Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Rural Foundational Experiences and Race

BOND: Now, I wonder if the — maybe I’m reaching here, that the farm experience also helped to push you in this direction because you’re exposed to life and death and birth among the farm animals, that you get an exposure to blood and to other things that other kids might not have had.

PINN: That’s true. I didn’t think about that, but you’re probably right. I spent a lot of time — and I would spend especially all my summers up through high school down on my grandparents' farm in rural Virginia. And I did get exposure to many other aspects of caring — caring for animals, caring for people, the isolation of people in rural America, rural Virginia, the lack of access to physicians, how you had to go way out and you had to wait for somebody with a car or somebody to take you on horse to get to that access for health care. But I think probably, you know, not so much the experiences of blood and birth and dying, what I think I have mostly carried with me from those experiences on my grandparents' farm in rural Virginia are humble circumstances and how people live in various states of — I don’t want to say poverty because I don’t like to think of it being a state of poverty, but, you know, I remember when my grandparent’s farm did not have running water. I remember the well. You wouldn’t dare go to a well now with the contamination, but then we had wonderful well water. I remember the outhouse. But then I’d go to my citified, shall we say, grandparents in Lynchburg and there the circumstances were not quite as modest, you know, they were — they certainly had — were living what you’d call the big city life if you could call life in Lynchburg a big city. But I think I carried with me all these years those experiences from very humble and down-to-the-earth experiences and of those people who lived out in that rural area and what they had to face, and I hope it’s made me a better person because I know from whence I came and the people that helped me and supported me all the way from when the roads were muddy and my mother was coming to pick me up from my grandparents, my grandfather would put me on the back of a horse and ride me up to the main road so my mother could pick me up for the weekend, so those kind of experiences I think stay with you, and my grandmother — my grandfather was a carpenter. They had a farm.

My grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse and I can still remember going with her to those experiences — experiencing visiting with her there until she had so many children she didn’t — she’d just go to substitute but I can remember that.

I guess when you think back and remember all of this was a segregated society, but in the rural parts of Virginia, segregation didn’t mean as much in every-day life because people were all trying to survive. And I think we learned some lessons from that, too.