Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Thank you for being on Explorations in Black Leadership. We very much appreciate your being with us.

IFILL: I’m thrilled to be here, Julian.

BOND: Let me begin — you were born after the Brown case, but do you have any notions of what it meant in your family, in your circle, when it was decided in ’54 and ’55?

IFILL: It’s interesting, because I was born in ’55 and so therefore theoretically I grew up at a time in which it was assumed that there are opportunities available to you, but it also always affects your parents, the opportunities that they know were not available. My parents were immigrants. They came to this country because, I like to say, they chose to be Americans, but at the same time, they were very patriotic about what this country could provide them and their children, but at the same time, they also were very clear-eyed about what the country was denying people like their children, who looked like their children, so the idea that —

We didn’t grow up with the idea that everything was automatically available to us, even though by the time I was born, a lot more was available. We grew up with the understanding that you had to fight for almost everything you got, that people were going to deny you, if they could, and that you shouldn’t carry it as a chip on your shoulder, but as a way of — a way of setting up what your standards ought to be to overcome, so my father fancied himself a civil rights activist and marched in the street. My mother feared he would be deported to Panama at all times. And we just understood growing up in the ’60s, which were very turbulent, even though by then, Brown v. Board was a given, that there was always going to be a fight for something and that anything worth having and getting and holding onto was worth fighting for and it didn’t mean that you went around expecting the worst all the time of your fellow man and woman, but it meant that you had to find a way to always factor into your thinking. And so Brown, even though it was a done deal by the time I went to school, it still was the kind of backdrop for everything else that was to come for us.

BOND: Was it a signal to you and your family that the country wanted to treat you right?

IFILL: You know, we didn’t talk about Brown precisely but when you think about the civil rights legislation that became law while I was, what, nine years old? Yeah, that was a signal. It was optimism. It was a promise that you could do all the things that — my parents told us we could do anything, right? They mistakenly told the daughters that as well as the sons, so we took him at his word, and as a result, you saw laws and barriers falling as you went along so, yeah, you came away from that hopeful and optimistic about the possibilities.