Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Mr. Jealous, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.

JEALOUS: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

BOND: We generally begin with a question about the Brown decision and you were born two decades after the Brown decision, but for you, what did it turn out to mean?

JEALOUS: Well, I guess the first memories I have associated with it were being on the desegregation bus. The irony is that I was the only black kid on the white bus. The -- you know, and so the struggle that families have trying to make sure that their kid can go to a good school, a school where they can pursue their dreams. My dream was to learn about computers. It was early in the 1980s. I was headed into the fourth grade and the only school that had computers was the black school two towns over and so my parents were — there was just no way, they’re only putting white kids on the bus to go to that school from our town. My father’s white, my mom is black. So my father said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll just sign the boy up.” I showed up at the bus, curly hair, the bus driver just kind of looked at me and said, “just get on the bus. Just get on the bus.”

On a deeper level, as a parent now, Brown is a constant source of frustration. What Brown signaled to my mom when she desegregated her high school in 1954 in Baltimore was the end of separate, discriminatory, oppressive education regimes in this country, and the reality is that in these days, we have greater segregation in many areas than we did before Brown. We certainly have the greatest level of segregation that we’ve seen in pretty much all areas since Brown. And you have children who grow up with just as little hope of really being able to achieve their dreams as the children we saw in Kenneth Clark’s “black doll studies.”

Brown should be a great sore on the American conscience. It should be something that the entire country is eager to fulfill the mission of — and our role at the NAACP is really to make sure that the country doesn’t forget its obligation to ensure that all kids have access to a quality education until that’s actually achieved.

BOND: I’ve got some research here that says that you are quoted in Columbia College Today suggesting that while Brown led to the desegregation of many areas of public life, schools have been the exception. What about the other areas of life? Did it have an impact there?

JEALOUS: Certainly. I mean, just the fact that we can like, hop on a plane and not think about the fact that we used to be forbidden from many airports or, you know, relegated to different flights. We can get on a train and not be stuck in the Negro car. We can drive cross lines. We can work for any corporation we want to. Obviously, employment discrimination is still a reality, but when you look at just the way that life has normalized and so many barriers have been removed, much of that, if not all of it, goes back to Brown. Brown is a great success, but if the target of Brown, if the intention was to make sure that all children have access to a quality education and can go to any school they want to, we’re a long way away from that.

BOND: So, a success and a failure.