Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People

BOND: Elaine Jones, thank you so much for doing this. Welcome back to the University of Virginia.

JONES: Thank you, Julian, it's good to be back.

BOND: Well, this is an exploration in leadership and African American leadership particularly. And I'd like to start with your earliest years. It's difficult sometimes for people to be introspective, how did they develop and so on, but you came from a household with a strong mother and a strong father.


BOND: What effect did they have on you?

JONES: Tremendous effect. There were three of us children, me and an older brother, younger sister. And it was a story you've heard before, Julian. It was the dinner table. I mean, my mother and father were both very verbal people, highly verbal. They say opposites attract -- well, that's not what happened there. And at the dinner table each night, one of us, and the parents included, would have to defend ourselves for something. I mean, we would be taken to task by the other four for something that happened that day or did not happen. You found yourself trying to sink or swim. I mean, it was a very active dinner table. I mean, the food was secondary. You know, it was the conversation that was primary. And, I mean, from the earliest I can remember, that happened. And so, when I was growing up in the segregated South and I saw the wrongs, the palpable wrongs -- because we lived the wrongs – I said to myself, "I have to do something about this and I can do it." I had the confidence as a child to say, "Well I can make a difference. I don't know how, you know, but I have to make a difference in the terms of this situation."

BOND: Now your mother is a school teacher, your father is a Pullman porter --

JONES: Pullman porter.

BOND: These are positions of respect and leadership in the community. Did you have the feeling, or did you know that your parents -- your family situation was different from the situation of most black people in Norfolk?

JONES: Well, no, because remember we still have the housing segregation today, but it was rigid and state enforced at the time. So our communities were mixed communities. Down the street, you know, were the kids with no shoes that our parents would make sure that what little we had was shared. So we were all in the community, no matter what your socio-economic status was, you were in the community. And we were between two public parks, two public housing units, you know, at each end of the block. And so -- I guess the -- when you were able to move out of the housing unit -- and my parents were pleased to say, we never had to live in the housing unit, you know -- but we did live in a four-story walk-up before we moved to where we lived, and those who were able to get into the community were those who were able to get the plot of land and able to build a house, you know. But even when that happened you were still in an all African American community with people who were not as economically self sufficient and who lived in the house, and you had friends in the housing unit, so you understood and you interacted. At school, you know, you were all there together. And I think it made a difference in terms of being able to reach out and not judge on the basis of economic differences, but be able to see individuals.