Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Consensual Leadership

LEFFLER: Is that the point [at the start of the civil rights movement] at which you might have started to think of yourself as a leader?

BOND: I don't know. I knew -- there was a small cadre at the top of our organization, which was called The Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. Lonnie King, myself and a couple of others. We knew we were the leaders. He was the leader, but we knew we were leaders, too. So I think I wasn't saying I'm a leader. But I knew I was a leader. I was thinking to myself I was a leader of this group. I was a leader of the Atlanta sit-ins.

LEFFLER: Did you at that stage in your life have any kind of a concept of how you would lead?

BOND: Not initially, I don't think, because initially we were focused on Atlanta restaurants primarily, integrating these restaurants. Within a few weeks' or months' division began to broaden and spread. But initially just here. So we thought if we can take care of these things then we can go back to what we were before. After a short while it became clear that, first, these things weren't going to be taken care of right away. Secondly there was more to do outside of lunch counters. There were movie theaters. There were bus stations. There were--a world out there was segregated and we could use what we'd done in this instance to attack it in these instances, too. So there was going to be more. So this is going to be a longer struggle than we thought. I knew I was going to play a role in it. Wasn't sure what that role would be. But initially, no. We had this kind of narrow vision.

LEFFLER: Who organized the game plan?

BOND: Lonnie King is most responsible for organizing it. But it really was a collective. Even though we had a hierarchal organization in Atlanta, later when the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is founded it becomes in time an organization with a communal base where all of the people who are doing the work are making the decisions. There is a head, there is a leader -- a chairman and an executive director. They wield day-to-day power. But big decisions are always made collectively. Again, that model in some respects comes from the Quaker meeting of all these people sitting in a room and everyone knowing that each person has the right to stand up and speak truth to power.

LEFFLER: So was that a concept you brought to SNCC?

BOND: No. I think it came…I don't know how it came. Some of it came from a remarkable woman named Ella Baker who had a long career as an organizer of protest and who had worked in the budding cooperative movement during the Depression in Harlem forming economic co-ops to buy milk and groceries and so on. She developed -- or these co-ops -- developed the notion that there's one vote per person. Not one vote per share. One vote per person. You might have ten shares, I have one, but our votes are equal because each of us is a person. She brought that. She didn't tell us that. But she brought that to us early on. She was one of our adult advisors. We didn't trust older people. Miss Baker --

LEFFLER: Anybody over 30 for sure…

BOND: Well, Miss Baker was in her late 50's and very much the distinguished lady. But we trusted her and always called her Miss Baker. I know some of the women called her Ella, but I could never call her Ella. She was always Miss Baker to me.