Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Parents' Silences and Stories of M.L.King

BOND: Talk about your parents. You talked about their ability to save money, to buy a house, to move to a better neighborhood, and I'm wondering if they ever told you, and/or your siblings, of experiences they had had: bad experiences, and in an era different from the one you came up in, and whether or not these were related to you as "here's something interesting that happened" or "this is something I'm angry about even today." How did they transmit to their children stories of the past? How did they come to you?

HALL: They told us. They were very upfront, always very upfront. You know, we would sit around the table at dinnertime, or sit in the living room, and my dad'll come home and talk about the crackers that made him mad.

BOND: So these were his daily experiences, what about his past experiences?

HALL: I would say my father, in regards to his past experiences with racism, it was only articulated through a sense of warning, meaning if I had a white friend, he would be like, "Well you know how those white people are, and all the things that they've done." But he was never very explicit about experiences, like actual things that occurred in his past that made him come to this place where he had a lot of anger and a lot of bitterness. Even today, I might be -- like, "So dad, tell me a story from the sixties or the seventies," he gets kind of quiet, silent, and stoic about it. And I'm like, something big happened, but he hasn't come to a point where he can relay the past to me because maybe in relaying the past to me, telling me about the past is to re-experience it for him. But my mother, oh my goodness, she would tell me story after story after story. She grew up around the corner from the Lorraine Motel, so she was in the thick of it, just always marching. She, as a matter of fact, when King came to do the sanitation worker's strike, and they led that march on March 28th, where people ended up rioting, she was right in the middle of it.

BOND: And she talked about these events to her children?

HALL: Oh yes, as a matter of fact, I was saying earlier that I went to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, and of course, because it was the anniversary of his assassination a lot of people are opening up about their recollections of that week, you know, of that period in time, and she just sat me down and was -- like, "Yeah, let me tell you a story." The day that King was shot, she was fifteen years old, and there was this older woman that was living on the block with her and the lady came up to her and was -- like, "Ca-may, I want you to go to the doctor with me." So my mother, Carrie Mae, she goes to the doctor and they get in this car, this white Cadillac. So they're driving down the street, and very, very close to the Lorraine Motel, they're driving down the street and the woman is about to make a left hand turn, and all of a sudden, this barrage of policemen are just coming down the street flying. If she would've made that left hand turn, she would've got hit by the police cars—all the police cars coming. And that woman, I forget her name, she just started crying and was - like, "They shot Dr. King. They done shot Dr. King. Oh my God, they done shot Dr. King!" Now my mother, was - like, how does this woman know this, because…

BOND: Yes, I'm wondering, how does she know that…

HALL: It was the feeling. It was this kind of premonition, all she had to do was put two and two together and she was like, all these police cars are coming, they're going towards the Lorraine Motel…

BOND: …everybody knows he was staying at the Lorraine Motel…

HALL: …Everybody knew that because The Commercial Appeal had put it in the paper, he's staying at the Lorraine Motel…like all these police cars coming and she just had this feeling, she just knew that Dr. King had gotten shot, so she turned around, they go back home and they find out that Dr. King had indeed been shot. And so, talking to my mother, her relaying this story to me, she's like a library, a flesh and bone library, talking to me and, you know, I gained so much perspective about that particular period in time, kind of like the emotional weight of what had happened, which when you're reading in history books, you have to kind of reimagine it for yourself, but when you have someone who was there, it's such a special thing.

BOND: Now, did you get the feeling that both from your father, whom you say was angry as he relayed these events from the past, and your mother, who's also sharing with you things that happened to her, particularly this spectacular story you just told, are they telling you these as instructions to their children, "This is what happened to me, I behaved in this way, if it ever happens to you, you behave in that way," or simply just relating something that happened, just a story in their lives?

HALL: I think it's a mixture. I think maybe subconsciously it may be an instruction, but I'm not necessarily—I don't know what kind of instruction that it would be, but I think it's mostly to pass on history.