes. But the feeling definitely in Philadelphia was that, "Hey, there are new possibilities, the horizon is unlimited, the Promised Land is just around the corner."

BOND: And when did you, or do you remember, feeling that things weren't going to happen quite that way, that it wasn't quite the optimistic change you had hoped for?

GRAY: Well, I think I began to sense, and my family began to sense, that as we went on through the rest of that decade, that things didn't change. Schools didn't begin to open up immediately, especially in higher education. We still were confronted with the problems of registering and voting. We were still confronted with the problems of public accommodations. And so, I guess three or four years after that it became clear that there was going to have to be a concentrated struggle to implement what Brown vs. the Board of Education had said, and that we had to now struggle to make it a reality in the rest of American life on each and every battlefield - in politics, in economics, in public accommodations.