Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Secondary

BOND: Tell me about Dunbar High School, because Dunbar High School was one of the best high schools in the country.

HILL: Right, Dunbar, that's when I left Roanoke. My stepfather called me on the phone one day, and said, you know, "Time you go to high school now. You can go to Dunbar." I hadn't been up there. I had been in Washington in sixth grade, I think it was -- fifth or sixth grade -- for a semester, but the difference was such that, between Christmas and when Christmas came, and I was in Roanoke -- oh, they had a big Christmas tree and I was the only child, everything was loaded with stuff for me. And the time I spent Christmas up there, they gave me a briefcase, I think. So --

BOND: Maybe they were pointing you toward being a lawyer?

HILL: No, it was just a difference in economic situation, for one thing. And they didn't know anything about raising kids either, but anyway. I went back to Roanoke, but then while I was in Washington, I heard about Dunbar. So he said, "Why don't you come on up here. You can go to Dunbar High School." So I jumped at the opportunity.

BOND: But what had you heard about Dunbar? What made Dunbar attractive?

HILL: Well, the question about -- Dunbar was regarded as one of the finest high schools in the country. See, back in those days, there weren't too many opportunities for Negroes with doctorals, with advanced degrees, or those sort of things, and the highest salaries paid were in Washington. See, they had the system -- the superintendent of schools and then they had 12th and 13th divisions, and the 12th was white and 13th was Negro. And they had the system all way down the line, supposedly duplication, and they got the same salary as white people got. As a matter of fact, teachers at Dunbar got much higher salaries than they did at Howard. And you had more Ph.D.s at Dunbar. They had a Negro institution of learning, at that time.

BOND: Now, was it a hard transition for you to go to this school from where you'd been before?

HILL: You say, what was that now?

BOND: A hard transition, to find yourself in this Dunbar atmosphere?

HILL: Well, yes and no. As I say you, see, I had plenty of self-esteem, and I used to tell people -- looking back at it, I knew I was in almost poverty for first six years. During the next period of time, I was, I lived in an upper-middleclass situation. I was great big fish in a little bitty pond in Roanoke. When I went to Washington I was little bitty fish in a great big pond, but I had no problem adjusting because -- although when I initially got there, I hung out with the kids -- well, I went out for the football team for one thing and hung out with the kids from the other side of the tracks, so to speak. And they would complain about they couldn't make any trips because they couldn't get any money. And oh, well, anyway I was in a temporary situation. I felt like it was temporary. It didn't disturb me.