Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Brown: Impact Over Time

BOND: Now with the perspective of 49 years…looking back

LEFTWICH: Don’t say that word…

BOND: How does Brown look to you now.? What about that promise that you thought  would be fulfilled?

LEFTWICH: As is true with any profound social policy and that’s what that was -- it was difficult to see some of the ramifications.  For example, while we thought that there would be an impact on the faculty, for example,  in schools like North Carolina Central University, I don’t think anybody really could fathom the extent to which the brain drain would then occur and colleges and universities campuses where we had rubbed shoulders  with and been in close association – intellectual and social association -- with the thinkers in the African American community -- these college campuses were about to lose some of the jewels of those educational institutions to the larger society and yet I talked about in this editorial the need to have courage to take advantage of the promise of Brown and I certainly didn’t remember this but when I looked at that editorial it says that it’s going to require that we push the skin of that envelope -- that we force Brown to be applied as was intended by the Supreme Court and we that had to do that by going to the doors of the schools which had not admitted blacks -- taking the risk, having parents feel that it was a good thing to send their children to environments which they considered and had every reason to believe would be fundamentally hostile.

BOND: At the same time that you could have predicted that some of your teachers  would end up at UNC or some other school over the passage of time, I read a study a while ago of lower school education in North Carolina:  it described the devastating impact of Brown.  High schools principals who were black reduced from the thousands to less than a hundred and in the  lower schools from the thousands to even less than half a hundred – tremendous loss of personnel – and these people don’t go to white schools;  they’re just  out of jobs.

LEFTWICH:  They’re just out of jobs…

BOND:  Now could  you have predicted – did you think  that would happen?

LEFTWICH: I didn’t think that would happen.  I thought there would be more equity in the process of implementing Brown --  that the barriers which you’ve just described  that confronted people who were moving out of the segregated black schools and institutions -- those barriers would also be lowered  so that there would be equal access for people who were then integrating – you know that was the word those days – integrating the system and that they would not be penalized – that they would not be  marginalized by almost reverse discrimination efforts of the larger school systems   -- and it was almost cynical  -- to say you know, you want equal schools – we’ll show you what equal schools are about.  We’re taking  the jobs and the people who are in these jobs can do go do something else – somewhere else.    

BOND: This study also talked about another kind of loss.  This was the loss of the schools themselves – the trophies, the athletic accomplishments, the academic accomplishments, the history, the Saturday night football games – all that wiped away – not completely but all that wiped away at least in North Carolina but quite probably in other states as well.

LEFTWICH:  It was in North Carolina because there’s something that I think is missed in the recollection of the decision and the impact and that is that there had been agitation going on prior to ‘54 for equity . For example, the University of North Carolina had been inviting students to come and do student exchange – I was involved in a student exchange at UNC;  Duke University which was in the same town as North Carolina Central had been involved in having students from NCC there and vice versa. So there was this movement underway to make the systems more accessible --  mutually accessible --   and I think that  that having been the case, it was assumed that the same patterns of equity and camaraderie that had pertained prior to Brown would just be continued and  would be heightened.  I don’t think that anybody thought that –you  talk about the football – the talent drain as the football players then went other places in North Carolina --  I don’t think that – that just wasn’t expected.  I just don’t think that was expected. And yet, when you think about it, it probably should have been because some of the more talented students – those who were not as risk averse as people tend to be – had already explored going to other schools that were not segregated.  For example, I’m sure you remember that University of Iowa, University of Minnesota have a long tradition of having African American students there.  And I knew athletes who went there because they got some good offers to play football.  So you know, we should have known that there was going to be almost a sea change from the perspective of the African American community. I don’t think the sea change – in some places it still hasn’t occurred – you still have this unequal – this imbalance that we thought was going to be corrected because of Brown.  And you have another kind of imbalance, which is the Balkanization that has come about by segregation in living or discrimination in living combinations, access to communities, Balkanization of communities by race.  The New York Times did a study a couple of years ago that showed that in the last decade, there were more communities that had some representative numbers of blacks and whites depending on where you looking than there are now and there are more communities that are exclusively either black or white than there have ever been. So those are things that continue to impact where people go to schools and what kind of school and what kind of education they have  in  addition to what was the intentional undermining, I think,  of an easy and fair transition in southern states in the implementation of the Brown decision.