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Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun
Former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and Former U.S. Senator (D-Illinois)
A Conversation with Julian Bond From the "Explorations in Black Leadership" Series
March 16, 2005

Julian Bond: I want to begin with a couple of questions about the Brown decision. I know you were just seven years old in 1954 when the court ruled, but do you have any recollections of what it meant to you at the time or conversations about it in the family?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: It actually made a huge difference because it was in that year or maybe the year after that we moved from what was the heart of Chicago’s Black Belt into what was then a neighborhood that was on the cutting edge of integration. As a result of Brown, I was able to go to a public school, that starting in the third grade had previously been at white. Had not been mixed at all. And we had some traumas as a result of it. This was also a time when the whole nuclear scares, if you recall. When the toughs would go by our school and throw rocks at the windows, we would get under our desks and do duck and cover. You remember duck and cover? We did duck of cover in the face of opposition to school desegregation in Chicago and then of course later my father, who was himself an activist, joined with Al Raybe and something called the CCC, I forget what it all stood for, but that was a group organized to protest the segregation of Chicago schools.

Julian Bond: Which later brought Dr. King to Chicago.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Which later brought Dr. King to Chicago, exactly. Well he did for schools and housing because I actually marched with him on the housing march. But they were using something called Willis Wagons. The Superintendent of Schools was Ben Willis. In order to keep the overcrowding in the black schools from putting pressure for integration on the formally all-white schools, he used these trailers. So you had in the black neighborhoods, trailers to augment the population for the population of black students. And often under-crowding in the white schools and so the CCC started to protest that to say, you know Brown vs. Board of Education requires that these schools be integrated to the extent possible and we just have to get it fixed here in Chicago.

Julian Bond: Do you remember the time at this young age in ’54 and even in ’55 when you go to this new school, having any larger thoughts about what this meant to the larger world, the larger United States? What Brown might mean nationwide?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well, no to be honest. At that point I didn’t.

I did later. We had kind of an unusual household because my parents considered themselves, they weren’t Bohemians, but we were surrounded by artists and musicians and so people from a lot of different walks of life so we always had an integrated household, but there was always discussion of race relations and the kinds of developments in the larger community. So even as a small child, I was really acutely aware of the efforts of people to build an integrated society.
Julian Bond: And probably, I’m guessing hopeful about it that this will be a good thing and it will happen and that things will be better?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well I just assumed. For me, again as a child, there were black people and there were white people in what I considered to be my family. There were Asians in my family and so I kind of grew up in this multi-cultural allure and didn’t really see firsthand the problems. The earliest recollection, it’s actually a hilarious story, I have, my great-grandfather had a farm. Had bought a farm in Alabama that’s still in the family and we would go there in the summer times and I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years old. And we would take the train down. And when we got off in Montgomery with my mother – myself, my mother, and my little brother, we were thirsty, but the water fountains were segregated. The white water fountains were white and the other water fountains were colored. And my mother wouldn’t let us drink out of the colored water fountain. And so my little brother layed in the middle of the floor, screamed, and had a temper tantrum and said I want some colored water. He thought it was going to come out green, and blue and purple and yellow and red and so he was determined to have some colored water.

Julian Bond: Well now we are fifty-one years away from the Brown decision in ’54 and what do you think it has turned out to mean?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: I think it’s had very mixed reviews to be honest. On one hand, the integration of the schools was achieved on some levels and certainly in regards to faculty, in regards to hiring, those kinds of things have occurred pretty much across the country, on the other, I think has given rise to the “ghettoization”, if you will, of public education because a lot of the constituency to pay for the public schools evaporated, vanished, in the post-Brown environment. There are those who say there are a lot of different reasons for it and race and integration was not the only reason, but I imagine it is documentable. I don’t know, but when you look at the level of public support for public education nationwide, it is so diminished from the standing, if you will, of public education fifty years ago. From the kind of financial support the communities gave to public education. Now that’s a phenomenon across the board with education, even at the higher levels I think, but at the same time, I think that the constituency for public education was changed by the Brown decision more than anything else.

Julian Bond: I read something you said in 1994 that, “The most interesting change in America since ’54 is the way in which attitudes about life station have changed.” What did you mean by that?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: The notion that blacks were regulated to a particular set of roles in the society. That women were regulated to a particular set of roles in society. That ethnicity would limit people in terms of what they can do. So what was considered the concept of station in life, I think has changed the most. And that was what the whole cultural revolution of the fifties and sixties I think represented, reflected more than anything else was the change in attitudes about station. And therefore, a series of realignments and adjustments in the way that we define civil society.

