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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
LEFFLER: Well, Julian Bond, welcome to your turn on the hot seat for Explorations in Black Leadership. You have been such a powerful collaborator in this wonderful project we've been doing together, and I'm just delighted that you're agreeing to be the subject of an interview today yourself.
I'd like to begin by asking you to recollect, as best as you can, what you think of as being the most important early influences on your own life.
BOND: Well, of course, my parents--my mother and father. My father was an educator, and when I was born he was president of Fort Valley State College in southern Georgia. My mother had been a classroom teacher and then went back to that and then stopped again over the course of my early life. But they were the prime influences as parents are with all children. They set very high standards for their children but had a soft hand. It wasn't that "You must do this. You must do this," but "We expect you to do this. You're expected to do this." And my father, who had spent a great deal of his career in researching, oddly enough, the development of leadership figures, had always argued that if you had an advantage over the mass of black people -- if you had an education, if you had a good job -- then you had some responsibility to use that education and that job, that position, to help those less fortunate than you.So my older sister, my younger brother and I all absorbed these messages from our parents and, again, never in a hectoring way, never in a finger-pointing "you must." But always "This is expected of you. This is your responsibility, and you've got to do it," and I hope the three of us took these lessons to heart.
LEFFLER: In your growing up years you lived for many years, in your formative years, on the campus of Lincoln University. Is that correct?
LEFFLER: So you lived in a fairly isolated environment. In fact, in the biography that's been written of your family Roger Williams quotes your sister saying you lived in a very isolated community and it was a very isolated existence. Would you agree with that?
BOND: Yes. Well, both Fort Valley where we lived for the first five years of my life, and then Lincoln where we lived for the next twelve years, were rural. So isolated in that sense. They were sort of closed communities, college campus. Closed in that sense and isolated.You're surrounded by a relatively small group of people who are your neighbors and your friends. So although at Lincoln University I went to public school and was educated with a wide variety of children from the surrounding community in my non-school life I lived in this very small world, populated by academics, their spouses and children and in many ways it was a world cut off from the larger world although the larger world was always present, ever-present and ever-intruding, and we went in and out of it. But it really was a closed society.
LEFFLER: How was that larger world ever-present? What do you mean by that?
BOND: Well, I remember once we were sitting on our front porch at our home in Lincoln, and Lincoln is off the main highway between Philadelphia… It really runs from Key West to Augusta, Maine, Route 1. So anybody could drive in there, and we're sitting on the porch and you hear this [sound effect] and then [sound effect]. And someone had shot at the house. It was a typical president's house with big columns in the front. Those shots hit the columns. And had they hit us, we would have--who knows what might have happened? We didn't realize at the time what it was but that was the world intruding.
We lived at Lincoln very close to the Maryland border and in Rising Sun, Maryland, was a Klan center and the Klan held rallies there and burned crosses and did all those things. So you knew that was there. You knew it intruded. The time came when Lincoln students went into the nearby town of Oxford and sat in the downstairs part of the movie theater, which was segregated by custom, not by law. That caused a tremendous hubbub in the neighborhood. They'd violated this racial code that had stood unchallenged for all these years because they were college students. They were young people. They were from Philadelphia and Norfolk and Washington and New York and, you know, big city people.They wouldn't tolerate this kind of attitude. So there was always tension. Both the normal town/gown tension that you see in every academic community surrounded by a larger community and a black/white tension. Here's this overwhelmingly black male campus -- Lincoln was all men then -- surrounded by this rural white countryside populated by these little towns around there. So there's always tension in the air. But it didn't come in all the time. Most of the time this was idyllic. Imagine living in a place where you had your own gymnasium because the university gymnasium was open to all of us. You had your own playing fields -- football fields, baseball diamonds, all those kinds of things.
So in many ways it was an idyllic life.
LEFFLER: Now at some point you were a student at the Lincoln University public school?
LEFFLER: Was that an integrated school?
BOND: Yes. Well, when we moved there in 1945 the schools were segregated and again by custom, not by law. This is Pennsylvania after all. My father filed a lawsuit to integrate these schools. Before the suit could come to trial the school board capitulated, closed the black school and the black children simply crossed the street because these schools were across the street from each other and went to the white school.These are one-room country schools with outdoor toilets.
