Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education and Gender: Teachers as Early Role Models

BOND: What about people outside the family? Teachers or people in the neighborhood, the community, who served as mentors or role models for you?

LEE: I have many. Of course, I have to say Shirley Chisholm.

BOND: I knew you would say Shirley Chisholm, but before that, earlier on.

LEE: Before Shirley Chisholm —

BOND: In high school, college.

LEE: I would say my second grade teacher, Mrs. Sammons; my music teacher, Ms. Buchanan; my music teacher, Ms. Nixon in El Paso. I had so many mentors and teachers in El Paso who encouraged me along the same path that my mother encouraged me. My music teacher, Julie Buchanan, at my school, was a white Irish woman, and my second grade teacher, Mrs. Sammons, was a white American woman. Ms. Nixon was part of the great Nixon family involved in the civil rights movement. Her husband was Dr. Nixon, a dentist, and she was my piano teacher every Saturday at home and these women — boy, they were tough on me, but they insisted that I learn how to read and write. Ms. Buchanan insisted that I learn how to sing and that I knew all of the Catholic kinds of rituals and music and what-have-you, and Mrs. Nixon at home made sure that I knew all the gospel songs and knew how to play the piano, and so it was just a wonderful kind of mix of women that I had in my life as a child who really helped me figure out who I was and where I was going.