Julian Bond: By any standard, you are a remarkably accomplished person. By any standard.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well thank you.

Julian Bond: Have you ever though that but for the Brown decision you might be a very different person?
Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Oh, there’s no question about it. There’s no question about it. I mean when I look back at people such as yourself, and I don’t want to speak over much, but the fact of the matter is that the role that you played, that Dr. King played, that Andy Young played, that all of the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement from those days, it transformed this country and opened up doors and made it possible for people like myself to come through and to have the accomplishments that are now a part of my resume. There is no way I would have been able to go to Ruggles Elementary or to get into the University of Chicago, or to become a Senator, Ambassador, and all this other stuff. None of it would have happened, but for the efforts of people who actually took their own lives at risk to open up, integrate, and change civil society in the United States.

Julian Bond: Who are the people who have been most significant in shaping you and creating you and helping you develop?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well other than my parents, which is pretty obvious, I have been blessed to have people come into my life at pivotal moments and make all the difference. When I dropped out of college, dropped out of high school really, a guy by the name of Larry Hopkins, who is still at the University of Chicago, essentially just turned my whole vision around and suggested to me that I could go on. In those days they called it broadening your horizons, so Larry Hopkins made a great difference at that point in my life. When I got to, I will probably leave somebody out, but when I go to the state legislature, a lady named Ethel Alexander, who was elected at the same time that I was, but she was a generation older. In fact, I was young enough to be her daughter. She made a huge difference and so there were people along the way who touched my life at times when I might have taken one road or another and by their influence in my life, it made a big difference.

Julian Bond: Now you mentioned your mother and father a moment ago and said that they weren’t Bohemians, but they were people living in the artistic world and had people in the house. What about them?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Oh well my parents had an unusual marriage to begin with. It was a tumultuous marriage to begin with. But at the same time, they were opposites. My mother was very, as she called firesides and slippers. She wasn’t very social. She had a group of people that gravitated to her. She was very in that regard, seen as an earth mother that attracted people. But she wasn’t all that outgoing. My father on the other hand was very outgoing and was involved in movements and causes and always engaged with the outside world. And so as a result, he was a police officer, or in law enforcement in some role or another as his day gig if you will, but he played seven instruments. So he played the saxophone part-time professionally. And so he was in the Sal Hicks Band, I actually have a picture the band and my mother sitting on the sidelines so I guess she was singing that night or something. So he played in a band and the result was that the musicians of that day, that time were very much part of our household. And so I grew up. I knew Jean Edmonds. I knew Charlie Parker.

Julian Bond: Charlie Parker?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Absolutely. Thelonious Monk. My aunt dated Dexter Thornton for awhile. So all of these musicians were around as I was growing up and in addition to musicians, there were the artists. Inevitably where you find musicians you find artists. And so I just grew up around the arts and I think that also influenced my worldview.

Julian Bond: I read someplace that you described the difference between your mother, and your father as the difference between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. How did that play out?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: That’s exactly right. I didn’t realize that I done that, but yes, that’s exactly right. She had an expression that, “You grow where you are planted”. You do the best job you can where you planted. And her expression was, whether you are a street sweeper or the President of the United States, you do the best job that you can at what you are doing and be proud of your work. So she was very much a – this is the job, this is the task, focus on not having ambitions, not seeing the world outside of the home and the family as being all that relevant. He on the other hand did see the world and was very concerned about what was going on in the world and did what he could in his way to make a difference and to change things. And so his social activism I think was born of that. And so I grew up again, in addition to the musicians and artists, I met a woman by the name of Anna Langford. She was the first black female Alderwoman woman in Chicago and he took me Anna Langford’s office when I was eleven so that I would meet a black woman Alderman. And there was another woman judge, Edith Sampson and he took me to meet her.

Julian Bond: And what about your father’s political activism? How did that come to you?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: It was a generation apart, but he worked for the first – he was always against the machine. This is important in terms of Chicago politics because people think of Chicago politics and they think of the daily machine. Well there was always a group of independents out there who saw the machine as antithetical to the Civil Rights Movement. Antithetical to good government and honesty and reform in government. And so that was always the side of the equation that he found that he was on. That he found himself on. And so he worked on the campaign of the first, one of the early black politicians to challenge the machine. It was Charlie Chew and Charlie Chew ran as a reformed candidate. And my father was in real estate at that time and the real estate office that he and his partner had, when they had a meeting for Charlie Chew, the city inspectors came and told them that the water was leaking and the gas, and so they basically shut them down and put them out of business for a little while. And so there was no small amount of real anger and antipathy toward the daily machine in our household. And it was funny too because of course years later of course, I got to know Rich Daily, the son. And there was no small amount of irony. I don’t think Rich Daily ever really understood or appreciated what a big leap that was for me because our household had been absolutely anti-daily down the road.

