Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Legacy of Brown: University of California and School Board Service

BOND: Well, your mention of the change, the demographic change at Dorsey, is a natural lead-in to the next question. It obviously meant one thing to you in '54 when you heard about it. Looking back at from today, what does it mean now?

WATSON: Well, at least we have the legal ground on which to stand because it took us into the L.A. Unified School District being required to integrate. But as I said, we ran out of people to integrate with. But it also leads to affirmative action. And I felt that the door of opportunity would open only to be slammed again — as I saw years later — in our faces, and I'll tell you what I mean by that.

We have a very distinguished and prominent university system called the University of California. We get something like sixty to ninety thousand applications each new school year, and we have a lot of students that are eligible to go into the University — no seats. And so with affirmative action, which is not a quota system, but it allows opportunities for young people who are qualified to have a seat in our University. You know, we pay for it with our taxes. And I feel that the 1954 decision would lead to some guarantees. It would give us the tools to be able to integrate our universities as well as our colleges.

BOND: Now, what has it [Brown] meant to you, both personally and professionally? You mentioned your time on the School Board. What does it mean to Diane Watson?

WATSON: Let me say this. As you know in the South, and I was born in Los Angeles, but we knew the only way out of that kind of slave mentality was to educate ourselves, because they wouldn't allow us to be taught to read and so on. And I knew that if we sat in the same classroom with other children, we would then be able to enjoy the opportunities that they had. It meant that to me all the way through school.

When I went to Dorsey High School, I knew I could get an excellent education because there were other young white people there who were in a new school with some of the best educators in the system. And I used to hear the white girls saying, "I'm going to UCLA." I didn't even know what it stood for and I said, "I'm going UCLA." And when I went to UCLA, it was like obtaining a dream, and I made contacts that are lasting 'til today. With that on my resume, I know that my opportunity is even greater even today and I've had a lot of blessings, I'll put it like that, because of that '54 decision, which led to other things. And I didn't get in under affirmative action, it wasn't in place at the time. But now I know that other people like myself will have that opportunity. Well, we slammed the door on them in California, if you remember —

BOND: Proposition 209.

WATSON: Proposition 209. And they said, "You know, we need to take race out of it." But when you have seventy thousand 4.0s asking and seeking admission, you have to find some way to be sure that your new classes coming in have the ethnic balance that represents a state like California and really represents the United States. We certainly — we don't use melting pot any more. We talk about a salad. So tomatoes retain their integrity, lettuce retains its integrity, etc. Well, you don't have to be just like me but you enrich me when I learn your culture. I took Japanese and I found so many beautiful things with their language and their customs that I would never know had I not been around Japanese. I taught school in Okinawa. And when I went to France, I learned a little French and I was able to broaden out my experiences because I could get into their culture and their language. And so we need to offer that opportunity, particularly in a globalized world, to all of our children, and we need to do it early on. So, that decision in '54 set the stage for things to come.