LEFFLER: Was the black school the Tom Thumb school. Is that what it was called?
BOND: No. That was an earlier school at another place. The Tom Thumb school I think was at Fort Valley. This was I guess Oxford Township -- whatever the name of the school was. I remember the black school had one teacher named Mrs. Brown, and a smaller number of students because blacks were in the minority in this community, and the white school had two rooms, one on top of the other with two teachers, one in each room. As you graduated in grades you moved upstairs. So they fired Ms. Brown. I don't know what happened to her. But she was of the casualties of school integration.
LEFFLER: So what do you remember about changing from one school to the other?
BOND: I never went to the black school so I didn't experience the change. My father sued so we wouldn't have to go to the black school. So I never went there. So I don't think I had much consciousness at that time that a change had occurred. There was just this empty building across the street that I knew had been the school, but I didn't immediately understand that at one time black kids were here, white kids were here.The white kids I went to school with were both the children of faculty members at Lincoln and white children from the neighborhood. As far as I know there was no disruption at all. The kids just took it as something that happened and it happened and made no notice of it. I'm sure the adults were ruffled by it. But none of that came into my life.
LEFFLER: You talked about your parents as significant mentors. Who else do you remember from your earliest years? Were there people at Lincoln University that you remember? Were there specific friends of your parents?
BOND: Well, we lived at Lincoln next door to the dean, a man named Joseph Hill, who was a man of enormous culture. He later left academia and went to Cleveland where he helped found a theater which is going on today, a celebrated community theater, professional theater. I can't remember the name of it now. But anyway a man of enormous culture and he was so distinguished looking and distinguished acting that it was the kind of person you modeled yourself after. You think "When I grow up I want to be a little like that." Wore three-piece suits. Looked very much the academic or the stereotypical academic. So I remember Dean Hill a great, great deal and these other people. So I'm living in a community where all the adults have a Ph.D. And many of them -- these are almost all men. There are some women. And all of the women have some professional training of some kind. They had been school teachers or were school teachers, so on. So you're living in the midst of this community of accomplishment. Because my father was president, into our house come all these figures, who came to Lincoln to make speeches -- Albert Einstein. I have a picture of my father and Albert Einstein standing together. I have a picture of myself sitting on Paul Robeson's knee while he sings to me. I have a picture earlier from Fort Valley State College of W. E. B. Du Bois, E. Franklin Frazier and my father consecrating my sister and I -- we're three and four -- to a lifetime of scholarship.Now, of course, at the time you meet Albert Einstein and you know he's a famous person, but if you're seven or eight years old you don't have any real appreciation for who he is. But I lived in this kind of world. I don't imagine it was very different from that of any other child growing up on any other small liberal arts college campus anyplace else in the country. Except this was a special place. Lincoln was thought of as the black Princeton.
LEFFLER: It's the oldest black university.
BOND: Yes. The oldest black university, founded originally to train missionaries to go to Africa. Developed later into just a regular liberal arts college and a college of some great distinction. It really educated the cream of the crop. These were young people who if they were Southerners couldn't go to their state universities or private universities in their states. Didn't want to go to the state-supported black colleges of their states because they were a cut below Lincoln University, and Lincoln was a prestigious school.
LEFFLER: So you take that heritage, that legacy, and you go to the George School for your high school years?
BOND: Yes. The local public high schools -- well first, the lower grade schools were one-room schools. I mean on the one hand a good education because when you're in the first grade you hear the second-grade class and then you hear the third-grade class. So you know, you're really getting educated two or three times over. But they really were inadequate schools. The local public schools, the lower Oxford Township Consolidated High School was just not a good school. My parents wanted better for us. So they sent my sister to a private school in Cambridge, Mass., and myself and my brother as well -- and myself I went to the George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. And my preparation was so poor I had to repeat my first year, so I was at this school five years. I had to repeat the first year and come back again because the work was just above me. I was smart. Could read, write and do all those kind of things. But I didn't have any kind of foundation to compete with these other kids who had had a superior education all along.