Julian Bond: But was there a dinner table discussion about politics, about the machine, about Illinois politics? United States politics? All of that going on?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Yes. He wasn’t so much. He was active in local campaign efforts and in union campaign efforts and things like putting people to work on the streets. There was a streetcar fight in order to get people jobs, in order to get blacks jobs working for the transportation company. He would do things like that, but his political vision was really more national and international.

Julian Bond: A moment ago, you mentioned marching with Dr. King in the housing struggles in Chicago. Tell us about that. How old were you then?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: I think I was fifteen or sixteen. I’d have to check. I was still in high school. My mother had cautioned me. At this point they were split up and we were with my mother and I remember her saying, “You don’t want to get mixed up with that, you don’t want to get in trouble. There is bound to be trouble”. And of course that was just my sign that I had to go out there to march at that point. So I went over and it was marching. We marched down, I think it was 67th street and we marched down Marquet Boulevard to get to Gage Park and I was paired with a veteran, a white guy who had marched in the South. And it was nuns in front of me. And I remember it just as vividly as if it were yesterday because it was just that kind of a turning point. And the rocks and the bottles just started flying and the guy with whom I was marching was hit with a rock or a piece of glass or something and blood just started coming down his face. And of course, I am just horrified at this point like “Oh my God”. And he just took out his handkerchief and put it up there and stopped it. And then the catcalls were coming from the sides and I remember having grown up in a more or less Catholic family. And the nuns who were marching front of me were being called all kinds of horrible names, you know, “When was the last time you slept with that black whatever sister?”. And so I was horrified at that. There was a guy standing by the side of the road who was my age, a little bit younger actually. Probably twelve or thirteen and he was yelling, “ Semi-humans, go home!!! Semi-humans, go home!!!” And I looked at him and I caught the eye and I said, “It is not semi-humans, it’s sem-i.” He says, “Oh thanks. Semi-humans, go home!!! Semi-humans, go home!!!” So we marched and got into the park itself. And the violence was so horrible. I don’t recollect gunshots, but I know it was rocks and bottles and bricks and glass. So what they did was they put the women and children in the middle of the circle and the activists around that and then the hardcore activists were the outside perimeter. And it got so bad that Dr. King was moved to the middle of the circle. So he was as close to me as right over there. I mean literally touching distance almost. And I remember because you are supposed to cover your head up like this and we are down on the ground covering up and he was standing there looking just as calm and sanely in the face of all this. And I remember, literally it was an epiphany for me because I was frankly ready to throw something back. I mean that was my first reaction. It was, okay, the next rock that falls for me, it’s going back out there. But the epiphany at that moment for me was what I came to understand to be the real message and the real power of non-violence. Which was that by standing there and by his example of peaceful resistance, by his example of claiming the moral high ground, by his response, he had the victory. That had he stooped, he would have been on the same level of the people against whom he was fighting. And so, it was in that experience that I became committed really to nonviolence and as into his movement as opposed to that of some of my friends, who at that time were beginning to gravitate in the direction of the Panthers and get the gun and shoot back and the rest of it.

Julian Bond: Now earlier, because your mother and father separated, you moved into a neighborhood that has a spectacular name. What’s that name?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: The Bucket of Blood.

Julian Bond: What was that like? What was the change like for you?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: It was really very traumatic for all of us, but in a way, I’ll tell you it’s funny. It’s one of those life traumas that I’m grateful for now. It probably sent my brother on his path to his destruction, but I don’t think I would be as rounded or as grounded if you will in the black experience if it hadn’t been for that because we grew up in a community that for all intensive purposes was suburban in a family that, again among blacks, we weren’t rich people by any means, but we were considered to be well-off. But, well off in a different kind of environment. My parents weren’t social enough to be a part of the black bourgeoisie. They weren’t part of that club structure, but they were part of the black intellectuals, that tradition. That’s where they were. So I really did not have a real sense of what the poverty was like, of what the kind of degradation that came of the kind of grinding poverty that the urban ghettos represented. I had seen poverty before. Particularly on the farm. We spent our summer on the farm. I had seen people living in houses with dirt floors and the outhouse. I mean I knew all of that, but I hadn’t seen it with people piled in tenements and rats running around biting babies and kids getting shot on the street corner.

