Between 2000 and 2014, more than fifty African American leaders agreed to participate in a videotaped interview to share their thoughts about black leadership in America. The project, co-directed by Julian Bond and Phyllis Leffler – both faculty at The University of Virginia – brought most of the leaders to the university where many also gave a public lecture along with a more private interview. Some of the leaders featured on this site were interviewed in other contexts – the Congressional Recording Studio, or venues tied to a particular individual’s organizational affiliation.
All interviewees were asked the same core questions. This site can be used comparatively, as a research tool to learn more about African American history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to understand the history of the civil rights movement, and to explore the powerful memories of a group of diverse leaders – representing the arts, humanities, education, law, business, and government. The interviews cut across time, place, gender, and career choices.
Those interviewed share their personal perspectives on how they emerged as leaders. They demonstrate the connections between self, family, community, and historical circumstances. They show us how memory shapes possibility, and how the capacity to channel memories toward positive ends inculcates leaders.
The portfolio of stories highlights people whose voices are too often marginalized in our public discourse. Black leaders’ stories are narratives of hardship, determination, and success situated in local communities and national culture. They link the private and the public – the personal and the professional. The memories of black leaders exist in historical time, underscoring the reality that the past and present are inextricably linked. These interviews acknowledge the burdens of race but also celebrate the ability of individuals to overcome adversity. This is ultimately an exploration of black leadership in America through the eyes and words of those leaders themselves.
An analytic and synthetic overview of the interviews is now available through a book, Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond. Individual chapters focus on how leadership is nurtured through family, education, and networks. Additional chapters explore how black lawyers inspired a generation of leaders through their successes in ending Jim Crow and how other grassroots leaders emerged through the civil rights movement. The book can be purchased here, either as an e-book or in print version. The book links directly to the website through QR codes and hyperlinks.