Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Literature

OGLETREE: At the same time, I started having teachers in the fourth grade, and then in junior high and high school, who started steering me toward reading. And I fell in love with reading. It was my way out. That is, that I couldn't be at these places, but I would read these books and they would place me in worlds that I had never imagined before. Whether it's Gulliver's Travels, whether it's Robinson Crusoe -- I just started reading and getting a sense about the world.

And as I recall, vividly, that I would go to the public library, check out all these books. The librarian and I had a mutually respectful relationship. She'd give me all these books. And she would just be thrilled with the fact that I would come back and tell her what I had learned. She would give me these little gold stars of how many books I would read a week. And I would go home, and would hear the train, going through Merced, the Southern Pacific going north to south or south to north at night. And I imagined being on that train. And I dreamed dreams that seemed unimaginable. That I could go places that seemed unimaginable before.

I could be somebody that I wasn't. I was no longer black or poor. I was an explorer. I was a creator. I was an astronomist. I mean, I was all those things that I had read about. And finally it sort of relieved and removed the chains, the shackles that I thought I had had on my mind. It made me imagine then, as a young person who could read and who had confidence, I could do anything. And that confidence was fixed in me. And then it reached the heights that I was trying to then, perhaps mistakenly, tell my parents, "Wait a minute. You should read more. You should appreciate this. You should understand."

BOND: And what their reaction?

OGLETREE: A little bit of embarrassment and discomfort. My mother went all the way to tenth grade before she dropped out. But my father had learned to read by grabbing newspapers, but he had never had any formal education. And so, I couldn't give him the book and ask him to read it. It was embarrassing to him.

BOND: Sure.

OGLETREE: And I didn't quite realize it, but I was so excited. How do you share? It should have been the other way --

BOND: Yeah.

OGLETREE: -- parent reading to child. And I'm not criticizing them. I'm criticizing the system that deprived them of the education that they could have had, that would have helped the next generation of children to move forward, and the system denied that opportunity to them.

BOND: But still you mentioned a moment ago that they encouraged you to read --


BOND: And to study and to learn. They knew this was valuable. This would be good for you.