Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Society

BOND: What about President Nixon?

OGLETREE: It was -- it's interesting. I was not political. You know, I was very young then. But the troubling aspect that you seem to be talking about in America, that didn't come to grips with me. There was a young brother who was from Washington, D.C., named John Fowler (ph.), who was also in the class. And the President was talking about how great America was, and the wonderful opportunities, and that everyone can be a leader. And I looked around the room. I said, "Well this is interesting. This is a large class of America's future leaders -- [there's] very few blacks, and very few women." And I noticed that.

And John Fowler, who had gone to school in D.C., said, "Well, that man's up at the White House, but I want to show you the other side of the postcard, because he says I'm going to a segregated school. I know how the police are treating black people here in Washington, D.C. and you should see what our church has to say." And I stayed over a couple other days to see a side of Washington, D.C., that the President hadn't talked about. And so, his aspirational view that "It's the greatest time in America, we should celebrate the republic and anyone can take advantage of opportunity," was in a sense, negated by the reality of what I saw in Washington, D.C., in 1972. It was a very different city that I saw when I went to southeast Washington than what he described when we were at the White House in northwest Washington.

BOND: I really find it interesting that Jack Anderson had this effect. I mean, I don't doubt it at all, but that, it's a wonder you didn't become a journalist.

OGLETREE: Well, you know it was very powerful, and it did have an impact on me when I went to Stanford, to the university, because that, that's the first thing I did. I became editor of the Real News newspaper, the black student newspaper, because I thought "Here is a way to get your message out." And so, it was a very effective lesson, and it was a very effective role model. But as I think about it, we were there for over a week. I didn't see a single black professional. I didn't see a black member of Congress. I didn't see a black lawyer or a black doctor or any black professionals. And so, to the extent that they were trying to have an impact on us, you would think that somebody would have appeared --

BOND: Sure.

OGLETREE: -- at that forum, or one of those forums where we were there for more than a week. And we were the future leaders, future issues, future leaders in government, that at least they would have cosmetically presented, "Here are some examples." But they probably didn't have any in 1972. Who could they call? The Black Caucus didn't exist, even though --

BOND: Right.

OGLETREE: -- there were a few representatives. There's very little representation at the national government. There was, there was no obvious Cabinet member with Nixon who could have come out and said something helpful. And so, it's actually interesting that may have been the difference between what America imagined was its persona and the reality of what it looked like in 1972 -- radically different.

BOND: Now --

OGLETREE: 1970, I'm sorry.