Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Segregation

BOND: What was the atmosphere like -- let me take you back to Virginia Union -- what was the atmosphere like among your classmates and colleagues? You know you're living in this segregated system. But Brown has come along and you know there's going to be some kind of change. What are you and your classmates in college thinking about the role you might play in this change?

MARSH: I don't think we were thinking about it like that. You know, we grew up with segregation. We didn't like it. We resented it, we were disgusted by it. But we accepted it because it was the law. I guess the way it affected us directly was we had to ride the bus to school. We had to get up from our seats and move to the back of the bus when white people got on the bus. My sister and I rode the same bus. They didn't bother me as much. But when she had to get up to give her seat to a white man because they had gotten to that point on the bus, it infuriated me. I mean, I was disgusted by it because I knew she had to get up because she was black. I didn't like getting up myself. But when I saw her get up, it really bothered me. Those were the kind of things that -- we couldn't shop in stores, downtown department stores, restrooms.

When I went to Miami, Florida, for the first time with my fraternity brothers, it was in 1954. And I joined the fraternity, and my faculty advisor's society would treat me and my buddy to a trip to Miami. On the way down there when we stopped in a service station to go to the restroom, the owner said, "Nigger, niggers don't use these restrooms. Get out of there. Don't you go in that restroom." I hadn't faced anything like that before. It was shocking. I had to hold myself until I got to -- in the woods to go to the restroom. In certain places we had to eat. I used to drive for a living when I was in college. I used to chauffeur an owner of a tobacco company around, because I loved driving, still from my desire to be a driver. He would take me to the finest clubs, country clubs, around. He would take me to the chef and say, "This is Henry. Give him the best food in the house." And they would prepare me a scrumptious meal in the kitchen. But he and his wife and the secretary would eat out front in a restaurant. When we went to Durham, he would put me up with the finest African American families. But I couldn't stay in the hotel where they stayed. In fact, I met the Fishers in Durham -- one of the finest families in Durham. I stayed with them because he made sure I had the best of everything. But you know, I was segregated.