Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Geographic Identity

BOND: Let me take you back before then. Here you'd been living in Buffalo all this time and going back and forth — Buffalo, Niagara Falls. As you say it is the liberal North. Compared to North Carolina, it's extremely liberal. All of a sudden you find yourself not only going to school with black people and having black teachers but in the segregated South. What kind of a shock was that for you?

LEFTWICH: Well, the shock was — first of all, I knew all of this existed, I had read it —

BOND: Yes, but you hadn't lived it.

LEFTWICH: But I hadn't lived it. The first shock was as my father put me on the train taking me to North Carolina. He said to his friend, whoever it was, the Pullman porter, that I was getting off and changing trains in Washington. I remember distinctly the man said to my father, "Brother Scruggs, I'll take care of her. You know she's going to have to move in Washington." And he came and woke me up. It was almost midnight, and took my bags and took me to another car before we got to Washington so that I had a seat. But I was appalled. It was the middle of the night and somebody's moving me around. It was an outrage that was not born of ignorance. I knew that this happened. It was just experiencing it.

But when I got to college — you have to remember in those days, in loco parentis was really strong. You got on the campus and you were assigned a dormitory. And when you went off campus, and as you know, and I certainly remember fondly the campus of North Carolina Central was just beautiful. Everything you wanted was there and that was intentional because they didn't want their students wandering around Durham and getting in trouble, and being abused by people who were racist and who were bigoted and who would do things to them.

So that for my first year, except for the time my roommate or my friend who was from Philadelphia and I went shopping down in Durham and drank out of the water fountains because we knew they were white and we didn't need a sign to tell us, I rarely went off campus in my first year. And by the time I was a sophomore I was going around and doing news and government in North Carolina, and going to Raleigh and stuff like that, I had lived with people who had been from the segregated — there were very few Northerners on that campus. We all knew one another. I had lived with people whom I respected and loved who were from the South. Who told me what their experiences had been. I'd learned about it vicariously as I then gradually, then, to experiencing — to experience it.

But you know the educators at North Carolina Central had developed whatever rapprochement there was with the rest of the community. And they made sure that we stayed out of harm's way. So you didn't really do what students do now. You know, you didn't go wandering around the community until you were mature enough to be able to differentiate between a situation of danger and one where you could challenge. And it was — there were a lot of things that I learned. I never really adjusted. I have never since then lived in the deep South. We — my husband and I — had a business in Florida for two years which we sold in January because I hated being in the South. I hated it. And I still do. But what I experienced made me feel very strongly about equity and justice and doing away with segregation and doing away with people who do bad things to you and being a real advocate for change.