Julian Bond: And what did that do to you or for you?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: I think it helped round out and helped me develop in important ways. It gave me an understanding and an appreciation of the effects of not just slavery and Jim Crow, but of oppression, particularly economic depression that I would not have otherwise had. It gave me another kind of vision about my own life commitment and my own path. And that vision then included trying to do what I could to try to push back and to be a force back in opposition to the forces that had created the poverty I experienced.

Julian Bond: I am guessing now that that’s one reason you decided to become a lawyer. Is that right?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Mmm hmm.

Julian Bond: What did you think that would give you?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: A bunch of skills. In fact, I thought being a lawyer would give me the ability to use the law, which of course is the instrument in the large sense of social control, to use that instrument in constructive and positive ways to help build the community, to help people have opportunity and have the chance to have a better life. When I first got out of law school in fact, I turned down an offer from one of the biggest firms in Chicago to sign onto a community-based organization that I would use my training to work in the community. And so that was my first commitment. And when that didn’t work out, I became an Assistant U.S. Attorney. And of course, my father called me a paper-pusher for the government. He said, “Oh you’ve become a paper-pusher for the government?”. But that was my path.

Julian Bond: Now where there lawyers in Chicago or elsewhere in the country or the world that you said, “I want to be like that”?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Oh sure. Yes. Jewel Afontak was this model of elegance and she was just the cat’s pajamas as far as I was concerned. And so I looked up to her again. I mentioned Anna Langford and Edith Sampson, both of whom I had met. I knew of course everybody, I knew about Thurgood Marshall and the legal defense team from the NAACP. I mean everybody knew about them. And so that was real model because these were people who had used the law to transform society. And so yes, there were a lot of role models in that regard

Julian Bond: What was being in the system to you? What was that like?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Wonderful training. Wonderful training. I could not have asked for better. I didn’t like the criminal side to be honest. I did like some criminal prosecutions. Didn’t like it much. I did some appellate work. In fact, I helped write the brief on the first RECO case. Racketeer and Organized Crime. And we did the first RECO case in Illinois in regards to the prosecution of the former governor of Illinois. The Kerner case. So I got the chance to work on some really high profile cases there, but I preferred the civil ones and the good thing about that was that it gave me a real taste of the structure and operation of law that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And a real taste of policy issues in ways that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I got to third chair the lawsuit that American Medical Association brought against Jimmy Carter’s healthcare reforms. And so as a result, I read every dot and t of the healthcare laws. Well my views of how healthcare was structured that I developed at that point had helped to shape my views on healthcare even to this day. And so because of the grounding that I got there, I was involved in some environmental cases that helped to shape where I wound up on environmental law. So there were a variety: of housing, and health care, and the poverty cases. All of the cases that I got a chance to try and of course you got great trial experience because you are in court everyday helped me develop an appreciation for the issues that I wouldn’t have gotten any other way.

Julian Bond: How did you move from that, which sounds fascinating to me, to running for the legislature? What’s the transition here?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Being a homemaker.

Julian Bond: Yes. You got tired of being in the home?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well I was pregnant with my son Matt and my husband wanted a stay at home mom and I had no problem with that and so I had my son. And I was a homemaker and he today says that I was bored out of my mind and he always knew I wasn’t just going to stay home.

Julian Bond: Was he right?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: I don’t know. I look back and romanticize. I look back to having dinner parties, which is what I did. I had dinner parties and I took my son to the park. I had a little carriage and I’d go to the market. And I did things in the home and I took care of my family. And it was actually through that my fore for elective politics happened because I would take Matt up to the park. We lived two blocks from this large park and while I was up there, there was a group of people protesting the machine building a golf driving range in the habitat of some bobble lings, which are rice birds. And bobble links are not supposed to live in Chicago because it’s too cold, but they did. And we wanted to keep the bobble links where they were and protect their habitat. So I joined the protestors. In fact there is a picture, a friend sent me a copy of it with the sign, “Park District – NO, bobble links – YES”. So we are walking around protesting the park district and we lost the battle. The driving range is still there and I don’t know what happened to the bobble links, but from that a woman who was one of the protestors was very involved politically. And so when our state representative retired, I met her again pushing Matt down the street and she stopped me and said, “Oh the state rep just announced his retirement. Have you considered running for state legislature? I think you’d be good at it.” And I went oh, shucks, not me. I’ve got a little baby. And then she said, come go with me to the community meeting about this and so I told her I would. I went to the community meeting and this guy stood up and said, “Don’t run. You can’t possibly win. The blacks won’t vote for you because you are not a part of the Chicago machine. The whites won’t vote for you because you’re black. And nobody’s going to vote for you because you’re a woman.” And it was like, “Okay, where do I sign up for this job?” That was literally what did it.

