Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influences: Mother as Protest Leader

BOND: So even though the decision itself had no immediate effect on you, is it fair to say that it sort of tilted you toward participation in a movement you did not even know was about to occur?

HRABOWSKI: Oh, that’s exactly right. I mean, you’re absolutely right. Even for my parents, you know, we all are influenced by our parents and my parents before Brown wouldn’t have thought about the possibility and my parents were always wanting the best. My mother actually led a protest in 1948 for the equalization of teacher salaries in Jefferson County, Alabama. She was very proud of that, and they fired her. She was such a good teacher, though, shortly after that the Birmingham City Schools picked her up, but she was always proud of the fact that she led that fight and she was always saying, “Just how do we get to the point where teachers who’re all teaching children the same material will be paid the same amount of money?” It’s hard for people to believe that there was a substantially lower salary range for colored teachers than for white teachers, so they were aware of the injustice, I mean, and had worked in their own ways to make a difference.

BOND: What did she do to protest this?

HRABOWSKI: Oh they had -- oh, literally, as she told me -- I’ll never forget. She had a group of them that wanted to speak to the Board of Education at that time and she was the spokesman and my mother was always comfortable speaking up and out, and she said she was young and smart and dumb at the same time and never knew they would fire her as a result, but they did. But she always knew she had done the right thing and it did bring the matter to the attention, so we were always listening. I was always listening to my parents talk about these issues and reading the paper and so probably when I was five or six, I remember Brown because they were saying he still wouldn’t have a chance to go somewhere else. I actually went to her school and the point was "How do we supplement the education, how do we make sure he has the books he needs?" And most important, it seems to me as I recall, she and he were always talking about what kind of college would I attend and quite frankly, they always said Morehouse which is where I didn’t go, but this is what they --

BOND: Hampton is an excellent school.

HRABOWSKI: Oh, I think so. I know so. They just thought it was so far up north. You see, everything is relative. To them, Virginia was way up north when you live in Birmingham.

BOND: Right. In Atlanta, Morehouse is close by.

HRABOWSKI: And Dr. [Benjamin] Mays.

BOND: Right.

HRABOWSKI: Dr. Mays. Everybody thought about Dr. Mays and you want your son to be influenced by Dr. Mays.

BOND: Indeed.

HRABOWSKI: Very much so.