But that was a wonderful place, too. It was a Quaker school once first, and it began to acquaint me with this philosophy. I'm not at all religious but you know the Quakers believe there is some God in every person. The religious service doesn't have a minister. You can get up and speak. I can get up and speak. Joe, Mary, Frank, anybody can get up and speak if we think we have something to offer. That kind of democratic thought, I think, had a great deal of effect on me at an early age, and of course I wasn't processing it quite in this way. I think it's something I began to realize later on. But the Quakers are wonderful, wonderful people and this was a wonderful school.
LEFFLER: Did you feel any sense of loneliness of leaving home.
BOND: Oh yes. Oh yes. It was terrible. First, I was the shortest person in the school.
BOND: And we had dances, and of course I'd never danced with a girl before. But I learned how. But you know I'm having to dance like this instead of like this. So that was a little off-putting. When I -- I was the only black boarding student -- there was another black day student, but I was the only black boarding student. So, there was a black couple, a husband and wife. He taught. She worked in the administration. And there were black people working in the kitchen. But that was the color presence at the George School. You were often made, unconsciously made or unintentionally made to feel unwelcome. We used to get -- the big deal was to get a package from home with cookies and cakes and stuff like that because we didn't have a store where you could buy this stuff. You'd pass it around the room. Somebody would say, "Am I a nigger? Why aren't you giving it to me?" "Oh, Bond, we don't mean you." I'd say, "If you don't mean me, who do you mean?" So there were those kind of moments. But generally speaking it was a wonderful experience, a good experience.
LEFFLER: So are you saying that you felt a sense of a color line at the George School?
BOND: Oh, yes. I felt a sense of a color line and I felt initially this enormous loneliness. I'd never been away from home before you know, just for any period of time, living in a dormitory room with a stranger, someone I'd never met until then. Someone who became a close friend and remained a close friend for many, many years but your parents have left you there. You're there with your clothes. Got to pack them up. Oh, yeah. It was awful.
LEFFLER: So looking back at that time, were there people at the George School who sought you out, who served as mentors? Who were nurturers for you?
BOND: Yes. A couple of people. One was John Stretts, who was this black guy. I went back for a class reunion a couple of years ago and Mr. Stretts came, and now runs a barbecue stand in Oakland, California. Got out of teaching.
LEFFLER: What did he teach?
BOND: I don't know. I never had him, so I don't know what he taught. But he was a presence. Again, this little community, the teachers, some of the teachers lived in the dormitories -- had apartments or suites in the dormitories, and he lived in the dormitory I lived in as a freshman. But there's one guy -- I just thought of him. Julius Larrimore who was the Latin teacher. I took Latin from him. He was a Georgian. You know I had this idea of white Southerners: "I don't want to be around this guy." But he was just warm, friendly, a bachelor who had devoted his life to this kind of teaching at this school. Probably making less than he could have made in public schools, but how many public schools taught Latin? So he was just a wonderful guy. Had a great sense of humor. Slow. He smoked, and nobody at this school smoked. But you could smell the smoke coming out of his apartment, and you knew he smoked. To us that was high drama or something, or excitement or some kind of risqué behavior. So he had a great deal of influence.
But, also the headmaster of the school was a man named Richard McFeely. Was paralyzed from the waist down. Wore braces, big braces on his legs and had a mechanical cart he drove around the school in. Somehow to me he was a Rooseveltian character because Roosevelt was paralyzed, and he looked like Franklin Roosevelt. Great big chest because he had to pull himself along on these crutches. Ping-pong wizard. He would lock those braces so he could stand upright and with one crutch under one arm [sound effect] he could just beat anybody. He was a constant presence and friendly and welcoming. I think not just for myself, but for other kids who were lonely and frightened and afraid, he made us all feel at home. So after an initial period of real loneliness and feeling "I don't belong here," I felt at home there.
LEFFLER: What values did you learn from the George School?
BOND: Well, I'll tell you one thing they had us do. You had to work. Not work to pay your tuition. You just had to work. So for example one year you might work in the kitchen where you would serve the food. You could either work before the meal, during the meal or after the meal. During the meal was the best time because you served. Then you got to eat as much as you wanted. After the meal was awful. You had to clean up. That was terrible. Or you worked cleaning an office or something like that. Everybody had to do some work. It didn't matter who you were. These jobs rotated and it was sort of the luck of the draw: "You do this." Then next year you do that and next year you do something else. I think it showed me that nobody's too good to work. It doesn't matter who you are you're going to work. I went to school with some rich, rich kids who had never done anything. Never worked in a kitchen ever before, and it was an experience for them and it was an experience for me. But it was this kind of ethos of Quakerism that everybody is somebody. Everybody's got something to offer, something to share. That made a big impression on me.
