Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of a Supportive Community

BOND: Were there teachers who had any influence on you?

RANGEL: There was a teacher named Nettie Messenger. She just passed away in L.A. She was a substitute teacher at PS 89. And I took her purse, just to get a little attention. And after she got all frustrated I gave it back to her, but I was in charge of my class and since substitute teachers had to know they weren’t in charge. But over the years she appreciated my spunk and even when I dropped out of school we stayed in touch with each other and seeing how proud she was when I went back to school, I would say, after I made the decision — yes. But, you know something as a substitute for all of this inspiration that a lot of people were able to have — when Lenox Avenue knew that I decided to become a lawyer, all of Lenox Avenue, all of the Lenox Avenue, all of the Hotel Theresa where I worked, everyone thought, "If this bum can do it for us — " I’m telling you, it — I mean, at the hotel, I was a desk clerk.

[Jackie] "Moms" Mabley and the rest of them that live there would insist that they stopped screaming and cursing when they saw me reading the book. When the FBI came to investigate when I was appointed as Assistant U.S. Attorney, everybody in the neighborhood said they didn’t know me. They, everybody and the judge — one judge that I had down there, a white guy, that was the father of a law student, he called me. He says, "Charlie, you got to tell the FBI the truth." I said, "Judge, I have a lot of problems. Which is the problem? I’ll be able to explain what it is. What is their problem?" He said, "Where you live." I said, "Judge, I got a lot of problems, a lot of problems, but where I live is not one of them." And I came home and the boys were on the block and they said, "What the hell are you doing here? The FBI’s been looking for you." And who was the FBI?

BOND: So they thought you would’ve run?

RANGEL: Yeah. Tall, white guy, crew haired and they carried these big tape recorders looking for Charlie Rangel on 32nd Street. I had to knock on doors of people that these hoodlums had gone to and say you don’t know Charlie and say, "Hey, it’s okay. I’m an Assistant U.S. Attorney." And like one guy says, "Yeah right, sure you are."