Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Dr. Hrabowksi, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. We’re pleased to have you with us today.

HRABOWSKI: Thank you.

BOND: I want to begin with some questions about Brown v. Board of Education. I know you were three years old when the decision was handed down, but did you have any consciousness or, as you grew older, have some feelings about what it might mean?

HRABOWSKI: Sure. I certainly did not at three, but I did shortly after that because my parents were talking about where I would go to school and I went to the first grade fairly early and it wasn’t a joke, but it was a statement made about Brown and that Brown doesn’t make a difference, because there was no choice. For years in Birmingham, the schools were still segregated and so one heard all the time that Brown hadn’t made a difference in Birmingham and finally, it was in high school when I was probably in the tenth grade that the first school was integrated and that was a traumatic experience because families -- white families came out when the black children were to go into the high school there in Birmingham and, unfortunately, they threw rocks. They were violent and it was at that point that my parents said they would not put me in that situation, but that was my experience with Brown throughout.

The only time I had a chance to think about integrated education was in the summers. My parents sent me to Massachusetts to see what it would be like to study in class with white children and so I studied in Springfield, Massachusetts, but Brown and Birmingham until I was in the tenth grade meant that nothing was going to change. People didn’t think that at that time we’d ever see schools changing or integrated in our city.

BOND: Now, all these many years later, do you have some feelings about what it has turned out to mean?

HRABOWSKI: Yeah, I think that we can say with some certainty that large numbers of young people in our country of all races have had a chance to see what it’s like to study in classrooms with children who are different from themselves. With that said, though, we do know that there is a movement towards -- back to more segregated situations than ever before. Some use the word hyper-segregation and so, unfortunately for millions of children of all races, everyone else in the classroom looks exactly the same.