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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
BOND: You mention your mom, your dad, your grandfather, Ms. [Mary McLeod] Bethune -- What other figures in this community, or people coming in and out of this community laid their hands on you?
COLE: Well, I think of a great, great, great shero, Eartha White in the city of Jacksonville. One of those women who just seemed never to run out of compassion, out of goodness, out of -- out of social service to others. And so I had the large figures, the Eartha Whites, the A.L. Lewis, the Mary McLeod Bethune. But I also grew up with those extraordinary, ordinary folk. I mean, I think of Olga Bradham who I have also written about, the librarian, in which library? The A.L. Lewis Colored Branch of the Jacksonville Public Library. I don't think that it would be possible to count the number of African-American women and men of my age who were influenced by Olga Bradham, who simply loved books, who believed that every black kid had the possibility of just surrounding themselves with the magic of learning. And so to go to that library after school, after the colored schools to which we went, was to continue what, I think, was a constant message of denial of second-classisms.
BOND: Now the sociologist Aldon Morris writes that black people of our generation and people older than we grew up in what he calls a protest community, that constantly reinforced the need to protest against the circumstances of our lives. And I guess my question is, Is Jacksonville that kind of community? Where all about you you see examples of strivers, of hard workers, of people who have risen above circumstance, who fought the odds, people like your grandfather and your own mother and father? Are these abundant figures in the community, both well-to-do and not? Both low-income and --
COLE: I like the notion of being a part of a protest generation. But I qualify that by saying that protest wasn't always -- in fact, not very often, compared with Montgomery or Atlanta or Selma -- it wasn't often in Jacksonville in the most visible form as I grew up in the '40s and the '50s. But, you see, I remember the protest that took the form of the dignity of black domestic women workers. I think about protest simply in the form of my mother saying, "No, you can't go to the symphony, but we can listen to a sympathy" -- excuse me, "to a symphony here." And so I think that we still have a lot of work to do, Julian, to capture those forms of protests.
BOND: Yeah. Yeah, I think that he probably meant it in this larger sense, not marching and sitting-in and so on, but these ordinary, every day protests where people say "I'm not what the larger world thinks I am." And it strikes me that all over the country, but the South particularly, that there is a large body of people raised up in that community, both family and extra-family relationships that say "You're not what the world thinks you are, you can do better than that."