Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Reflections on Brown

BOND: What did you think at the time it was going to mean?

WILDER: I thought it was opening the doors because I had known that the civil rights engineers and those persons who had been involved with opening doors focused on education. Always on education. So if you could open those doors of education and make opportunities available, then that would mean that subsequent generations of people would see the need and it would almost revert to Booker T. Washington’s lifting, you know, people up by your own boot straps. But by the same token, bringing in some of the things that W.E.B. Du Bois talked about in “The Talented Tenth” -- those people who would become educated would further educate others and that would be the key to equality in America.

BOND: So you had this optimistic view --


BOND: But what did it turn out to mean?

WILDER: Unfortunately, it turned out to mean that people thought it was a matter of integration, a matter of bringing, forcing whites and blacks to be together against will. It caused annexations, it caused white flight, it caused destruction of cities, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of business, and it resulted in an animosity that was unwarranted. Particularly when you consider it was against the law in Virginia and other places in the South as you well know, to even teach and to educate persons of color. And I think it was misconstrued, it sometimes continues to be misconstrued, as it spills over into what some people call quotas, when you're talking about affirmative action, you’re talking about equal access. And I think Brown v. Board of Education still needs to be the hallmark in terms of recognizing what took place, but it needs to be built upon. And we need to go further.

BOND: Now, you said it changed your professional direction.


BOND: What else did it mean to you? How has it impacted you personally?

WILDER: Well, it, I was never involved in that directly in terms of civil activism and civil rights and such. But, personally, when Spottswood Robinson was chosen to be the dean at our law school, he at that time was the registered agent for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And, he had asked Thurgood Marshall to appoint me to take his place, and I said, “Wow! To take -- just to be even in the room with these guys!" And it, it enabled me to sit in the moot court hearings that, people like Dutch [Ernest Nathan] Morial from New Orleans would be there, and [Alexander Pierre] Tureaud from Louisiana, Bob [William Robert] Ming from Chicago, all these civil rights giants. And what it -- it redirected me to believe that making a living was one thing but fighting for the rights of other people and making certain that those who have been left out of the mainstream of American life was another, and that’s -- it made me commit myself to doing those things and I chose the law to do it because the Brown v. Board of Education decision was that being that it took place so I aligned myself with a lot of those people and a lot of those causes. And luckily I was associated with some of those cases.