Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Pastor

BOND: Outside of your immediate family, what figures influence you? You mentioned your pastor a moment ago.

FRANKLIN: Bishop Louis Henry Ford, also from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and migrated to Chicago. He established his own congregation, the St. Paul Church of God in Christ. And he was really quite an extraordinary person for a tradition like most Baptists and black Pentecostal churches in that time. It was a kind of anti-intellectualism and a sort of detachment from the world and kind of insular attitude toward church life. It was to be a refuge from the larger world. He said, "No, we have to be more than that. We have to be moral agents. We have to be change agents." And so he was very involved in politics. He was -- he encouraged young people in the congregation to go to college, and he provided -- he raised money to provide scholarship money and support for young folks pursuing education.

He was very involved in the Daley Machine and in local politics. I think he felt he could get more from the system working with it, knowing the first names and knowing how to negotiate. And he had a style of confrontation that was more, I'd say, sort of in the context of a working relationship. And so I recall he didn't particularly care for the sort of confrontation of the civil disobedience philosophy that Dr. King brought to Chicago in the -- later in the '60s. I recall his discussing his difference with that approach. But he certainly made me feel that it was important to understand the language of the larger polis, the larger city and the language of business, the language of politics, the language of -- employed in higher education. And not simply to know one's own idiom in the African-American community and more specifically, in the black church. He pushed us to be open, to cross barriers, and one of my favorite memories here is that he played golf, and this, too, was regarded, this is kind of sinful behavior. Black pastors didn't play golf and -- but he was out on the golf course and he brought us along, these young guys in the church. Occasionally the girls of the church, but -- and while on the course, caddying for him, he'd introduce us to the local city council person or to -- we met Joe Lewis, the boxer; Sam Cooke, people like that. And he again, I think, was trying to expose us to a larger world and saying, "You can participate. You have the confidence to do that." So it was an interesting way in which he was sort of building our own self-esteem, promoting us, getting us out there.

BOND: And he had a breakfast club.

FRANKLIN: Ah, yes, yes. The Breakfast Club. Fascinating. Morning -- Sunday morning before kind of Sunday School and the actual worship service. Sunday mornings at eight a.m. we'd gather. And this thing grew over time to two, three hundred kids. It was phenomenal. And he'd serve us a small breakfast. This was my first introduction to something called tea cakes, that he said he wanted us not simply to eat the doughnuts and danish that they could buy, but these hand-made Mississippi tea cakes from the mothers in the church who were baking these things, and lovingly providing them for the kids. So we'd have, you know, a little breakfast. But then, he went right into his agenda for the Breakfast Club. There were oratorical contests. There were scripture memorization contests -- who could remember the most scripture. There were scripture, sort of expository speaking contests, and utter a scripture and then explain its meaning. And all this was going on. There were debates throughout the year. There were black history quizzes and reports. And it was really quite remarkable to see the kind of talent and genius that was there that would, again, otherwise it would have been unknown certainly to the church and probably to the public school teachers that these kids attended and sat under, had not someone had the genius to create a forum in which young people could express themselves and listen and learn.

He also brought city leaders and business leaders to the Breakfast Club and they were just always in awe that at eight in the morning, here, just in the shadow of the nation's largest housing project -- the Robert Taylor Projects in Chicago -- here were a couple hundred kids engaged in the excitement of learning and debate and oratory.

BOND: Do you think you were aware that you were engaged in learning or was this just a good experience for you? Do you think you knew that this was influencing you?

FRANKLIN: Later I did because this went on for many years and I moved from simply being a nine-, ten-year-old kid who is just having fun and just a good experience -- you'd see the girls there, and it was fun to be there -- to, as a teenager, beginning to have more responsibilities and providing leadership for the young men that were present in the Breakfast Club. And so I began to realize, this really was quite remarkable and that I was being shaped in some important ways and having an opportunity to actually quiz the mayor of the city. I mean, Richard Daley came to the Breakfast Club as did the other black elected officials and prominent preachers from around the nation. So, I knew nothing about Morehouse College at that point, where I'd attend later, but in a sense, we were being exposed to some of the change agents and the thought leaders of the day in this setting. And, of course, Bishop Ford, he was always -- he's a consummate kind of public relations artist --and so he had photographers present and so this was good for the politicians to be -- you know, two hundred black kids sitting there -- and it's good for him. He rapidly ascended within our denomination and later became the presiding bishop of one of the fastest growing black churches in America. And certainly good for the kids because we just -- we just were exposed to wonderful things.