Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leaders from Birmingham: Angela Davis and Condoleezza Rice

BOND: Yet some people came through this experience you did, or who were contemporaries even if they weren’t engaged in the same way you were, dedicated their lives to this kind of political activism. Someone you knew at that time, Angela Davis, even though she becomes an academic, also maintains this kind of -- you know, pushing forward. Why do you think you took this path and others took another?

HRABOWSKI: It’s interesting. Angela and I were both fortunate to be children of middle class parents, and the essence of middle class in America at that time -- your mother’s a teacher, so often, and I think we’re all affected, influenced by our experiences, whatever they are, and for her and for many others who grew up with me, the idea was education was critical, was absolutely critical. What we have in common is everybody was saying education makes the difference so that clearly was there. Now, the fact that she might’ve taken a different path during a period when things were very turbulent and I’ll never forget how supportive Birmingham, black Birmingham, was of her every day during that period. I mean, there was never a time when any of us felt anything other than "let’s protect and support Angela Davis." That’s the difference between white and black America. We knew she was a wonderful person, that she may have been trying to support somebody, but we knew who she was and everybody -- and we knew her family, you know -- somebody’s people, you see. And what am I saying? I’m saying that circumstances can be such that you are involved with people, you’re helping people, people are involved in whatever activity, prison or whatever, and you give support and you move in that direction.

My direction was different just because of circumstances. It was always- I’ve always been, high school, college, grad school, going to teach at a university, so I’ve always been primarily in universities and trying to get universities to reach out to communities to get involved in that way but did not have the same kind of path as others who might have moved out of the institution, out of the universities, to do more social activism and those kinds of things.

BOND: Now, is Condoleezza Rice a contemporary?

HRABOWSKI: Yeah, she’s a dear friend.

BOND: And you knew her growing up at the same time?

HRABOWSKI: She was a little girl.

BOND: I think it remarkable that you, Angela Davis, and Condoleezza Rice knew each other at some period in your lives.

HRABOWSKI: Yes. Yes, and Condi was about four years younger. Her father was my high school counselor, wonderful, wonderful Rev. Rice, intellectual, who also liked sports, who was just an incredible thinker who could push you to think and use humor with it in very interesting ways. But he was there and Mr. Bell, my principal, was the uncle of Alma Vivian Powell who also grew up in Birmingham and so all of that Birmingham connection is very interesting. But -- and the point I make to people all the time is that people assume that "oh, if they’re black, they think this way" or "if they’re black and middle class, they have these points of view," not realizing that we are thinkers. Educated people will have different points of view about many things and can even agree to disagree and still be very close. People do that within the same family. Husbands and wives maybe belong to different parties, but people forget that broadly when thinking about middle class black people growing up in Birmingham, for example, that we can be very close, supportive and yet have different points of view on different things. What we had in common in all those situations -- the power of education to transform lives and that’s a theme you’re going to find in any of those families.

BOND: And it’s remarkable to me that your parents have been teachers, Condoleezza Rice’s father was a counselor, Colin Powell’s wife’s uncle is involved in education. There’s, you know -- there's a Ph.D. thesis hidden here some place.