Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Gateway to Leadership

BOND: It seems to me that education has always been important to your agenda.

WATSON: Absolutely.

BOND: Why is that? I mean I think I know why, but why is that? Why is education so important?

WATSON: Well, I truly believe that the more knowledge you have, the more successful and effective you can be in life. When you close yourself off from new information, new technologies, new methods and so on, you're stuck in place. And so for me, coming from a family -- my grandmother was educated. My mother's mother, by the way, was the first nurse graduating from Provident Hospital in Chicago to operate with Dr. [Daniel Hale] Williams on the first open heart surgery and is written up in the medical textbooks. They educated her because her mother was the result of the slave master and the slave, her grandmother. They escaped to Chicago where my grandmother was born and so they always wanted to go back to Africa but they knew they had to educate her because she was your color, but the other ones were much lighter, so they educated her -- you know, they went by color, and you're very fair yourself. She was not my color. She was more your color, but she wasn't their color either.

BOND: Yes.

WATSON: So she got the benefit of the education and went to Provident, and my sister who's now deceased, went into nursing because of our grandmother, so it was there. We had independent women.

My grandmother decided she was going to bring her children to California. Took them seven years. Some of her children were born in Oklahoma and the others were born in Los Angeles. And two weeks after they were here, her husband dropped dead in the street. She had to go work at the county hospital. My mother took charge of the household like we, my sister and I, took charge when my mother went to work.

BOND: So education has always been a door-opener.

WATSON: It's been a door-opener. It's been a way to broaden your expanse. It helps you adjust to other people, other cultures. Taking languages -- and I don't know why that people believe that English only is the only way to go and we live in a state in California where in our school district a hundred and twenty-nine languages are spoken. And in taking languages along the way, it has really enhanced my knowledge of other peoples. I'm very comfortable around people who don't look like me only because I had that experience from the time I grew up. We were the blockbusters when we moved on Cimarron, which was the Westside.