Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership and Family Responsibility

BOND: But in some ways you've been preparing for this all your life.

WATSON: I have.

BOND: You had to take care of your siblings when you were young. You grew up in what we would now call a single-family home. What influence does that have on the life that you lead now?

WATSON: Well, I'll you what. My dad always stayed in the picture. He was L.A.P.D. and he'd come by all the time. He would take my sister and I in the black and white to Mass. We hated it, but we had to go.

BOND: You hated being in the car, coming in the police car?

WATSON: Yes, we didn't want anyone to see us, you know.

BOND: But you could sit in the front seat?

WATSON: No. We sat behind the screen in the back seat and we just — but he would take us and, you know, the first time he did that we went in this door and came out the side door. He was looking in his rear view and spun that car around. Oh, we were so embarrassed, and took us back in that church. My grandmother was very strict on us, but in a loving way and so they got us ready to accept responsibility. I was seven when my mother and father divorced, but the good in it was that my mother held my sister and I responsible for the home while she worked at night in the post office.

We would come home from school. She'd be going out the door to work. And my grandmother was there, but Barbara and I — my sister, eighteen months older — and I had the responsibility of the household. My mother would give us money to go to the market and buy food for the meal. I could bake cakes. I could roast a turkey. I could fry pork chops. I could do it all. We cleaned the house. We washed the dishes. My mother's definition of washing the dishes was you scrubbed the floor. You wiped the woodwork. You cleaned the stove. You wash and dry the dishes and you put them away. And the only time we didn't do that and she got home at 1:30 in the morning — we were up out of bed to clean that kitchen.

I am very proud of having the skills to do whatever I have to do. If you tell me, "Scrub the floor," I can scrub that floor better than the housekeeper. If you tell me to wash the windows, newspaper and vinegar, right? Wash those windows. And, you know, I'm glad because I can be independent and take care of my own needs and I'm not afraid to go back. You know, people lose their fortunes and they jump out of windows. I lose my fortune and I find out where I can go and make it again, you know. That's what our parents put into us. But, you know, we had a very happy childhood, because my mother was an actress at one time.

BOND: Oh really?

WATSON: And she was a people person and she took us traveling. My dad should've been in a monastery. He was a police officer and so that combination, when he left the home, we got so many opportunities and we had strong women around us and they had families, and so we had the best of what you could have in a broken home.