Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Undergraduate

BOND: So, Stanford is a new experience for you. It's different than anything you've experienced before and you feel differently about who you are and -- how did you begin to feel at home there?

OGLETREE: Well, it's a different world. First, for the first time, I had my own room, right? I had grown up with three brothers, bunk beds or the floor. I had access to a bathroom that wasn't shared by six people. I had a shower as opposed to a bathtub. I had privacy. I had three meals a day, and the most dangerous thing, I had total independence, right? That could be, a benefit or a burden. It turned out to be a benefit, but it could have been just the opposite. I met smart black people from all over the country, met people who were musicians, who were scientists, who were other artists, who were brilliant in economics. I had never seen so many black people with so much talent in one place. And so I was overwhelmed, and -- "What the world am I doing here?" At the other hand, there were two --

BOND: But you were smart.

OGLETREE: But I didn't know it. It's sort of like I -- to me that was not a factor. I did what needed to be done, but I had not seen, in those classes in the high school, people like me. I was the exception, and here at Stanford I was part of a broader class. So, it was empowering. It was intimidating. It was empowering to see, "Wow, this is what the world is about." And I had been sheltered from that world from my upbringing. So, it was nice to see that at Stanford.

At the same time, there were two experiences at Stanford that were defining moments in terms of what Brown meant. This is 1971, seventeen years after Brown, so, you would think that we made a lot of progress. When we met somebody at Stanford that I found to be very troubling, it was a guy by the name of William Shockley. And most people know him as a brilliant physicist, the inventor, or one of the co-inventors, of the transistor that received the Nobel Prize. But there was a dastardly and dangerous side of Shockley as well. He was a Stanford professor who advocated theories about eugenics, that whites were genetically superior to blacks.

And it even argued that there should be federal support to sterilize black women so that they would not have children because that would endanger the future population of the race. And so, Shockley was one of these people who I had to confront as a Stanford student. Here I was, arrived at Stanford, the mecca of higher education, and having to have a faculty member tell me that we didn't belong there because we were black. I thought those days were over with Brown, but we revisit them again in 1971 and '72. We had him debate two African American professors, Cedric Clark and Philip McGee. And they made him look ridiculous. But that's what he wanted. He wanted the publicity We had a packed room of two thousand people, black and white. And after he was beat up so bad, he had another theory -- "Okay. You're right. I may not be right about the genetics of you, about blacks, but I want some federal support for a new project."

What was his new project? He wanted to get federal money to study the black students at Stanford because he believed that we probably had more white genetics in us than the normal black. That explained why we were at Stanford. So, that was the Shockley experience.

BOND: So, he had it right either way?

OGLETREE: Exactly, exactly. And so, that's the Stanford experience. I also -- my political education came about because Angela Davis was arrested. She was held at the women's detention center in Palo Alto right across the street from Stanford. And I met her. We would raise money, raise funds, and she became a huge influence in my decision to go to law school, because here was a black woman who was going to trial for serious murder charges and conspiracy charges, and she had the original dream team. She had Howard Moore, a black lawyer --

BOND: That's my brother-in-law.

OGLETREE: Yes? And she had Harold [Leo] Branton, from L.A., whose brother Wiley Branton who argued the Cooper v. Aaron case in desegregated Arkansas. She had [Doris] Brin Walker, communist lawyer and one of the first black woman, white woman lawyers in California. And the last member of the team was Margaret Burnham who was a young woman who had gone to school and grew up with Angela in Alabama, who worked for the NAACP in New York. And, you know the, your organization's history --

BOND: Yeah.

OGLETREE: She wanted to go represent Angela Davis, they said it was not a relevant case --

BOND: Right.

OGLETREE: She quit her first job.

BOND: It was her first case, yeah.

OGLETREE: She quit her first job. Can you imagine the courage of a young lawyer just admitted to practice, leaving her job to go save a friend's life?

BOND: Well, you know they wouldn't represent me when I got put out of the legislature. But that's another story.

OGLETREE: That, that's the old NAACP. Things have changed.

BOND: Yeah.

OGLETREE: Right. And so, that was an experience too. Going there and seeing the Angela Davis trial. We were all prepared in June 1972 when the jury was coming back, we assumed that she was going to get convicted because it was -- Ronald Reagan was our governor, this conservative element. Nixon was in the White House. And what chance did she have? Well, the jury came back and found her not guilty of all charges. We had to radically change our plans. We had something else planned. I can't tell you what it was, but the good news, we had to turn what we thought was going to be a devastating defeat into a celebration.