Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Impact of Brown

BOND: Governor Wilder, thank you so much for being with us.

WILDER: Always good to be with you Julian, and it's Doug, not Governor Wilder, you know that.

BOND: Well Doug, it’s our great pleasure. I want to begin with some questions about Brown v. Board of Education. What did it mean to you at the time it was decided?

WILDER: It meant everything to me because I had literally -- literally -- given up on what they called "the system." Working, I had been to Korea fighting in a war that, for other people’s freedom and couldn’t have any here in my own country. So I got out of there, in December of ’53, just a few months before Brown was decided. It was just totally disconcerting -- everything I didn’t believe in -- not only in the system. I didn’t even want to continue in school -- my major was chemistry.

And when Brown v. Board of Education came down I said, “God have mercy, the system works! You mean nine white men have said that they were wrong? I’m in the wrong field! I better get into law, I better get into something of this social engineering.” So it literally turned my life around.

BOND: Really, and it turned you toward law as a profession?

WILDER: Yes, it did. It made me have to reconsider. I liked chemistry. I didn’t love it.

I worked for a year’s worth trying to save a little money. And then ultimately I wrote to Howard, which was the only law school I think that would have accepted me, not just because I couldn’t go to school in Virginia but my background was so spotty. And I didn’t have the prerequisite study courses for law. And I just can’t tell you -- and I say it on a regular basis, Brown v. Board of Education was sort of like a rebirth for me.