Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Civil Rights Legislation: Gaining New Access

BOND: And looking back over this period, the civil rights laws, Brown in ’54 and ’55, ’64, ’65, all these things, have these turned out the way you thought at the time they’d turn out?

IFILL: Yes —

BOND: That is, have they accomplished what at the time you may have thought they would?

IFILL: Yes, in terms of they provided access. I never had to doubt whether I was going to be able to apply to any college I wanted to apply to. It never occurred to me that I would be denied something like that, education, because of limitations that were put in place by law. All that was done. All that was sealed. It never —

Now, does it mean that [I] didn’t go South for first time in my life with some trepidation. We were raised in the Northeast and I didn’t go South until I was an adult. I knew the history books and it made me nervous, but I didn’t automatically assume that people wouldn’t allow me to stay in a hotel. I didn’t automatically assume that people wouldn’t provide me with — allow me to get in any vehicle or conveyance I wanted to. But you always were a little bit aware of the history and the possibility of it, so that when you were denied something as simple as a decent table in a restaurant, it was all lurking. We all said, “Ah, it hasn’t completely gone away,” and in the Northeast, it had not completely gone away, so it wasn’t just the South.

BOND: But did you ever discover that what you thought was an ah-ha moment turned out to just be they just put me at another table?

IFILL: Yeah, probably, but except that with this — you can’t spend a lot of time assuming the worst about why people do things. It almost always has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them. It has to do with their biases, with their constraints, with their inability to imagine anything more and so rather than — and I tell this to young people all the time — rather than going around saying, “Ah ha, they didn’t give this to me because I was black or I was a woman,” you stop and think — they didn’t give it to me because they couldn’t imagine me in this role and it’s my job then — it’s a tougher job than my white counterparts have, but it’s just what it is — my job is to force them to see me in a different role and then you act on that.