Julian Bond: And one of the things you do when you got there is you file a lawsuit against the speaker?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Yeah. That was a little later. That was about five years later. Yes when the 1980; it wasn’t that much longer now that you mention it. It was the 1980 reapportionment so the lawsuit was filed in 1982 when they actually did it. When they went to reapportion the state legislature, my own party won. In Illinois, we have a tradition that the parties pull a piece of paper out of Abraham Lincoln’s hat, literally. So you go into Abraham Lincoln’s hat and pull out this piece of paper to determine who gets the right to draw the lines if there is a tie and that’s what happened. So the Democrats drew Abraham Lincoln’s hat; got the favor of the hat that time and drew the maps. And the maps as drawn, absolutely eliminated any Hispanic representation even though we had two huge Hispanic communities in Chicago. And minimized the absolute fewest number of seats possible, the seats in which blacks could likely elect a representative. And it was just wrong. And so I did what I could, as fighting it in the legislature through the process, and we lost. We were outvoted and walking down the street again, my street kept getting me in trouble. This guy with dreadlocks, who was a community activist. You know the type right? They’ve got long hair, the coats are too big and hanging off his arms, and he’s got books under his arms. And he says, “It’s terrible what happened! Somebody ought to file a lawsuit. This is just a travesty that the lines are to be drawn that way.” And I said, “Well you know, we tried. The only thing I think that can happen now is if somebody files a lawsuit.” He looked at me and said, “Well you a lawyer, aint you?” So he sucked me in. I said, “Oh I couldn’t possibly do anything. I don’t have a law firm. I am just by myself.” He said, “Don’t worry. We will get you a battery of lawyers and we’ll put it together.” Well he showed up that evening with a guy who also had dreadlocks, was probably high on pot and was talking about the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. So I knew I was in trouble. I was like oh, my goodness. So I wound up drawing the lawsuit up on my dining room table and I had called a friend with one of the big law firms who said he thought his firm would handle it pro bono. This is another time that Serendipity plays such a role in my life. I took my papers because the mechanics of ethics says that you don’t file lawsuits that you can’t handle. And I knew there was no way that I could handle a three judge district court huge litigation like this on my own, but I filed the case just to make the record. I think it got that much notice in the newspaper if any. And then went down to this law firm to talk to the lawyers about what they would do to handle this reapportionment case and they turned me down.

Julian Bond: Oh really?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: They said we are not going to get into it. That’s too much political hot potato. And I remember I was so crushed. My friend was embarrassed because he thought he had worked all of this out. And I was on the verge of tears because I knew that the only thing I could do was go up to the courtroom and withdraw. And as I was coming down out of the elevator, I was going out, just as Tom Sullivan was coming in. Tom Sullivan I had met only on one other occasion, when I attended my resignation to him as U.S. Attorney. Because when I left to have the baby, he came on as U.S. Attorney. So he was coming on just as I was going out the door basically. So I only met him once. But he waved and I waved back. And he said, “So what are you doing these days?” So I told him the reapportionment story and he said, “That sounds really interesting. Send us the papers”. And Tom at that point was a lawyer at Gunner & Block, one of the biggest firms in Chicago and Jeff Coleman was with him, his partner. I guess Jeff was his understudy, his second chair. And they took the case like forty going North. And they were both Democrats obviously, but they thought, yes this is the right thing to do. And they took up the case with the commitment that Dick Newhouse, also involved with this, that Dick and I stayed involved. That we don’t just give them the case and get lost. And we committed to do that and I remember working harder than probably anything that I ever have in my life because we had to coordinate. We had community people doing the computer work. We had the first program, the first computer program for reapportion was written by this black guy who was a street person basically in Chicago. And he sat there and did the math. Because they didn’t have such things. The computers were so new. But he put together a program to run the Census numbers so we could do the case. And we would spend nights sitting in my study at my house going over papers and trying to work the numbers out. And then Ethel who was kind of our secret spy because she was very much a part of the machine. She had been my roommate, Ethel Alexander. But she was very much a part of the machine, in fact, she had been called as a witness against us. But the full story was that she had sat down with me with colored pencils one night and showed me the machine dynamics of who had done what to whom and why these lines were here and not there and how they managed to work it out. And so that allowed us to produce a theory about the case that allowed us not only to win, but we made real history because it was the first time that a reapportionment case had been won in the North. Remember the Voting Rights Act originally was limited to the southern states. This was the first time the Voting Rights Act was extended. Well it happened in two stages. We had to first make a pure fourteenth amendment case, which was to say that it was deliberate discrimination. Which the speaker of the Illinois House has never forgiven me for because the court had to say that he deliberately intended to discriminate. But then after that decision by the three judge court, the Congress acted to extend the Voting Rights Act nationwide so the South wasn’t just singled out anymore. And then under the Voting Rights Case, really the test just got easier, but it set up the direction that the courts have followed up until fairly recently, but the courts followed for a number of years in reapportionment cases. The case was Crosby versus State Board of Elections. But the really good news I thought from that, was not only in that case, we created the first Hispanic district ever, which gave rise subsequently to a Hispanic coming to Congress, but we also created additional black districts in Illinois. But it didn’t happen again. That was the last time that the party apparatus went out of their way to try to stick it to their minority base as a way of keeping white politicians out of the house.

