Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Discovering a Personal Career Path

BOND: Now, moving ahead, how'd you choose your career? I understand you had multiple majors in college. What did you -- what were your majors?


RASPBERRY: As I said, I started off as a math major, partly to please Mr. Gardner, my math teacher, and partly because my father, who taught building trades, would in a fairer world would've have been an engineer, I'm sure of that. And I thought maybe I could be that engineer that Dad couldn't become. Because, see, here was my disease. They had filled me with confidence that I was smart enough to do whatever I set my mind about doing and I really believed that. I was halfway through college before I found out it wasn't true. I ran into organic chemistry and discovered that I couldn't do anything I wanted to do.


At any rate, I thought I could do whatever I put my mind to but I didn't know what I wanted to do and I found myself reacting to what people I cared about and who cared about me said I should do. "Oh, you're good in math, you should be a math major." "You're really good with English. You can spot a gerund or a participle phrase across the campus, you ought to be an English major." So, I was an English major for a time.


I was -- at one point, I was a history major because somebody said something else, and then at one point some people came around to say that the church, the Episcopal church, needed priests. They invited a bunch of us males off to visit Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia -- my first time in Washington, in fact -- to tell us that if we thought we could be a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer but also thought we could be a priest, we ought to give that some consideration. So, I became a priest seminarian and was going to be become an Episcopal priest except that I was running out of money for school. Scholarships were not quite as prevalent then as they are now, and I had to work my way through college and this particular summer, it was between my junior and senior years, I'd had trouble finding a job and my re-entry into school that September was in doubt.


It was July already and I was sweating it. And that July day, a friend of mine who worked for the Indianapolis Recorder called and said, "The sports editor just quit. If you're willing to pass yourself off as a sports writer, I think I can get you hired." So I went down to the Recorder and told Mr. [George P.] Stewart I was a sports writer and got hired that day.


BOND: Were you a sports writer?


RASPBERRY: I wasn't a writer of any sort. I didn't know anything about sports. I mean, I liked sports, but -- and it took him about a week to discover that I really wasn't his next sports editor. But I was by then very good with subject verb agreements. See, I'd been an English major for a little while. And Mr. Stewart liked that and I had one other quality that he absolutely adored -- my willingness to work for the minimum wage. So he put me on that July and when September came around and it was time to go back to school, he came to me and said, "Go and find out what your school schedule is and any hours you're not working, I mean, you're not in school, you can work here." He gave me a Leica IIIF 35mm camera and said, "Go learn how to take pictures." And he just sort of gave me my head and let me learn to be a journalist and it was -- I spent four years at that place.


I went back to school that fall and then worked at the Recorder and went to school for a while. Then when I finished school, I stayed there until I got drafted in the Army, so the Indianapolis Recorder was my fourth -- my fifth major. That was my journalism major although I never took a journalism course in school. It was my J school.