Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

O.J. Simpson Trial

J. Bond: Let me take you back to the Brown decision real quickly when it was decided, I was fourteen, and it was discussed in my house, contemporaneously, as it happened, as it appeared. What event, if any, has a similar kind of relationship in your life, in your lifetime? Is there something that had the same kind of, at least conversational effect, where you and your parents, your schoolmates, your friends said, “Oh boy, did you hear about that?”

Katori Hall: Hmmm, I’m not—that’s similar to the Brown v. Board of Education decision?

J. Bond: Yes, some racial…

Katori Hall: O.J. Simpson.

J. Bond: Ok, O.J.’s arrest and trial…

Katori Hall: Cause I remember, I was thirteen or fourteen, and the white Bronco, everybody has the image of the white Bronco flying down the highway, and everybody was just sitting there like, “Oh my gosh, this black man possibly murdered this white woman.” And, you know, growing up in the South, there’s the history of Emmet Till, like you know that a black man ain’t supposed to do nothing to a white woman; he ain’t supposed to whistle at her, - right? So we knew that that was going to be something very important, but also it was a case that just carried so much weight and uncovered the tension that was still there between black and white people living across the nation regardless of you living in, being in the South. And I remember when that verdict was—when they read that verdict, I remember the black kids cheered, and the white kids groaned.

J. Bond: And what did that say to you? That these radically different reactions…

Katori Hall: For me, for the black kids, and you know, our parents because we definitely get our sense of what we think from our parents, I think it was a release of anger and bitterness. Like, think of all the black men who have been lynched, think of all the black men who have been killed by police and still are being killed by police for -- like being with a white woman, you’re like, “Yay!” Even if he did kill her, like, finally, we got something. We have won something ‘cause the justice system is stacked up against black people in so many ways. It’s like engrained. The racism is engrained into our justice system and to see a black man get off for possibly committing murder was absolutely astounding because that never could’ve happened. Now you bring into the fact that he had a lot of money, and the intersection of race and class, that’s a whole ‘nother thing to pick apart, but it was like a black man got off for possibly murdering a white woman? That’s unheard of, but then the white kids groaning, you understand that they want him to pay for what he did to this white woman and it became this loaded symbol, I think, of race relations in America today, or at that point in time.