Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Teachers

BOND: What about particular teachers? Any particular teachers make a mark on you?

MARSH: Yes. Miss Owens in the fifth grade, my fifth grade teacher. And Miss Woods was my sixth grade teacher at George Mason school. And my principal, Mr. Joseph Bright, who's now deceased. When I came to Richmond, I'd been skipped in the country because I was smarter than a lot of the kids. So I was in the 5-H instead of the 5-L. They were semesters. So Mr. Bright called me into his office and said, "Henry, I can put you in the sixth low or I could put you back in the fifth. You skipped a half a grade." He said, "Now, you really ought to go back and get it good. But if you want to I'll put you ahead. I think you can compete." He said, "Don't you want to go back and get it good?" I said, "Yes, sir." So he put me back to 5-L, which meant I caught the twelfth grade because they were instituting the twelfth grade, which meant I got an extra year to go to school. And months later I found out what he had done. I said he tricked me. He cheated me out of a year. But when I got to high school, I appreciated that year. When I got to algebra and geometry I said, "Thank God for that extra year." When I got to college, I appreciated that extra year. So he was concerned enough and smart enough to know that this young boy coming from a country school needs an extra year. And I caught twelfth grade, and I had five years of high school instead of four, and I needed every minute of it.