Julian Bond: Now how do you go from that to thinking that you can run against an incumbent U.S. Senator? A Democrat in a Democratic state.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Well I was leaving politics. It is like that Michael Corleone joke about I keep trying to leave the mafia, but they keep trying to pull me back. Well that’s what happened with my politics career. Every time I got ready to leave, it would just pull me right back in. After the apportionment case, everybody told me I was going to get run out of town on a rail. But that didn’t happen because Harold Washington was elected mayor. And when Harold, who was also an independent, who was a political ally, when he got elected to mayor, he wanted his person to be his spokesman in Springfield. So instead of getting run out, I became Assistant Majority Leader. So broke down some more because that was the first time you can imagine somebody that looked like me who was the assistant Majority Leader. So I did that during Harold’s first term. And then I was ready to leave Springfield. I was ready to leave the legislature. I was ready to leave politics actually because my own marriage had begun to founder. I was ready to come back home and to go and practice law. And I also have a set of experiences. Another personal who also came at a pivotal time. A woman by the name of Caroline Craycraft found me through Leon and Marion Dupre. Leon Dupre was a great independent activist in Chicago politics. And she signed me up for something called the European Communities’ Visitors Program. And essentially, it is something sponsored by the EU that lets young people who are involved in government or whatever, in the community, travel and get a view of the European community. So I traveled just as my marriage was breaking up, I wound up going and spending a couple months just kind of backpacking around in Europe. And so that had an impact, particularly later in terms of my view and where I wound up particularly with regard to the Senate. So anyway, I came back ready to go into a private practice, but Harold prevailed. Bobby Rush in fact had a lot to do with this. Bobby said we don’t want to lose you to politics. It’s not time yet.

Julian Bond: Was he in Alderman then?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun: Bobby was at the time. Yes. He was in Alderman. And I knew Bobby from the Panther days. In fact, Bobby and Fred Hampton. I knew Fred Hampton. One of my closest friends in those days, Christina May had to go underground as a Panther. And so we were all kind of generationally linked to each other. And Bobby said, “No you can’t leave. You can’t leave”. And so Harold had the idea of me standing for county-wide office. Because you know there had never been a black. Never been a woman. Never been a Hispanic. It had always been kind of the old Boys’ Network for real. So I told them “Okay, I’ll do it”. At that point, well why not. So right after I said I would, and frankly as I was having second thoughts about doing it, Harold died. And then it was almost like well I had to. Harold Washington had this way with words and he announced the dream ticket. And the dream ticket was comprised of women and men, black, white, Asian. I mean we were everybody. It was the dream ticket. Represented the whole community. And like within a couple weeks, he was gone, he was gone. Not even that long. So I ran for and was elected Recorder of Deeds of Cook County, which was a countywide office. And again I wanted to do the best job that I could while I was planted. And so I did what I could in that county-wide office. And reformed the office and I think we did some really good things there. But, I was going to leave again. I was going to go into the private sector. And that’s when the first President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court and again, going back and reflecting on how important Thurgood Marshall had been. How important the Warren Court was, that my whole life would not have been possible, had it been for the whole series of cases that the Warren Court decided. Everything starting with Hansberry versus Lee. You know Lorraine Hansberry’s parent’s home started the housing desegregation that was in the neighborhood near the high school that I attended. So Hansberry versus Lee, Brown versus Board you’ve mentioned. Loving versus Virginia. I was in an interracial marriage. I mean so everything along the way, you know the court was that kind of important in my own personal life, not only in esoteric theoretical grounds. It was something that was very personal. And I remember having wrote to my Senator, wrote Senator Dixon and Senator Simon. And there was no question, but Senator Simon was going to oppose the nomination. By the way, both the Senators were from the southern part of the state so it wasn’t like it was a North-South kind of thing even though Illinois every much has that kind of divide, if you will. It wasn’t North-South though because Paul, clearly he was going to resist the Thomas nomination. Allen on the other hand was being more coy about it and wouldn’t tell people what he was going to do really. The suspicion was he was going to support Thomas. So I remember even having a conversation because he heard there was a group of us out there who was just so outraged, particularly after the Anita Hill thing happened. I had been against, in fact I had done a television program before we knew about Anita Hill, I had done two of them opposing the Thomas nomination and saying you know we can do better for the Supreme Court. This is not a replacement for Thurgood Marshall. And then the Senate took a break. There was the hiatus as you recall and then the Anita Hill allegations were made. And when that happened, that was just salt in the wound of fueling the fire. And I remember having a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with Senator Dixon and saying to him, you can’t support this nomination. It will be a slap in the face to every woman, every black person, everybody who has supported you up until now. It will absolutely be contrary to our interests and send a horrible signal for young people who are Democrats that this party does not have its moral compass in good working order. That this party does not stand on high ground when it comes to issues of civil rights. Well I don’t mean to disparage him, but he was known as Al the Pal. And so he gave me, “Oh don’t worry about it”. And then he turned around and voted for Clarence Thomas. And then went away for a couple days, or his phones were shut off for a few days. And the women just went crazy. There were three of us who considered running. One was a prominent socialite. Another was a former federal judge. And me. And I was the only one who had run for office before so as the organizers came together, the women primarily from National Organization for Women and from other women’s group got behind my candidacy. You know at the time, it was she doesn’t have a snowball’s chance, but I was out there and I was running and running hard. And that’s how it got started. And it wasn’t with a real concern that I was gong to win or lose. It was that I was trying to do the right thing.

