Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Core Question Methodology

The University of Virginia


An oral history videotaped initiative

Sponsored by:
The College of Arts and Sciences
The Institute for Public History

Co-directors: Julian Bond and Phyllis Leffler

Explorations in Black Leadership is an important and innovative exploration of issues centered on African-American leadership in America. Each person interviewed was asked the questions that follow. This provided the opportunity to collect responses that could be compared with one another, and that would ultimately lead to the book, Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond. The full interviews are available on this site. The book is a synthetic analysis of the interviews set in historical context.


  • What did the Brown case mean to you at the time of the court decision?
  • What did you think it was going to mean?
  • What has it turned out to mean?
  • How has it impacted your life?


  • Who are the people who have been most significant in helping you develop your talents?  
  • What led you to choose your career?  
  • What parts of your education were instrumental in developing your leadership skills?
  • What historical events or episodes do you particularly remember hearing about? What impact did they have on your larger consciousness and on your personal growth?
  • As you look back over your life, at what point did you begin to think of yourself as a leader?


  • What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style?  Will you describe the interaction between the three for you?  
  • Do you have a vision that guided your work?  Has it changed over time?  Why?
  • Some categorize the making of leaders in three ways: a) great people cause great events; b) movements make leaders; c) the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the times.  How would you characterize your path to leadership?
  • Do you see your legitimacy as a leader grounded in your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?  
  • Do you have a general philosophy that guides you through life?  How has it sustained you through challenges or moments of alienation?


  • How does race-consciousness affect your work?  Do you see yourself as a leader who advances issues of race or society or both?  Is there a distinction?  Is there such thing as a race-transcending leader?
  • Do you have a different leadership style when you deal with groups that are all black, mixed race, or all white?
  •  In Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen who writes of a danger in continually "thinking in terms of race, or gender...Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we're going to continue to harm this country" (Conti and Stetson, 45).  Is there a danger of further divisiveness when we focus on the concept of black leadership?
  • Do you feel that black leaders have an obligation to help other African Americans?  Is there a point at which that obligation ends, and one can pursue his or her own professional ambitions?
  • What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American leader?
  • In his book Race Matters, Cornel West writes [the crisis of leadership is] a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals, and from a credible sense of political struggle.  
  • Do you see a crisis of leadership in black communities today?  If so, what contributes to this?



  • What kind of leaders does contemporary society demand?  How will future problems demand different leadership styles?
  • As a society, how can we foster the most effective leaders for the future?