Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Dr. Benjamin Hooks, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. Thank you for doing this.

HOOKS: Thank you for having me.

BOND: We want to begin with some questions about the Brown v. Board of Education decision. What were your thoughts when you first heard about this in May of 1954?

HOOKS: You know, the most peculiar thing -- I was a practicing lawyer, had been practicing about five years. I recognized the significance of the case but it took me a few days for it to really sink in. I heard the opposition talk about massive resistance, nullification and interposition and all those words. And I re-read the case and I was a NAACP member, Channel Legal Redress Committee. But it took a few days for it to dawn on me that this was the end of legal segregation in America.

BOND: So after reading the case, you thought this was it?

HOOKS: I knew it was it, after I reflected on it and re-read it. Because if you're going to have integration in schools, then obviously you could not have separate drinking fountains in the school, you couldn't have two restrooms -- two sets of restrooms. You couldn't have two swimming pools, you couldn't have two baseball teams. If you eliminated it in the school system where millions of kids are involved, then obviously it seemed to me you couldn't maintain two restrooms downtown. It would become ludicrous then. And I then understood why the opponents -- the Strom Thurmonds and Fielding Wrights in that crowd -- were saying all of these, you know, terms of vociferous opposition because they recognized it before we did. This was -- it may take -- I didn't know how many years it would take for it to, you know, become effective, but I recognized that a unanimous decision eliminating integration in the schools -- segregation of schools.

Now remember, we had always had some cases that I was aware of. I think the McLaurin case in Oklahoma where the state said that this black student could sit on our side of the classroom and, you know, listen but not participate. That I knew that this case eliminated all that foolishness, and that's why I made the statement no separate restrooms could exist, no separate swimming pools, separate baseball teams. The whole -- they couldn't have the black kids in one side of the class and the whites in the other. And once that happened in the public school system, the way you deal with the bulk of people, then it was obvious to me at that point. But it -- very fankly, it didn't dawn on me the first time I read it, not the first day, not the first week. I had to read it, re-read it, and then think about it. And it was almost like a bolt of lightening when it hit me. The only question then was how long would it take to become effective.