Julian Bond: And that really is the year of the women because all of the country, women are energized by the Thomas nomination and the votes for him and many, many women are elected. Let me tell you something I remember about that race. I was in Georgia at the time. It was in Illinois. I couldn’t follow very closely and I knew Dixon to be kind of a hack, but I thought his concession speech was the most gracious thing I have ever heard in my life and I was so surprised because I didn’t think it would come from him. I was taken aback by him. I think I wrote him a little congratulatory. letter, which is something that I just wouldn’t do. It was the decent thing to do for someone from whom you wouldn’t expect graciousness from at all. So now you get to the U.S. Senate and it is a totally different experience. It’s a unique experience in American life, and not only are you a woman. There had been women before, but you are the first black woman. And I read someplace where you thought people couldn’t talk about this, couldn’t mention this because they are so unused to discussing race. What did your colleagues say about race or about you? Or did they just act like you weren’t black?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: Oh now. If anything, race was the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. Always. When I was sworn in, some Civil Rights leaders, who remain nameless, who had nothing to do with my election, came and showed up taking credit for my election.

Julian Bond: I know their names.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: And we were all sitting on the stage and Strom Thurman showed up. And one of my girlfriends in fact began to boo. And the crowd of people who came were just too entirely civilized to let her do that. They shut her up. And everybody was standing there literally in disbelief, because Strom at this point, as you can image was nine thousand years old. And if he knew he was in the Senate, I’d be surprised. But he made a point to come and say a few words at the podium at my swearing in. And I laughed about it afterwards because it was so funny. You know? This was the new face of Strom Thurman that he was showing at the time. So race was the eight hundred pound gorilla in all of it. And did play a role and frankly I didn’t realize, you learn from experience, but there were some aspects of my tenure that were absolutely tinged and colored by race. Aspects is the wrong word. Expectations. There were expectations having to do with race that I didn’t fully appreciate until obviously after the fact.

Julian Bond: Of all the things you did in the Senate, the thing that people are going to remember is your clash with Jesse House. I am curious as to how you came across this little item in legislation. It had to be small. How did you come across that and when did you make a decision that I am going to do something about this? This is his attempt to protect the patent that the daughters of the Confederacy have on the symbol of the Confederacy, not the flag, but the symbol. How did you see that and how did you decide what to do.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: Again, this may sound corny. I was just doing my job. It came up first in committee. My staffer. We review the bills. My staffer’s name if Jeff Gibbs. He is a lawyer out in California now. And we were going over the bills that are coming up and he is rattling on and on and he says this patent for Electra, you know that fat drug, that fat substitute? This patent for Electra, has a Confederate flag attached to it. I am going what? How did this happen? We found that the Confederate flag patent that had been held by the United Daughters of the Confederacy had actually been renewed twice before. They had it since the 1920s. And I am saying to myself, I went into lawyer mode. What do they need a patent for on the flag? You think in terms of copyright, if anything, but not a patent. So I went to the Chairman of the committee and said this part is not acceptable. Number one, the Confederate flag does not belong on a bill. It doesn’t belong with a patent to begin with. Second, it doesn’t belong on this bill. And third, I cannot in conscience support it and I’d like your help in opposing it. And the Chairman, who actually has been very good on issues of race ever since as far as I am aware, starts shifting in his chair and I couldn’t figure out why. It was such a no-brainer to me. Why is this complicated for you? Well, it turned out that it was complicated in part because it was Strom’s bill.