LEFFLER: You spoke even earlier today about that egalitarian sense that came out of that Quaker experience. I've also heard you say and seen you write that you were influenced by the Quaker adage, "speaking truth to power."
LEFFLER: So did that come from that George School experience?
BOND: Oh, yes. George Fox, who is one of the founders of Quakerism, used this phrase. I don't think he originated it, but the Quakers were persecuted in England, which is why they came here. He was talking about speaking truth to power. The power is the king. We believe we can speak to the king. We can say anything we want to the king. Here in the United States this same tradition of --you know, the combination of non-violent aggression, if you can put those together -- that "We're going to resist. If we see something we don't like we're going to do something about it. We're going to do it peacefully. We're not going to shoot or maim or burn or kill. We're going to do it peacefully. We're going to do it, and it doesn't matter what you do to us, we're going to keep on doing it. We'll be back. We'll be back. We'll be back."
That had an enormous effect on me. It wasn't until the Civil Rights Movement came along and I got engaged in that that I really put this together. But at the time I was absorbing it and taking it in, and again it was impressive to me because you meet these people who were tax resistors, wouldn't pay their income tax because the monies were used for war. I thought, "My, Lord! How can you not pay your income tax? Everybody pays their income tax, no matter how little or how great. Everybody pays something." They'd said, "No. I'm not doing it," and they'd go to jail. I thought you'd go to jail voluntarily? How could you do that? Of course, I later did it myself. But at the time it was like, "Whoa." So, oh yeah, I had learned a lot of lessons there.
LEFFLER: So this concept that you're just talking about did you learn this more from the Quaker school than from your parents?
BOND: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
LEFFLER: Because your parents -- you know there are some people who've written that your parents felt very strongly that you had to always be the best you could be; that you couldn't make excuses for yourself; that you had this individual responsibility to excel.
BOND: Yes. But what I learned at George School was something a little different than that. George School encouraged you to do your best, to be your best. But it also encouraged you to speak out, to resist. Not that my parents accepted things. My father had helped do the research for the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit.
LEFFLER: And brought another lawsuit…
BOND: Yes. Brought a lawsuit himself. Was a battler and a fighter in his own way. But at George School we kept meeting people, you know, we'd have daily assembly, and people would come and speak to us about working in a work camp in Germany, or in Japan, trying to rebuild Germany and Japan after the war. We were fighting these people not long ago and here these people are going over there spending their summers, or their lives, trying to rebuild these societies that we were at war with just a few short years ago. The example was impressive to me.
LEFFLER: It sounds as if perhaps the difference is that in the George School this was a kind of global philosophy, whereas in your parents' case, it was individual incidents that they felt they had to fight against.
BOND: Exactly so. Exactly so. And another difference is that while the Quakers had a good position against racism, they had a universal concern. And my parents, although they had a good position on universal concerns were focused on race. So, it was the mix of these two things that I absorbed…and again, when you're learning these lessons you know a light doesn't go on and say ah hah. But sometime later you begin to process it and it all comes out.
LEFFLER: So in 1957 you graduate from the George School and you go down to Atlanta with your family and your father becomes dean of Atlanta University. Was it that same year that you started at Morehouse?
BOND: Yes. It was that same fall. We moved in the summertime, and in the fall of '57 I entered Morehouse. Frankly I was a little frightened about going back South. We had left the South when I was five. My home, like other homes, got the Pittsburgh Courier, The Baltimore Afro-American, the black papers of the time, and these papers are filled with these atrocities from the South -- lynchings, murders, awful things. Of course, if you don't pay a lot of attention you think these are common, everyday occurrences and they're not that common and they're not that everyday but you think they are and you think "It's gonna happen to me." I remember my mother wanted me to buy a suit to go to college with. I remember saying, "Mamma, you go. They won't hurt you. They won't hurt a woman.” But you know I'm at risk so I wouldn't go. But I went to Morehouse and settled in very quickly. It was a different experience for me. I had never been to an all-black school until I entered college. All of my edu -- when I was in Fort Valley, it was an all-black school, but from the time I was five until I entered college I'd never gone to an all-black institution.
