Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Shifts

BOND: How does Stanford enter the picture?

OGLETREE: Purely by accident, purely by accident. I graduated from high school in 1971. The trip to Washington was 1970. In my junior year, Miss Jackson was my counselor. She had gone to Stanford. And she called me and said, "Charles, you should start thinking about college. You're doing very well. I'd like you to consider applying to some colleges and now is the time." And I said, "Well, I'm going to apply to Merced Community College, and I'm going to apply to -- I think, I might apply to Occidental, I read a brochure. It looks like a beautiful campus."

And she said, "No, no. You could do better than that. You should apply to, at least Stanford, which is a great college." And I said, "Stanford? You know, I don't want to go all the way back to Connecticut." It was very cold back there. I wanted to stay home. And she looked at me, and then she started laughing. She said "Stanford's not in Connecticut, you fool. It's in California." I was embarrassed. I didn't know that Stanford existed. I'd heard of Harvard.

BOND: Yeah.

OGLETREE: I'd heard of Howard. But Stanford University was nowhere on my radar screen. There was no one that I knew that had gone there or that would go there. And there clearly had not been any African Americans in my community who had gone to a college like that. So, she embarrassed me into actually going to visit Stanford, and I did.

And I met there -- the first person I met -- was Rick Turner, who was in the African American admissions office. He startled me because he wasn't what I expected to see when I walked into the white institution, Stanford University. Here was a black man with a beard, didn't have a tie, had a silk shirt on with a leather coat, and he had a black leather bag, a purse that he carried with him. He said, "I'm Milton Turner. Welcome to Stanford."

I'm saying, "Now who is this? What is he doing here?" And he actually, when I realize that he was the -- not the gatekeeper, but the facilitator. He was looking for black talent far and wide. He was going to places like Compton High School. He was going to Merced. He was going to Detroit and Chicago. He was going to Houston. He was going to Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, he was going to Atlanta, and finding places where African Americans that would not be discovered by Stanford, would apply. And it was just transformative for me to meet him, talk to him, and he to be such an important role model.

And I had my moments at Stanford because I had this voice that people thought I was from the South. I was dressed like a black hillbilly. I say that with -- with pride and distinction. But, and I kept telling the people there who were from LA and New York, and Chicago and Houston, that I was from Merced. And they said, "Merced? Is that in the South?"


OGLETREE: They'd never heard of it, even Californians had never heard of it. And so, I had to overcome this defensiveness of being this guy, a black guy, from no place that black people ever come from, at Stanford, with people who'd come from prominent schools, prominent cities in the country, and who already had a sense about what they would take to go to college. But it was a wonderful introduction. And Rick Turner was the one who created that opportunity.