Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Memorable Moments

BOND: Let me ask you, do you remember any specific national or local historical events that were regularly discussed in your home around the dinner table? And if so, how did these events shape your consciousness?


RASPBERRY: Boy, that's a hard question because I haven't thought of it. Look, I was born in 1935, so my first memories of important national events were World War II and the impact of that on what we did, what we ate, what happened to cousins who went off to fight in the War and all of that.


BOND: Did you have a Victory Garden?


RASPBERRY: We had a survival garden. We always had a garden.

BOND: Okay.

RASPBERRY: Yeah, we had a garden and there were always a few chickens running around the yard. What we did have was black-out curtains. I remember at one phase of my life, we were living in a house that did not have electricity. We had kerosene lamps that were so dim you had to do a double take to see if anybody was home, and yet we bought these thick green or black black-out shades, and when the air raid warning siren went off, we dutifully lowered our blinds. I said, "The Japanese couldn't have found Okolona if we'd set the town on fire, you know, let alone -- and turning out the light," but we were dutiful and patriotic and cared about -- I mean, we didn't resent the fact that shoes and sugar and meat and candy bars were rationed. That was our little contribution to the war effort.


BOND: That was your part of the war effort.




BOND: What about other events after the War? Do you remember the War's end?


RASPBERRY: The War's end, yes. I remember sharing a celebratory mood. I didn't understand what any of this was about. I do remember wondering what will the headlines of the paper be now, because they were every day about the War. And I couldn't imagine what they used to be about. We didn't have as many dinner table conversations, or I didn't overhear as many adult conversations, about politics as we would now. Roosevelt, yeah, on the national level, but we were shut out of state and local politics. We knew vaguely who was running our lives but there was nothing that we could do about it.


My mother, by the way -- I was in college when my mother became the first black woman in Chickasaw County to register to vote.

BOND: Really?

RASPBERRY: I was already gone. So, I had a vague recollection of their interest in politics, but not strong. They used to talk a lot about how people behaved, and one of the things that I remember so well is that in this little -- I almost want to say, poverty-stricken home, for most of my childhood, there was at least one other person not a family member living with us to go to this little school on this campus I lived. So it became almost second nature that, you know, a spare bed would be put somewhere and another cup of water in the soup and this was what families did if they had a little to share and spare.


And I didn't realize what sort of impact this made on me personally until my wife and I found ourselves taking a thirteen-year-old foster son into our home some years ago because it seemed the natural thing to do. The kid, a decent kid, who needed a place to stay, needed a home, needed some parents. And I think what I'm saying is that little seeds get planted in ways that you don't even suspect and they will sprout at times and places that surprise you. You don't know and it makes me -- I'm almost glad I didn't know this early on. I mean, I think it would make you crazy as a parent if you really understood the influence of what your ordinary day-to-day behavior has on your children. I mean, it's scary, but it can be quite profound.