LEFFLER: So let's go back for a minute just so that I can ask you about this, because this is probably the reverse of the experience of many of your contemporaries who would have gone to all-black schools until college or beyond. So what was the impact of the Brown decision on you? What do you remember about it?
BOND: I remember it being discussed at the table. I don't remember talking about my father's role in it at the table. But I remember the decision at the table. I was fourteen years old when this happened. I remember talking about it. I remember this feeling my parents had of great joy and optimism about it. I don't think they had foolish optimism. I don't think they thought things would change overnight. But they thought this was a sign of change. Change was going to occur. Things were looking up, looking better. So I remember it in that context. But I don't remember my father saying, "You know, I had something to do with that," or if he did say it it didn't sink in to us.
LEFFLER: So you don't -- you remember the discussions, but clearly it didn't have any direct impact on you?
BOND: No, no.
LEFFLER: So you couldn't really have thought about what it meant for then or for the future even necessarily?
BOND: No. I just remember this feeling that good things were in store. But what those things were weren't specified or detailed. But good things were happening.
LEFFLER: So it was time of general optimism.
LEFFLER: But you didn't know quite how.
LEFFLER: Okay. So then we'll go back to 1957, and you enter Morehouse, and probably at Morehouse you're introduced to a -- you say it's the first all-black educational experience you had, and no doubt you would have been introduced to a broader cross-spectrum of people -- people who perhaps came from much poorer backgrounds than your own?
BOND: Um, yes and no. Having gone to school at Lincoln Village there were children whose parents were farm workers and children whose parents were university professors. So -- and this is true about white and black kids. So there was an economic mix in these public schools in this little town. But at George School almost all the children were from the upper middle class and some of the children of people of great wealth, enormous wealth, very, very rich people and celebrated people. The movie critic of the New York Times, Bosley Crowthers' son was a classmate of mine. Heller Halliday, whose mother was Mary Martin. Remember Mary Martin?
LEFFLER: Oh, yes.
BOND: I went to school with her. Danny Selznick whose father was David O. Selznick and whose mother was Jennifer Jones, second marriage. They were classmates. So, I had this array of upper middle class and upper class, economically speaking, people I went to high school with. When I went to college the mix was more both geographic and economic because I'm going to college with boys in this all-male school from Detroit, from Chicago, from New York, from all over the country and from the small-town South. Many of the boys from the small-town South weren't just from poor backgrounds, they were smarter than I was, and that was an adjustment because they went to awful schools. They had been admitted to Morehouse as high school juniors -- Morehouse took you early if you were smart enough. So I'm going to school with kids who didn't have the same educational background I did -- I had a superior educational high school background -- who had an inferior background but who had triumphed above it and who were strivers and strugglers and were whipping past me like nobody's business. That was a shock. That was a big shock.
LEFFLER: What did you learn from your Morehouse years? What would you say the primary influences from those times were?
BOND: Um, a combination of a couple of professors who didn't influence me so much in the subjects they taught but in the personalities they had. The guy who taught me math was Professor Dansby. He had a master's degree, one of the rare Morehouse student teachers without a doctorate. Had a master's from Chicago and who spoke in near-broken English but who taught me math better than anybody had ever taught me math. For the first time in my life I understood it. He made it clear to me. He was a consultant at what was then Cape Canaveral. He used to say to us, he'd say, "Boys, I won't tell you I'm important." He said, "But you notice they don't shoot off one of those rockets until I go down there. So -- and it was true. He would go down there and do something -- I don't know what -- and they'd shoot off a rocket. He just impressed me that he would be, on the surface, an unlettered person. But in reality a man of enormous mathematical competence and the ability to communicate what had been a foreign subject to me all through high school. I just -- I never got it until I went to college and Claude Dansby taught me math. Another guy, Gladstone Chandler -- what a name! He was an English professor and he taught a speech class. I took a speech class from him. I never thought I'd make speeches. I mean, who thinks? But we had to give speeches in class, and I learned how to make a speech, and I'm forever grateful to him.
