Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: Congresswoman Watson, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.

WATSON: It is so good to be here with you, Julian.

BOND: It's our pleasure to have you. I want to begin with some questions about the Brown decision. What did it mean to you when you heard about it?

WATSON: As you know, I had a stint on the Los Angeles Board of Education, and Brown was a standard for us. It meant that all children had an opportunity to an equal education. I was on the Board in 1976 when the California Supreme Court mandated that we integrate our school district. At that time, my district was 710 square miles with about 750,000 students in it. Well, as you know, black students were in one area, Hispanic students were in another area, and we didn't have that integration that we thought could guarantee all of our students a quality education, so Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas laid the groundwork for us to enforce an integrated school district. If you know anything about California, we are the first state in the Union that is a majority of minorities, so we ran out of the majority to integrate with.

BOND: But when you first heard about it, 1954, what did you think it was going to mean?

WATSON: Well, I tell you what I saw in it. Being that I grew up in Los Angeles, in an integrated setting, I thought this would be the first time for young black children to integrate, and I thought it was a wonderful thing. We were already integrated.

BOND: Yes, you were at Foshay Junior High School and Dorsey High School. These were integrated schools.

WATSON: Exactly. 36th Street School, which we got named after our fifth grade teacher -- our sixth grade teacher, Birdie Lee Bright, who's still alive, and we were looking at it from a distance and saying, "Oh, the children in the South can have the same opportunity that I would have." Because when I went to Dorsey High School, I was one of five blacks going into the school and we didn't have too many at the time. Of course, it's all Hispanic, a few blacks there now, and our demographics change rapidly, but when it [Brown] first passed, it signaled that we would be able to integrate throughout the South, and that was a tremendous victory.