Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Congressman Rush, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.

RUSH: Thank you.

BOND: I want to begin with some questions about the Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka in 1954. You were eight years old.

RUSH: Eight years old.

BOND: I'm sure this is not something that you could remember occurring at the time, but if I'm not mistaken, you were attending an integrated school.

RUSH: I was attending an integrated school on the near north side in Chicago.

BOND: Benjamin Franklin Elementary.

RUSH: Yes, absolutely.

BOND: When you became aware that the Supreme Court had said that children, black and white children, would have to go to school together, did you have any idea of what this might mean, what it could mean?

RUSH: No, not really, because the school that I had been at was an integrated school in the city of Chicago. However, I began to reflect back on my earlier, you know, kindergarten and first grade and maybe even up to the second grade when I was in Albany, Georgia. I was born in Albany, Georgia, and when I heard about it, I thought that, well, there was something about that school — you know, I never had any white students in my classrooms in kindergarten. You know, at the time, you might remember, Dr. Hazard was the president of Albany State. And my first grade school, my kindergarten classes were held on the campus of Albany State. But it was all black. As it was occurring, I didn't know anything about it. It didn't really penetrate my consciousness, but when that decision was made and when I heard the adults in my life begin to discuss it, then it kind of made me reflect back on it, although at the time I was in an integrated school in the city of Chicago.

BOND: From today's perspective — today, 2005 — looking back, what has it turned out to mean?

RUSH: Well, really it's turned out to mean that we — that the promise was much clearer, that this nation really understood and that education for all was an inalienable right, that we all had an opportunity to be educated. That was the promise. You know, even today, though, Julian, you know, equality in education — we're still fighting the same kind of systemic wars that we were fighting. Maybe it's not segregation by race now, but it's certainly segregation by class now. In my city, we have a real serious problem in terms of the inequality for the funding of public education. And so — whereas there was a different mindset, we went to a certain point, we saluted the point, there was a victory for us — it was really somewhat, as I look back on it, not a shallow victory, but not a victory that gave us full rights and full equality for African Americans.