LEFFLER: I'd say you've given a few since that time.
BOND: Yes. I've give many since then and I got an understanding of what this is about. The idea at Morehouse is that every educated man will at sometime have to speak to an audience. So we're going to teach you how to do it. There were others. But those two particularly had a big influence on me.
LEFFLER: You're at Morehouse right on the cusp of the time when the civil rights movement is heating up. I've heard you tell the story about Lonnie Bunch and meeting him. But if I were really to push you on this would you really say, would you -- were there not other things besides Lonnie Bunch --
BOND: Lonnie King.
LEFFLER: Oh, I'm sorry. Lonnie King. I'm sorry -- that pulled you into the -- ?
BOND: Oh, sure. I think my life until then had pulled me in. That everything my parents had told me about responsibility to others, everything I'd learned at the George School about speaking truth to power, everything I'd learned about daring to stand up to powerful people and say "no" to them whatever the consequences. All of that came together when Lonnie King came up to me and asked me if I would join in this movement. I was the third person that he spoke to. I imagine that had he not spoken to me I would have gravitated toward it anyway, but maybe not. But he did, and I did. But it was all this combination of things that sort of pushed me when he asked. I was pushed to say "yes."
LEFFLER: When you said "yes," describe, if you can, the very beginnings of that weekend --
BOND: Well, I was in this cafe where you used to go between classes and he came up to me with this newspaper that talked about the sit-ins in Greensboro and asked me if I'd seen it. I said, "Yes." Said, "What do you think?" I said, "It's great." He said, "Don't you think it oughtta happen here?" I said, "I'm sure it will." He said, "Don't you think we oughtta make it happen here?" I said, "What do you mean 'we'?" He said, "Well, you take this side of the cafe and I'll take the other, and we'll talk to people about doing it." Although I was pretty shy at that age, I was not too shy to go up to strangers and say, "We're having a meeting about this. Come on and join." Some of then said yes. Some said no. We got a core, and that was the beginning of the Atlanta sit-In movement.
LEFFLER: Do you remember being frightened when you went out on some of these sit-ins?
BOND: Oh yes. The very first time I went to the city hall cafeteria, which was segregated, and I was leading the group. I was the first person. I had to talk to the women behind the steam counter who were terrified. Then, I had to talk with these black women. Then I had to talk with a white woman who was a cashier at the end of the line. She was very nice, but I was frightened to death. Then she called the police and, of course, the police came. I was terrified of them. You know I had these images of clubs and all these kind of things. But this is Atlanta after all. This is not Birmingham, and the Atlanta police had relatively good relationships with black Atlantans. So they treated us in a decent way. Just arrested us. Put us in a paddy wagon. Took us away. There's no maltreatment at all. So all my fears were dissipated. Got in the jail and we're in these cells with these other people, other men who'd been arrested for heaven knows what, and you're wondering "What's he in here for? What did he do?" So...
LEFFLER: And "What's going to happen to me for leading the movement?"
BOND: "What's going to happen to me and how long am I going to be here?" But we were only there for a couple of hours and got out again. But oh, yeah. I was tremendously frightened.
LEFFLER: So then after you did it once or twice, did your fear lessen?
BOND: Yes. It dissipated, went away. And in that occasion and in others because I was in charge I had to not show fear because the other people would be fearful. So I had to put on a brave front, a facade, a fearlessness to maintain some spirit among the people I was leading because you can't lead others and be fearful or show fear. You have to be brave.
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.
LEFFLER: Just to go back for a moment. Did you stay in touch with Lonnie King beyond those early years?
BOND: Yes. He left, graduated and came to Howard Law School. Never finished, but lived in the D.C. area. So for a while, while I remained in Atlanta and he was in Washington, we were out of touch. But since I moved to Washington about fifteen years ago we've been back in touch.
LEFFLER: Did he stay deeply involved in the civil rights movement?
BOND: No, he didn't. He became "disaffected," he said. I was never sure why, or if that was the real reason why. But he broke away from it. It's odd. You know the four guys who started the sit-in movement in 1960 didn't stick with it. They drifted -- one went in the service. One went here and so on.
