Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Mother and Education

BOND: Mr. Williams, thank you for doing this interview.

WILLIAMS: Well, thank you. It's an honor to be with you today.

BOND: It's our pleasure having you. I'm going to begin with something, a question which you may not be able to answer because I think you are too young

WILLIAMS: [laughs]

BOND: When the Brown decision occurred, did you have any family discussion or hear any people talking about it?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I was very young when the Brown decision was discussed and also because I grew up in Chicago, it wasn't something that was front and center I think in my family for quite some time, but as I got older and as I understood what my mother was doing to make sure that I had a quality education in Chicago, then I started reading and learning more and more about Brown, how important it was to our country. My mother was an incredible individual. She was determined that I was going to get the best education the Chicago public school could offer, so I went to seven elementary schools in Chicago.

BOND: Seven?

WILLIAMS: Seven. Started out in Catholic school, then moved into public school and every time she thought a school wasn't performing up to her standards, she would move me to another school, so I had to memorize a lot of different addresses and a lot of different reasons for moving around the city.

BOND: That couldn't have been an easy process to move a child from school A to school B.

WILLIAMS: It was difficult and I was always introducing myself to new classmates, always had to prove myself on the playground and I was pretty skinny in those days so it was always a tough uphill battle to do that.

BOND: But you survived.

WILLIAMS: I survived it, but also my mother, I'm so grateful to her because she was determined. When she heard that there was a new school being built that had new teachers and really had a great curriculum, she said we're moving to that neighborhood, at least theoretically.

BOND: So she would have to move the family?

WILLIAMS: No, she didn't move. We just came up with theoretical ways for me to go to that school. [laughs]

BOND: So, you worked it out? It had to be address - based.

WILLIAMS: It was address - based, so we would find someone that we knew in the neighborhood and then that would become my address. I would just go and leave from there.

BOND: So you had to remember—I don't live here, I now live here.

WILLIAMS: That's right. It was something between my mother and I. That was our compact. [laughs]