Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential Teachers

BOND: Now, besides these academics and your own parents and teachers, I guess, are there other figures in your early life that had an impact on you?


RASPBERRY: They are -- and there are such people, and I will miss some of them, but let me name one by way of illustrating a point that I think is important. We talk to our youngsters today as early as junior high and we tell them the importance of studying and staying in school and making good grades because a college graduate earns this much and a high school graduate only earns this much and a high school dropout only earns this much, so you see how important it is that you stay in school and do well. And I roll back to my childhood and I think I did not study a single hour or write a single paper or pass a single examination with an eye on my economics twenty years down the road. It just wasn't a part of my thought process. You know, for kids, long-term is the weekend after next.


I worked hard in school to please adults who cared about me -- my parents of course, but Mr. Gardner was my math teacher and he was a wonderful man and he liked me and I was so -- it was so important for me to have him think well of me that I wanted to ace his algebra courses. And I did so well under Mr. Gardner that my first major when I went away to college was math. I just thought I wanted to be like Mr. Gardner.


There were other people on campus. One man who taught me agriculture. You know, I didn't learn that much about cover crops and that kind of thing, but he was the only teacher I remember who would take us high school boys aside and talk to us about life, which is to say about sex, and it was profoundly important to us because we weren't getting it anywhere else. I wasn't, God bless them, getting it -- I was not getting it from my parents at home. My parents never, I think, uttered the word sex to any of their five children. We never had the talk. I thought I was the only one who missed it, but I talked to my older sisters and they said, "No, no, no." What they would do in those important phases arose, they would find little tracts and books and magazines and leave them lying around in the living room confident that we'd find them and read them.


BOND: You'd pick them up.


RASPBERRY: But they never uttered the word.