Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: I'm going to begin with some questions about Brown v. the Board of Education and then come to some personal information. Do you remember hearing about the Brown case when it was decided on May 17, 1954?


MARSH: Yes. All of us knew that Brown was pending. And at the moment, the day the decision came down, I was working in a restaurant on Broad Street in Richmond. And I was a dishwasher, and I came out to the front of the restaurant with a tray of glasses. I was, of course, a college student and the young men out front were high school students, and they were serving ice cream, and I was back there with the hot dishwashing machine. And as I brought the glasses out they looked at me sort of funny. And I said, "What's wrong?" They didn't say anything. I went back to the back and turned my radio on, and the announcer was announcing, "Today the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education. From now on race segregation in public education is illegal." I knew why the young men were looking at me funny. So I felt different. I mean, I knew about the case. So when I heard that the decision was announced I knew that that was a change, and that in a little while college students wouldn't be sweating over dishwashing machines while high school students, making twice as much would be scooping ice cream.

BOND: Did you and the high school students, who were white, did you talk about it in the immediate aftermath then? Was there any discussion about it?

MARSH: No. They looked funny. And I felt good, I felt pleased that something was happening.

BOND: When you got back to college what about your classmates and your schoolmates?

MARSH: Oh, everyone was excited. Everyone was very excited. I was attending Virginia Union. Of course, an African American college. The students were extremely excited that this decision had come down.

BOND: Now what did you think then that this would mean and when did you think it would mean something?

MARSH: I thought that perhaps in a couple years the public schools in Virginia and Richmond and in the nation would be desegregated, and segregation in employment and other things would break down. In the beginning, I thought certainly in four or five years the long struggle would be over.

BOND: And when did you have your first hint that Virginia would engage in what we now call massive resistance? When did you know that was about to happen or was going to happen?

MARSH: When I read the Richmond Times Dispatch the next morning.

BOND: The very next morning. So May 18.

MARSH: The newspaper predicted the end of the world. And white political leaders began to declare war on the Supreme Court. I mean, it was clear that they weren't going to die gracefully. "They" being the segregationists.

BOND: Did you imagine that they would go so far as close -- actually close -- public schools?

MARSH: No. I was brought up under the Virginia system, Virginia values. We respected the law. And that's probably one reason why we sort of tolerated segregation, because it was the law, and we figured that everybody would go by the rules. So we thought that in a matter of time this would change. I had no idea Virginia would go to the lengths that it went to.