Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Parents

BOND: When you were a kid, a young kid going to grade school and high school and then on to college, who are the people who impacted your life, who helped direct your life, who made Henry Marsh what Henry Marsh is today?

MARSH: Well, my father and my mother, of course, had a hand in it.

BOND: Sure. But how so they particularly? I mean, everybody's parents shape their lives.

MARSH: Well, my mother died when I was five years old, so my father sent me to live with an aunt and an uncle in rural Virginia. And they basically raised me from -- I have vague memories of my mother, but very vague. My aunt and uncle were my quasi parents. They raised me. They were strict disciplinarians. They sent me to a one-room school five miles away. And literally, I actually walked to school everyday, five miles, which meant in the early morning we had to leave about six o'clock to get to school. And I walked to a one-room school with seven grades and one teacher and seventy-eight pupils. So it was difficult to get a good education. This teacher did a tremendous job. And when I was in the fifth grade, my father brought his family back together and moved them back to Richmond. I went for the first time to school where I had a separate teacher for that grade. The Richmond public school system did a good job with me. I mean, I was raw material, and they helped me, and so I got a good education in a segregated school system. But I had dedicated teachers.

And my father was an inspiration to me. Your question initially was the impact of my parents. After my mother died, my father worked at night to get the resources to get his children back together and brought us back together in Richmond. And I was in the fifth grade, my sister was in the sixth grade, my younger brother was in the third grade, and my youngest brother was staying in Newport News with another aunt. He brought him back. So the four of us were together. While we were in school my father went back to college. He had stopped college to marry my mother. And we were in school and he was in college, working twelve hours a day as a waiter in a restaurant, continuing his education until he got his degree. So he didn't have to tell us to study. We saw what he was doing. Everyone else in my class and my family was a genius except me. They were all straight-A students. And I was a B+ student. I was the black sheep in the family, so to speak. And that's how I was inspired to – I was never as smart as my sister or my brothers.

BOND: Did the father and children do homework together? Study together?

MARSH: No, because he worked from twelve-midnight -- from twelve-noon to twelve-midnight. We did our homework on our own, but we always did our homework. I had a morning paper route so in the evenings I could do my homework.

BOND: But he – you knew he was a student.

MARSH: Oh, he studied.

BOND: Just as you were a student.

MARSH: He studied before he went to work. He studied because he got off at midnight, got home at one o'clock and slept and got up in the morning and studied. When we were going off to school he was getting up to study. But we didn't study together.

BOND: But you had that example --

MARSH: Oh, yes.

BOND: -- of him being a student held up before you.