Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Integrated Education and Abnormalities of Race

BOND: But as you found out what the Brown decision was, did you believe that the promise of it would bring great things for you, that it would change your life in a positive way? Were you understanding that this held out hope that some things would be different?

JONES: Hmmm — Well, like I say, it was the water I swam in. For me to say I had a revelation, it was just the way things are. I'm sure you see it now with young folks here who have grown up in the era of the Internet. They don't know anything before it. Yeah, they know about it, but they can't know it. It's impossible for them to know it. I do know that I'm grateful for my parents' ire, for my parents' pride, in a way, and why had my dad wanted to be a black Yankee. What was wrong with being a black southerner? And they tried to explain it in terms of things like the Civil War was taught in the South as if it had been won by the South. They tried to talk about the shoddy books, that my older brothers and sisters had books that were handed down to them from the white schools. They wanted us to have all the opportunities of the white kids. What was this all about? They just knew that there was something different between whites and blacks, but I went to school every day with whites. I was the only black in the class, so what's the big deal. There was a mixed message that in some ways I'm still trying to understand in my heart today.

BOND: But did you come to understand a portion of it?

JONES: Oh, yes. What do you mean, do I understand?

BOND: As you're going to school with these kids and you know you're black, they're white, did it become clear to you that there were distinctions among you, between you?

JONES: I knew it very well.

BOND: And what did those mean to you?

JONES: What did they mean to me?

BOND: The distinctions mean to you?

JONES: At that time?

BOND: Yes. And later?

JONES: Well, you'll have to excuse me, I'm an artist, so I speak in anecdotes and feelings and impressions. What did it mean when the first grade teacher as we were filing out at Christmas time, what did it mean that she took a big orange and put it in my hand and said, "and, Bill, you have a very special Christmas." What did it mean that Charlotte McLaughlin, the choir teacher with her sensible shoes and her ladylike somewhat Victorian manner, what did it mean when she was coaching me one day for some vocal competition about my diction? "Your people, if they want to be equal, they must be equal in all ways and they must be better," she said. Okay. Did she say that to Susan Schultheiss, my young German American friend? Did she say that to Scott Kilbourne, the people who were my classmates since kindergarten? Oh, no, no. She was saying it to me.

Now, what did it mean when the prom came around and we'd grown up together since kindergarten but suddenly now you're sexual beings and who was going to go to the prom with you. It's never been a problem. It becomes a problem. Word gets out in the community that this person you've gone to school with since you were five suddenly has been asked to go to the prom with you and her parents have come in and said, "we ain't racist but we can't allow this to happen." Oh, I understood. Oh, I understood but I understood in a way that a young person understands, you know. I wanted my privileges. I wanted a "normal" life but there were some things were not normal. It was something abnormal about my dad moving us into this environment. Even though we were in the free Yankee North there were differences.