Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Congressman Rangel, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership. We appreciate you taking this time.

RANGEL: Thank you for your patience with me.

BOND: No, not at all. I want to start out with some questions about Brown v. Board of Education. What did it mean to you when you first heard that the Supreme Court had made this ruling?

RANGEL: I was not overly impressed. I am afraid that if there’s a room in heaven reserved for leaders or black leaders, it would not surprise me if I wasn’t on that invitation or list. I had felt that Thurgood Marshall and those in the NAACP were struggling so hard against the odds that this country was so steeped in racism, that when it got to the point that there was a national victory in the United States Supreme Court, I -- who was still not a high school graduate -- was not overly impressed with the Court. And unlike so many of my Southern friends, as my wife ofttimes reminds me, I had less relationship with white folks than Southerners did, so all my life has been Harlem. So I got out the Army in ’52, went back to high school. I just started New York University, and quite frankly, I was more concerned about getting out of the hell hole that I was in than being able to appreciate the historic nature of that great Supreme Court victory.

BOND: So if it didn’t mean much to you then, what do you think it has meant as of right now? What has the effect been?

RANGEL: That at least the Court knows what is right and what is wrong, but as a nation, I would be hell bent to find out what the hell has changed in terms of the segregation that I see in our public school system wherever I go. The inferiority of the education, the rates of high school dropouts. Theoretically, I think it makes a lot of sense that we moved forward on the law, but just as though I heard in 1948 that Truman had desegregated the Army, it wasn’t my Army. I was there ’48, ’49, ’50, ’51 and they told me we were desegregated, but I was getting shot at in Korea in a black outfit with white officers and it never entered my mind their lack of sincerity.