Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Experiences with Segregation

BOND: Mr. Jones, welcome to ""Explorations in Black Leadership."

JONES: It's a great honor to be here.

BOND: It's a pleasure having you here. I want to begin with a question that begins at a time when you were two years old. It may be difficult for you to answer in a factual way, but it's part of this program. What did the Brown v. Board of Education mean to you when it was first decided in 1954? I understand that you didn't read it in the paper then.

JONES: But, you know, interestingly enough, maybe it's not quite Brown, I'm thinking of more Little Rock or those places. I remember being a small child who had not yet learned how to read. I don't think I knew how to read and with my father who was a working man which was odd because he was a working man with many children, one day, it was a Saturday morning, and there was a roadmap of the states and I had learned a few words. Like I say, it was not Brown, but it's related, but a small child could — This is probably a four-year-old child and I had learned Little Rock and he was so proud of me that I knew that. I could see that word, "Little Rock," but it was also what I'd seen on television about civil rights.

Now, Brown v. Board of Education, it was only when at age 12, having been living in Wayland, New York, Steuben County, a German Italian community, that one of the people from the old days who, when my dad was a migrant contractor, a young man came through our town heading south and he wanted somebody to go with him to keep him awake and so this fellow says, "well, Billy, he talks a lot," you know, so she sent me off like that one afternoon. No clothes. Nothing. And the whole way down reading signs, just reading, reading because I was an avid reader and then for the first time seeing a "coloreds only" in my life. It was something that I'd heard about but I'd never known. We pulled up to a gas station and he said "your bathroom's around the back." I saw there was a bathroom right there. I went around to the back and it was locked and it was filthy and he said, "well, man, you gotta go in the woods" [laughter] like that, you know. So, these were all my — This was my response to Jim Crow stories from the point of view of a young second generation black person who didn't really understand what was going until I was back down in the South, so I'd always never had any tension around going to integrated schools.