Julian Bond: And Jesse Holmes is carrying it for him?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: Jesse Holmes had nothing to do with at this point. That was another piece of the whole thing. It was Strom’s bill. And the other members of the committee since he was senior and I just got there didn’t want to offend him. So I actually had to lobby it in committee. I lobbied it. I talked to all the members. I got my votes lined up and I won. We stripped it off the bill in committee. And I though that was the end of it. Then on a day, back to race again, we were in committee on the confirmation hearings for Justice Broder. And Orren Hatch, who on a personal level I got along with very well, starting arguing against. The issue came up about freedom of choice. And Orren began to make the argument that Roe v. Wade, the decision on choice, was the legal equivalent to Plessey versus Ferguson. Now, you may have heard that since, but at the time, I was absolutely shocked. Plessey being the decision that a black man has no rights that the white man needs to respect. So I am sitting there going what? I was sitting there absolutely horrified that he would say such a thing. But then I was really nervous because I was thinking I am a freshman on the committee, this is one of my first Supreme Court Justice confirmations. This is a big deal. It is on television. But I just couldn’t let it pass. And I said, point of clarification and I got into legal discussion, an argument with Orren Hatch about Roe v. Wade and Plessey v. Ferguson are comparable. And trying to keep my voice modulated because I was really infuriated and insulted. So I am going through this and I am really nervous in the middle of this, my staffer Jeff Gibbs came over with a note that says Jesse Helms has just taken to the floor to revive the Confederate flag patent. And I sat there thinking at that moment, I’ll never forget, what did I do today to deserve this day? So I had to get up, leave the hearing and go across the street, go over to the capital to take on Jesse Helms. And if you review the proceedings and all, the first part of my argument was really as dispassionate and as legalistic and formalistic as I could make it. I mean it was just a legal argument thinking that the rules would apply. The committee has already decided this. Jesse Helms trying to come back and revive it was just out of form and then that it shouldn’t be a patent at any event. And when I looked up and the Senate had voted to restore the patent, I was like oh, no, this can’t be. And that’s when they fueled the real debate.  And when Paul Simon and Joe Blythe and some of the others, particularly Joe because Joe was on the committee and had known the issue. So when the committee members first came around to say this is why the committee decided, then the debate broadened from just a purely legalistic one into the import, the meaning of the Confederate flag in modern day America. By the time, Judge from Alabama, we used to call him judge and that is all that is coming to my mind. He got up and said my grandfather was a general in the Confederate Army.

Julian Bond: Heflin? Judge Heflin.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: Howell Heflin. Right! When Judge Heflin got up and said my grandfather was a general in the Confederate Army and we are proud of our Confederate heritage, but this symbol has no place in society today because it inflames passions and reminds black Americans of their pain. And when he did that, I think he must have, to the extent that we had southern support at all, he was really the emotional lodge-in breaker of all that. And that’s how it was. And in the Senate, we ended up winning 78, I don’t remember the vote exactly, but it was better than seventy votes.

Julian Bond: In all of these things. In that fight, when you served as Ambassador, which is entirely different from being a Senator or being in the legislature, and when you are in the legislature and even before that, Recorder of Deeds, whatever it is, do you have some sort of vision that you bring to your work? You talked before about doing the best where you are planted, but is there a vision that covers everything that you’ve done or does it change over time? Do you have a different vision now, say, then you did when you were a young state legislator?

Ambassador Carol Moseley Brown: Well it really hasn’t exactly changed in really the broad outlines. It’s changed obviously in the specifics and the details. But in the most sweeping generalization I can make. It is like that old gospel or blues, that song about you got to serve somebody. It can be the devil and it might be the Lord, but you got to serve somebody. And for me, I have found my life path as one of the challenge of being able to serve the higher values. To serve in ways that give my life meaning as having weighed in the sources for good. And I used to tell my son, as Dr. King had an expression about the moral universal as long as it’s bent towards justice. And I used to tell my son that that depends on people making it bent towards justice and if we don’t weigh in, each of us, in our way, in whatever endeavor it is that we undertake, to bend it towards justice, to make it go in the direction of truth, to lead it in the direction of the higher values, then it won’t.

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