Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Risk Taking

JONES: My second year of the Peace Corps, I decided, "Now it's time to go to law school." Now I was thinking about doing another third year in the Peace Corps, going to Micronesia, I had the bug then. But my mother then put her foot down. She said, "It's time to come home." Of course, every time there's an earthquake, she would have a wake at home in Virginia. All the neighbors would come in with the casseroles. So, I came on back and I took the law school aptitude test -- took everything right there in the Peace Corps building in Ankara, and so, I applied. I only applied to two law schools, University of Virginia and Howard. And I got admitted to both, and when I came back, Howard offered me everything, all the money, even to pay the rent in the apartment, everything. They said, you know, "We want you to come to Howard." And it's another principle that has guided me. I said, "You know, Howard's a great school but Howard has -- I'd learned a lot from Howard the four years I had been to Howard. It is time to do something different." Don't always do what is most comfortable and what is most familiar, you know, you need to go somewhere else. And I said, "Virginia is going to be a challenge."

BOND: But you didn't think Virginia would say yes, did you?

JONES: They had said yes.

BOND: Yes, I said, but you did not think they would say yes.

JONES: Oh no, no. When I applied to Virginia I knew about -- I had a home girl who was three years ahead of me in high school who had applied to Virginia and had great grades in college, graduated from Wheaton, and Virginia did not admit her but the state of Virginia paid her tuition to go to Harvard. So I said, "Oh, Elaine, you're on your way to Harvard," although I neglected to apply to Harvard, but I applied to Virginia because you know what, I said? I really applied because I said, "I'm going to be the test case." I said, "This is the place." I said, "I'm going to be accepted to Virginia," because I knew I had the grades and I had what I should to be admitted to this law school. I'm a Virginian.

BOND: Both in your decision to go into the Peace Corps, you're stepping outside the mold, I'm sure, of your Howard classmates.


BOND: Not many of them could have done this or been interested in this.

JONES: They weren't.

BOND: And then when you applied to Virginia and then decided to go to Virginia, after having been accepted at Howard, that's stepping outside the mold. Most, many people would have chosen Howard. Why do you want to do these different things?

JONES: That's a great question, Julian. And it's an important question because as I sit here and talk to you, it's one of these things that motivates me. You know, don't do it because it has been done that way. Find a different way to do it.

BOND: But sometimes people are told that it's been done that way because it's the right way. That's why we do it that way.

JONES: Well, but if the way is not successful, if it doesn't get you what you're trying to -- see, I'm also result oriented. If that way has not accomplished what we're trying to get, I've got to find another one. You know, and it may be something out of the box. But on the Peace Corps, it's just -- I think my growing up in my environment, which was warm and wonderful but was all African American. All African American. My college was predominantly, at that time, overwhelmingly African American. The African American experience was a part of me, and I knew it and was part of it and it was home and I was rooted in it. But I knew there was a bigger world. There's a larger world out there, and in order to function in it you've got to be exposed to it, you've got to -- and the earlier the better. I think my father traveling to Salt Lake City and all over the place and coming back, talking about the things that he had seen, had an impact on me. I also knew that the world was not an African American world, you know. I said, "Elaine, you have to be exposed to whites in America. You have to. You have to, because you want to function in a larger society and because the system has to change."