Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Brown: Personal Impact

BOND: As you look back from this perspective of forty-nine years what if anything did it mean to you personally over this time?

LEFTWICH: Well, it's interesting. When I think about that, at the time I didn't think it meant much because I was a junior in college. So I was on my way —

BOND: This is going to be the lower schools —

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: — and not affecting you.

LEFTWICH: But, when I think about the fact that that same year I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship from North Carolina — realize I lived — my home was in Buffalo, New York. I'd been born in Niagara Falls and grew up in Buffalo. My family was still in Buffalo, and I was in school in North Carolina. But when you apply for a Fulbright Fellowship, you apply from the school in which you are enrolled. And I applied from North Carolina Central University. I was awarded a fellowship. I was the first person from North Carolina Central ever to be awarded a fellowship. I was the first African American from North Carolina to be awarded a fellowship. I was the first person from Buffalo, New York. And when you think that that was just forty-nine years ago, that had to have been in part inspired, in part encouraged by what was being projected as a shift in social behavior and social policy brought on by the Brown decision.

So, while I certainly was competitive and I, of course, throughout my life I think my parents' instructions to be better than anybody else because that was the way to ensure some measure of equality in a segregated and discriminating world. So I think that, I don't think there was any question that I merited it, but why — there had been eight straight-A students before me who had applied who did not win. So there has to have been some impact, some effect of the Brown decision on a lot of things like that, and I think that for me, the Fulbright Fellowship and the access to this whole new environment of learning and of interaction — I think that that was afforded in part by what was happening nationally, by the fact that the Supreme Court said, “You can't discriminate against people because it's unconstitutional.”