Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Expectations of Brown v. Board of Education

BOND: Do you have any memories of what you thought the Brown decision might mean?

WILLIAMS: I think, first of all, that it meant that children in a place like Mississippi (because my father's family was from Mississippi - - my father was born and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) - - that children in Mississippi and the South would be able to go to integrated schools, even though actually when I first started out in public school in Chicago, the schools were not integrated.

BOND: Right. So did you ever think about it applying to you?

WILLIAMS: I didn't.

BOND: In your Chicago locale?

WILLIAMS: Not at first. Not at first.

BOND: Why not?

WILLIAMS: Because it just didn't. . . It wasn't something that was in our frame of reference in Chicago. I'm sure it was like that in other northern cities also, but as I got older and I started to understand the issues regarding education in America, it became more and more important and obviously today we know that that was a seminal decision. It was crucial.

BOND: What do you think it turned out to mean as compared to what you thought it might mean?

WILLIAMS: I think it turned out to be opening up schools to children across the county. I think it gave children in the South, primarily, at first, the opportunity to attend high quality schools that they did not have the chance to attend before. I think it opened up an opportunity for people who went to those new schools to actually become leaders in our country in the future. I think about the Little Rock Seven, people like Ernie Green who went to schools because of that.

BOND: Did it ever touch your life? Was there ever a time when you thought the Brown decision is touching me, it's having an effect on me?

WILLIAMS: Not in my early memories.

BOND: But it did happen to other people?

WILLIAMS: It did happen to other people and I met those people in the course of my life and my career.