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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julian Bond, November 1 and 22, 1999. Interview R-0345. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Bond's residence at Lincoln University opened avenues to black scholars and larger issues, but detached him from the outside world

Because Bond's father held wide power as the college president of Lincoln University, Bond was able to reap the academic and social fruits that came along with his family's position. However, the insularity of the university isolated Bond from the larger world. Nevertheless, the all-black Lincoln University provided a welcome space for black actors and intelligentsia, which opened up the narrow confines of living within a small college community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julian Bond, November 1 and 22, 1999. Interview R-0345. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I know your father was a prominent educator. I was wondering how your childhood differed or how that influenced your childhood, made it different?
JULIAN BOND:
Well, what it meant was that in this small world of the college campus, my father was the most important person. He was the president. He was in charge. So everybody worked for him. I didn't get the sense that I was therefore important, but I knew he was important. I knew that other people deferred to him in this little world, this small world. Very much like American University. A campus not much bigger than American University's campus. But it also meant that I had this world as my playground. This was a men's college when I was there; it's co-ed now. But I had the run of the gym. I had the run of the dormitories in the summertime when the students were gone. I was in and out of the rooms. I could play with the stuff they left behind when they went away for the summer. They just took their clothes and books, and everything else was trashed and left behind. There was a barbershop on the campus where I got my hair cut. It was growing up in this self-contained world where you were protected from all of the outside world. It was as if you lived only at American University and never went to Washington. It's this closed world, and a very pleasant world because everybody's nice, everybody's friendly. Not very many other children. The family lived next door—the man was the dean, and he had two daughters—one older, one my age. There was another dean who had three children—an older daughter, a son my age, and a younger son. There were kids in the village nearby, but it was far enough away so that I went to school with them, but they weren't playmates. They were too far away to be playmates. So I had a fairly small circle of playmates. Probably just enough to field one baseball team. We didn't have anybody we could play against. [interruption]
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Alright.
JULIAN BOND:
Where were we?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Not many playmates. You were—.
JULIAN BOND:
Not many playmates but I had, I think, a normal childhood. I played games. I played cowboys. I played in the snow. I did all those things.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
There weren't as many playmates but with the ones that were there you just did things. So your house was right on campus?
JULIAN BOND:
Yes, it was the biggest house on campus. It was the president's house.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Also I remember when your mother came and spoke to class. She was talking about all the figures that she met that came through the campus. I was wondering what ones you met?
JULIAN BOND:
Well, you have to remember that at that time, almost every prominent black person who made speeches or went around would come to a place like Lincoln University. They wouldn't go to the University of Pennsylvania or Penn State. Nobody would invite them there. So they came to Lincoln. They came to black colleges. Lincoln was one of the most prominent. So I saw Walter White, who was head of the NAACP. I saw Paul Robeson, the great singer. I have picture of me sitting on his knee while he sings to me. Earlier when we lived at Fort Valley, I have a picture of myself with Dr. DuBois. So sort of a "who's who" in black America came by this campus. Singers, civil rights figures, prominent personalities, almost anybody and everybody came to Lincoln University. I said we lived next door to the church. The church had both an auditorium and a regular church, you know a regular—.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Sanctuary.
JULIAN BOND:
Sanctuary. Yes, that's what they called it. Sanctuary. These people would speak either in the auditorium or in the sanctuary. It was just great because it was like living entertainment at least once a month, maybe once a week on Friday or Saturday nights right next door to your house. So you got dressed up—and I didn't mind that. I went over next door, and Paul Robeson would sing to you. Then after it was over, there would be a reception at our house. I'd run around, get in my mother's way with my brother and sister. So it was fabulous.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Are there any ones you remember in particular, that stand out in your memory?
JULIAN BOND:
Well, I remember Robeson, probably because I have this picture to remind me. The picture is I'm sitting on his lap, and my sister and the young woman from next door are standing behind us. He's singing a song. I remember the song. It was called "Four Insurgent Generals." It's a Russian folk song. He had this deep voice, and that voice vibrated through me. I can remember that he's singing in my ear while the picture is being taken. It's a fabulous experience. I can remember that. I don't remember these other people. I remember when Walter White came. Walter White was the head of the NAACP for many, many years, and he was extremely fair skinned. He looked white. But I knew he was a black guy. When he pulled up to our house, he was in a big, black shiny car escorted by two Pennsylvania state troopers on motorcycles with big leather boots. I thought, boy, this is an important guy. This guy's really something. So that was impressive to me as a kid. Other figures came through, but I don't remember their names.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What effect did this have on your life, all these famous figures?
JULIAN BOND:
Well, I think it opened me up to a world outside of this narrow, campus world. Of course, living in my parents' house, my father and mother were educated, sophisticated people. They opened my world up far beyond the normal world of, I think, a black kid growing up in the '40s and '50s. But being on this campus opened my world up and exposed me to people and to things and events, all kinds of things that I never would've seen. Albert Einstein. I met Albert Einstein. I have no memory of this, but my parents told me about it. So I've come to remember it.