Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career Opportunities and Networks: U-Penn and Howard University

BOND:  The University of Pennsylvania – You’re in Philadelphia – the University of Pennsylvania --does that naturally follow?

LEFTWICH:  Well, yes and no.  Working for the University of Pennsylvania was – you asked me about people who had been influential in my life.  And I named my parents.  Let me name the other people:  Dr. Charles Ray at North Carolina Central;  Dr. Helen Edmonds at North Carolina Central; and the man who is now Ambassador,  Horace Dawson, who was the advisor to the newspaper at North Carolina Central. 

In Philadelphia and for the rest of my life, Dr. Howard Mitchell,  who was at the time that I went to work for the Gray Areas project the Deputy Director -- Sam Dash, the lawyer – Sam was the Director - and Howard Mitchell was the deputy director.  And I came on as initially a planner and then became Assistant/ Associate Director.  Howard Mitchell then went back to the University of Pennsylvania, because he was a tenured professor.  He was doing this because he was such a brilliant man. 

And I worked around Philadelphia for a while but then --, I have always wanted to reflect on what have done.  And I worked for PCCA and then I went to work for the Poverty – for Model Cities -- it had morphed into Model Cities.  And I did that trouble shooting.  I was really hired by Washington.  I wasn’t hired by the regional office in Philadelphia.  And I was sent to troubled cities to try to make them do right.  It was really hilarious.  Here I am, some 20-some year old kid, going out to Chicago – being sent to Chicago – to help Mayor Daley write a proposal that would yield him a $5 million planning grant so that he could get a $25 million grant to do Model Cities in Chicago.  I was one of five people – it was just really uncanny, because I had never been to Chicago before and I certainly -- when I think about it, I think I did a good job, but it was really strange to be a young person writing programs for a city of which you are not a resident in a hotel room for two weeks and having your meals.  It was like you were a prisoner. They’d bring you your food, and whatever else you needed. 

So, anyway, I had gotten tired of those kinds of things, and I wanted to reflect.  I wanted to do some research again.  I had done some research at the Wharton Centre.  One of my mentors was Claudia Grant, social worker, the Wharton Centre.  And the other I should mention was Bill [William Robert Snowden] Meek.  I think you may know Bill Meek -- real Civil rights activist. 

BOND:  Yeah – I think so –

LEFTWICH:  Bill and his wife Sylvia – both of whom are no longer living.  That’s sort of the core of people who made me who I am.  And I say to them – Howard died last year --  but I would say to them:  “You’re responsible for the kind of person I’ve become.”  Because both Howard Mitchell and Bill Meek were very active feminists.  And they took the same position my father had taken:  Look, if you’ve got the skills and you’ve got the courage, do it. Nobody should stop you from doing it because you’re a woman.  And I’d tell them – “Well,  when people come and complain to  you about how difficult I am, just take responsibility for it, ‘cause it’s your fault.”  Anyway, Howard was back at Penn.  And I called him up, and I said “You know I really need to get out of – I really need to do some research.  What’s over there?”

He said: “My Human Resources Center here in the Wharton School.  Come over here, do some research with me.” I said:  “Well, I sort of want to work on my Ph.D.”  He said: “Fine, I’ll be chair of your committee.  Come on over, let’s get you going.”  So, I was there.  I finished my work, I finished my coursework, finished my prelims, and designed a dissertation which I didn’t do – I did a different dissertation. Before I left Penn, -- I went to Penn in 1970, and I was there working with Howard at the Human Resources Center and teaching in the City and Regional Planning Department – taking courses...