Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People and Community

BOND: Tell us something about the neighborhood, the community in which you grew. What figures there or institutions there molded you and shaped you? Who are the people and things that created whom you are today?

WILDER: The -- it ran the gamut from the Masons, from the Elks Parade, seeing people in uniform and precision, from the people who were in the neighborhood themselves -- the barbershops, the shoeshine parlor, the riddler across the street -- they always encouraged those of us who were younger to get education. Many of them would say things like “I couldn’t get one myself. I had to drop out of school. I had to help this one. Don’t you end up like I ended up. You get smart. Don’t pay any attention to other people telling you things that you can’t do.” Well, I would go to the barbershop, I would like to store what I learned and what I knew, and people would bet on me. The older guys would say, “Well this kid is saying something and we’ll bet on it, whether it was a sports thing or whether it was a political thing.” I remember once having to describe that the war started, World War II, and how it was Pearl Harbor that was bombed. And this guy was like, “Oh no, it was in the Philippines.” And then I explained, “Well, no, it was the Hawaiian archipelago.” “Well what does that mean?” But in those instances, even those who were shining shoes, they would have said -- what would they have been -- “Listen to this kid.” They always encouraged us and in the process they enabled me to have a forum that I could express myself. Today, we don’t have that. We don’t have that, that exhortation. We don’t have that encouragement. We don’t have people telling you, “Look you’ve got to get an education because if you don’t you’re going to be lost.” I remember in terms of voting we had a yellow book that would hang in the barber shop, that if you were a registered voter, your name would be in that book. And remember, this was put up by the Richmond Crusade for Voters years ago. And it got to a point where the guys in the barber shop would appoint me as the sheriff, almost. For a guy started running his mouth -- you don’t want a barbershop where everybody’s running their mouth. If your name isn’t in that book, you can’t talk. And I wasn’t sure if I was, what, I was fifteen or sixteen -- I loved it. I said, "He can’t talk." So, education, voting, all of that was community. Even in the instances in which we had complete community -- as you know, ‘cause you had everything was separated --bakery, barbershops, laundries, cleaners, you name it -- all those things were there. And yet today we have pockets of desolation. We had a loving community. And people cared about it. Those youngsters were like myself who were in that community, so we belonged to that community and the community belonged to us. We could go into anyone’s homes and eat! And you didn’t need to lock the doors, you didn’t lock the screens, and people would feed you, they would care for you, just as they would care for their own.