Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Community

BOND: I was thinking as you're talking about these experiences that the black world of educated people is relatively small then. And you're fortunate that your father, a mortician, your grandfather, physician, your mother, a teacher, all belonged to networks that made them know other people like them in other town and cities around the United States. I don't know if your father or your grandfather went to the conventions doctors had or the conventions morticians had of their professional association.

LEFTWICH: My father went to some. My father, though, was a Mason, a Shriner.

BOND: There you go.

LEFTWICH: He was the head of the Masons and the head of the Shriners. And he would go to these conventions, and he was an Elk and he was an Odd Fellow. When the conventions came to Buffalo it's a big convention town. So he would — and the way that people went to conventions in those days — this is interesting — is that there was this network of homes because you couldn't stay in the hotels if you were African American. We had a home that had rooms in it that my mother made available to conventioneers. And so the network grew because you would meet people who were from other places who would stay in your home and everyone knew they were staying in your home. They were like family. And they were treated like family. My grandfather had made notes to write another book about the World's Fair in Chicago. So he was out there wandering around making notes and looking at the women's pavilions and all of these kinds of things. So he was having tangents with other people who weren't necessarily in his professional circle, but he had traveled and he knew people from other places. So you're right. I think that my mother was involved with the companion organizations of the Masons, Eastern Star. I can't —

BOND: Daughters of Isis.

LEFTWICH: Daughters of Isis, Daughters of Isis. She was also a Lady Elk. She was president of one of the — women who wear the white around their heads — so you can see don't — but she helped found the sorority, branch chapter of Iota Phi Lambda in Buffalo. So we had all these tangents that — right, that helped me and my brother and my sisters as we ventured forth. There were, there was always somebody, like you mentioned, there was always somebody you called when you went to another city.

BOND: Yes, that you knew and your parents knew.

LEFTWICH: And somebody that my parents knew. "Call up Mrs. So-and-So and tell her you're, tell her you're my daughter. And let her know that you're there." Even when I went to college in addition to Dr. Edmonds, there was a doctor there. My family doctor was Dr. Scruggs also. We're not sure there was any relationship but he had been my father's friend forever. And Dr. Scruggs called up a physician in Durham who was a friend of his and said, "We've got Yvonne coming down. I want you to look after her." And so when I got to Durham I called them up and the Palmers, Dr. Palmer, and went over and I would go there sometimes.

You know how college students never have enough to eat?

BOND: Yes.

LEFTWICH: I would go over there. That pattern sort of continued. When I went to the University of Minnesota, Carl Rowan was in Minneapolis writing for the paper there. Carl Rowan's wife is from Buffalo. She was the daughter of — or is the daughter of a family, a large family the sister of which was the head of the Urban League and the brother of which family was my mother's physician. So when I went to Minnesota, I called up Carl Rowan because Vivian was his wife and "I'm from Buffalo. Mother said to call you up." Went over there to — babysat Carl Rowan, Jr., babysat the daughter. There is this network, and it developed because two things. Because we did not have access to the major support, commercial institutions that people — that non-black people, white people and other people — relied on when they moved from city to city. And because it was dangerous. It could be dangerous out there.

BOND: Yeah.

LEFTWICH: And it could be dangerous not in the terms that we use today. It could be dangerous because you were an African American who was not usually in the community that was typically African American. And there needed to be somebody there who knew you were there, whom you could call if anything went wrong. What did that mean? It could have been anything.

BOND: Yeah. It could have been anything. You could have lost your luggage.

LEFTWICH: Could have been — yeah, just a simple thing. But you don't want to be in a town with no money, in a town where you don't know someone, in a town where they can't reach your parents.