Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Family

BOND: Now, you said that your family was poor but you didn't know you were poor. Was there ever a time when you found out you were poor?

OGLETREE: There were times, there were a number of times. And here's why I thought we were poor. We -- my grandfather, the house we lived in, my parents and my siblings lived with my grandparents because we didn't have a separate house. This was actually a house that he built out of these two huge boxes, wooden boxes from a freight train, and we had an outhouse. I didn't know that plumbing was supposed to be on the inside of the house. It was fine. If you had to use the bathroom, you'd go outside. There was a wash tub. It was the way we lived.

And also they were resourceful. And so, we didn't know we were poor. We thought two things -- my family, my grandfather had some hogs and my grandmother had a vegetable garden, or fruit garden, in California. And there was no animal that we worshiped more than the hog. One, because it would take care of all of the garbage. There wasn't a whole lot of garbage left from the meal, you know, but you know, whatever junk you had, they would eat anything, number one. And number two, my grandfather would raise these hogs. My grandmother would cook them. And I didn't realize then that one animal could provide bacon and ham and pork chops and pig snouts, and pig's feet, and scrapple, and hog head cheese, and down and down, down the list that this -- we kept thinking about, "Oh there's something else you can do with that." Pork rinds --

BOND: Everything but the squeal.

OGLETREE: Every -- right! And that's exactly what happened. And it amazed me that one animal provided so much. Now, was it healthy? Of course not. But we were saying we were rich because we had that much. My grandfather would go hunting and kill rabbits. And so, he was always resourceful.

BOND: And he fished too?

OGLETREE: And absolutely. And that's where I learned fishing, watching my -- the patience. That's where I learned about patience because they gave me a pole, a cane pole, and they gave us a little bit of this wheat dough. That was the bait. And I would throw it in and no bite, and I'd pull it up. And I'd throw it in and no bite and I'll pull up. And he said, "Junior, be patient. The fish will come." I said, "But they're not biting." He said "Just be patient." Of course, he would hook the carp and pull it up. I'd go right back down where he was. I would sit there and nothing happened. And then he said, "Junior, be patient." I said, "I'm patient." And he'd pull up another one. And so, it taught it me a whole lot of lessons about that, and about patience, about a sense of confidence, and a sense of expectations. And I didn't -- he was teaching me fishing, but he was teaching me values far beyond fishing that I begin to appreciate. And also to have some time, quiet time to reflect and think. I didn't know what was going on in his mind. I would occasionally hear them talk about the old country. Unlike other families who were talking about the old country, talking about Italy or Spain or Belgium or France, they were talking about the South.

BOND: Right.

OGLETREE: And they were talking about it admiringly, in the sense remembering the days where they had very little and survived on it, but also talking about, "My God we're in a different place now." And so, I enjoyed listening to those conversations. I couldn't -- it was an adult conversation. But I eavesdropped because I wanted to get a sense of what their history was, and they were finally feeling California -- "We're beyond it. We're not where we were before." It was a very resourceful and useful time for me and my family.