Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Personal Impact of Brown

BOND: Now, how do you think over this period of time Brown impacted your life? I know you described how you didn’t get an opportunity to consider an integrated education until much later, but looking back over your life, what has this meant to you?

HRABOWSKI: There’s no doubt that we are better when we have a chance to study with people from all types of backgrounds and it was really in graduate school at the University of Illinois after my Hampton experience of preparing me for grad school that I was in class with whites. I was typically the only black in the math class, for example, and that would not have happened if the University of Illinois, like other major universities, had decided to bring in many more people of color. And that doesn’t mean they became 20 percent black, but at least we had some blacks there at that institution and other places and that was a good experience for me. Not that it was always comfortable or easy. It was a challenging experience, not so much intellectually. It was great intellectually but it was socially very difficult because most people at that time were not accustomed to seeing people different from themselves in the classroom.

BOND: You said in a law lecture some years ago that you considered the Brown decision precursors of the nation’s civil rights movement and you yourself at a very young age were involved in this movement. How do you connect the two?

HRABOWSKI: Right. I think we began to think about the possibility of the races coming together in school as a result of Brown and it did happen in some places. I just happened to be in one of those really strongholds on segregation but even there, we talked about it and we looked at what was happening in other cities but I think that the country, people in general began to think about the future and the fact that the future might hold more and more people coming together in different ways, getting a chance to study together or work together. And as a result, I think of the possibility of that happening, more and more people were ready, emotionally and psychologically, for a change, particularly blacks. They could see this could be done. It seems, I mean, it seems to me when I think back, as I reflect on experiences with my parents, they could see that it was possible that life could be better, that blacks could have more opportunities, if they were willing to push and fight for those things. And it seems to me that Brown was an important foundation builder for those kinds of things.