Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Segregation

JONES: All of the segregated water signs I would see where I'm going to church in the bus – you know, we all had to sit in the back of the bus – the fear in the neighborhood when the police came through with their guns on their hips. They were all white. You know, just the impact of racism on the African American community was pervasive. It was profound and it was never ending, you always saw it, and so then I made the connection between law and change. You know? Law and --

BOND: How do you make that connection?

JONES: Well, I had --

BOND: I mean, you had this experience in court that most children don't have.

JONES: Most children don't have -- people would go down to the police station and you never see them again. That would happen. People go down there and you just never know what happened to them.

BOND: Right.

JONES: You know and then the stories that you would hear about, and police are part of law, you know. I was looking for a way. I said, "How can I make this difference?" And then Thurgood Marshall. Then Thurgood Marshall. I later had a teacher who had been -- Thurgood Marshall brought a lawsuit when he was General Council in NAACP in the mid-'30s on equalization, teacher equalization of salary, for North Carolina and Virginia that was a black tax. You know, black teachers got one thing because you were black and white teachers of similar qualifications got much more because they were white. And he first brought those cases in North Carolina, then he brought them in Virginia. One of my teachers had been one of his lead plaintiffs in the Virginia case -- in the Virginia case, Allen v. Hicks. And so she would talk about Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP. And so --

BOND: So this was not a history lesson; this was first-hand experience?

JONES: Oh no, she would just talk about it in class. She wasn't a history teacher.

BOND: That's so interesting because when the sit-ins come along, one of the original sit-in students at North Carolina A&T had a high school teacher who was on the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, you know, the predecessor, and so this information is just transmitted and the same thing is happening to you, and I guess happening all over the country, all over the South, anyway.

JONES: It was, I'm sure it was, because people were affected, you know. The litigation was that we couldn't do anything with the executive branch, we couldn't even get an anti-lynching law. We had no hope, you know, in the Congress with the Southern senators in the position of authority. So the only place we could go at that point was the court, you know. And the courts weren't always responsive, but once in a while you could get a semblance of justice. And so, she would talk about that because they won that case, and that had a profound impact on her, you know. And I happened to get her class.

BOND: And so -- and it had a profound impact on you.

JONES: It did.

BOND: And Thurgood Marshall was a well-known name.


BOND: I mean, you knew who Thurgood Marshall was, and everybody knew who he was.

JONES: You knew who he was. That's right.

BOND: Now you also talked about your parents being refused hotel rooms.

JONES: Yes, well -- in my household there was a certain awareness. You know, my father was a Pullman porter. That was the first black trade union for blacks, and A. Philip Randolph would come home with him when they came off the railroad.

BOND: Oh really?

JONES: Oh yes. They'd come off the railroad and he'd come up to the kitchen. You know, Pullman porters were close and the brotherhood of Pullman porters, and Daddy would -- I mean he was very active and vocal and people gathered around and -- because I, as a little girl, you know, I met A. Philip Randolph. But with my father, being on the railroad, decided, "I want my kids to see something of the country." And so mother said, "Good idea, and I can get a break. You know I will not go." And she wouldn't. So when I was around ten or so, they packed us up and we took the first trip to Chicago on the train. Daddy could get passes and the three of us – my brother's three years older, my sister, three years younger – and here we are. We get to Chicago and we can't find a hotel. We go to the Y and the people look at us and look over the desk at the three of us, and say, "No room." And you know that's not the case with somebody just before just checked in!

BOND: Right.

JONES: We're walking from hotel to hotel, these three little kids and my father in his uniform trying to find -- and that -- oh, that did something to me. That did something to me. And so, he eventually had to find one of his railway buddies who happened to be at a house, and that's where we ended up. You know, and it was just unconscionable, just unconscionable, and then you would know growing up what would happen if you took a trip across country. Wherever we tried to travel, you couldn't go anywhere without planning that trip. Just because of rigid segregation. And so I said, "This system is wrong, and Elaine, you know, somehow, you're going to make some contribution to change it. I don't know what it is, but you're going to make some contribution to change it."