Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leading Through Public Service & Responsibility

BOND: Let me take you back over all these moments in life, this experience living in this neighborhood and knowing you're going to get out, going to college, dropping out and coming back, deciding to go to law school, all of these. At some point, I don't know if you said this to yourself, but you had to think of yourself that "I am a leader. I'm a person whom other people listen to and if I suggest a course of action, they're going to consider it seriously." There had to be some point in your life where this? Are you shaking your head no?


BOND: It never happened?

BRAUN: You know something, I've grappled with this question because I've never — that's not how I saw myself and I saw myself as someone who set out to do a thing, whatever that thing was, and so for me public service has real meaning. I mean, it's about being a public servant, about using the skills, the talent, the training, the education, the exposure that I have to do good. That sounds really corny but that really is how I've always seen myself and so I've seen myself as a public servant more than anything else, up until recently.

BOND: But at the same time, when you get elected to the legislature, that means that a lot of people had the choice between Joe and Mary and Carol and they've chosen Carol. And in that process, they have made you a leader. You are now a member of the Lower House of the Illinois legislature, all of your colleagues are leaders. Why aren't you a leader?

BRAUN: Because I see my job as doing the best I can to work harder anybody else to get the job done, whatever that job description is, for the people who chose me over everybody else.

BOND: Is it the word that you don't feel comfortable with?

BRAUN: Maybe. Maybe.

BOND: Well, I can't think of another one right now. But at the same time, in effect, by the fact of your election, you've been anointed in the sense we're talking about. But there must be some time when you say to yourself "These people chose me to speak for them and therefore I've got to speak for them." That's why you introduced legislation to eliminate discrimination against families with children. That's what you do. Do you ever consider this, think about this, that these people chose you to do this and now you've got to live up to their aspirations for you?

BRAUN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, that's the motivation, you know, that you — and this is kind of back to my mother's, you know, do the best job you can where you're planted. When I was a state legislator, I tried to do the best I could to be the best state legislator I could be. When I was Recorder of Deeds I wanted to be the best Recorder of Deeds ever, if I could and to do the best job I could where I was planted and the same thing when I got to the United States Senate. I tried to be the best senator that I could be.

BOND: In the Recorder of Deeds office, more than the legislature, more than the senator, it's just you?

BRAUN: That's right.

BOND: You're the person?


BOND: There aren't these others. It's just you, so you're in charge of all that and you talked about reforming the office, making it a better office. You had to think then that you've been chosen to do this, there's a mandate for you to do this and therefore you have a responsibility to do it. How did you weigh that responsibility? Some people would've said, "Well, I can pretend to do it. Nobody will know, who pays attention to the Recorder of Deeds?" but instead you tackled it.

BRAUN: Right.

BOND: Why'd you tackle it? You could've gotten by. You could've done nothing.

BRAUN: Right. But that wasn't what — that's why the people voted for me. I mean, that was my mandate. My mandate wasn't to go there and to be large and in charge. My mandate wasn't to go there and put my name on the door and go on vacation. I was chosen to do a job. And let me tell you my favorite story about the Recorder of Deeds years, although I've got lots of them.

I hadn't had a vacation since my election when the — you may have even read about this — they were doing some underground work in Chicago. Chicago's got tunnels under the Loop and they were doing some construction and they broke through one of the tunnels and the underside of the entire Loop began to flood. It was really a big deal, it was huge, and so this was like catastrophic because our books and records, some of our books and records were kept in the second? There were sub-basements under the County building where my office was, and one on the side of preparedness. I had trained my people. We'd actually had fire drills in my office and I wanted to train everybody in case of an emergency, this is what we do, and I was on my way to vacation. I was in the car headed to O'Hare Airport when I get a phone call: "the sub-basements are flooding. They've just busted through and there's water filling the bottom of the County building," and I'm going, "And uhh?" And Ethel, who at the time was working with me, Ethel said, "Well, you can't go on vacation." I said, "What do you mean, I can't go on vacation?" I said, "I've got my ticket, I'm ready to go." She said, "But there's water coming in," and I understood immediately. I told the driver, turn the car around. I turned around, luggage in the trunk, and went back to the office because I had to man my post. I mean it was a command kind of situation.

BOND: You were in charge. You were the leader.

BRAUN: I was in charge, that's right.

BOND: You were the leader.

BRAUN: And so I had my people go. We went and got our documents from the sub-basement and nothing got wet. We didn't lose anything and I got everybody out of the building.