LEFFLER: So I want to get more specifically into these different stages of your leadership career starting with SNCC. But isn't it interesting that the people you would have thought of as leaders of this movement, who came to you to ask you to participate, didn't continue as leaders, but you did?
BOND: Yes. Well, it's true. If you look at almost all of these towns and cities where the sit-ins break out two or three people start it. It becomes a larger group. The larger group does something. Victory is achieved. The larger group contracts, and a small cadre goes on. …goes on to another level doing something else and they connect with others and the group grows…
…The four guys who started the sit-ins in Greensboro dropped out and others dropped out. What happens usually is, if you look at these communities where the sit-ins began two or three people started. The group grows. They sit-in, protest, march, whatever. Win a victory or win the victory and then the group dissipates or scatters and that little cadre goes on. Now some of the people in the original cadre have dropped off. They've gone back to school. Who knows? But one or two carry on to another level and some of the people who are in the larger group join the inner cadre. So it's -- I'm sure you could draw a chart of this. But that's the way it happens.
LEFFLER: What do you think it is about yourself that caused you to stay so intensely involved all these years even in many different capacities?
BOND: I've often wondered about a different aspect of that question. Why on a college campus of a thousand people at my college did roughly only, say, 200 participate fairly regularly? Out of that 200 only about 20 consistently? The group grew, shrunk, grew, shrunk, shrunk. Why did I carry on in this? I think those of us who carried on, saw early on, victory. We won. We integrated the lunch counters in Atlanta. I don't think we realized how tough the rest of it would be but we said to ourselves, "Hey, we won this one. We can win the next one." It was that early victory that made us see what possibility was. I don't think we understood how tough it would be, how large the problem really was. But having won once, we knew we could win again.And I knew we could win again, we could do it again. We'd have to change our techniques, change our direction, change this. But we could do it again.
LEFFLER: So there was a kind of empowerment for you personally that came out of that?
BOND: Absolutely. Absolutely. When you got arrested the very first time everybody describes it as a feeling of release. Marion Barry describes it as feeling more powerful than he had ever felt in life -- when he gets arrested. Of course, that's a time where you are power-less. But he and everybody else who talks about it, writes about it, has said, "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life, and it was a wonderful feeling."
LEFFLER: So, let's go on then to those years in SNCC, a few years when you become a communications director and SNCC is obviously just making headlines all over the place and accomplishing so much in terms of voter registration and sort of a kind of political activism and empowerment. Why did you end up communications director in that?
BOND: Because I had a facility for writing. I'd always been a quick writer and a good writer. But I could very quickly write something that explained whatever this thing was. We had a need for someone to write press releases, and we had a newsletter called The Student Voice and we needed someone. That was essentially a newspaper of the civil rights movement, of SNCC. We needed somebody who could write that very quickly. I could type. I could do it. I think in SNCC, you did what you could do. If you were good at this you did this. If you were good at that, you did that. I was good at this, and I did it. I was eager to do it. I liked doing it. I enjoyed doing it. I had envisioned for a while being a journalist, and this was like being a journalist. SNCC did something, I took notes. I interviewed people. I wrote it up, and I could do it just like that. I was quick.
LEFFLER: Now Peter Levy, in a book on civil rights leaders, says about that time -- he calls you "the odd man out," which is hard for me to understand.
BOND: Yeah. Me too…
LEFFLER: But he says that, about those years that basically you stayed out of harm's way, and that you didn't really believe in physical bravado. So, can you comment on that?
BOND: Well, that was true then; that’s true now. If you look upon the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizationally, I was a bureaucrat. I worked in the central office. I went out in the field where danger was, but it was in and out. I would visit a project here to research it, to write about it, sometimes with a photographer who’d take pictures of it – I couldn’t do that. So I wasn’t in harm’s way in the normal course of things. And I certainly didn’t seek out harm, because I didn’t want harm to come to me and had a great deal of respect and admiration for people who did who were brave and could face this kind of thing. And when I went to these places -- Mississippi, rural Georgia, Alabama – I was terrified that something was going to happen. Luckily for me, it never did, but I knew people to whom things did happen, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.
LEFFLER: So you think your role as Communications Director came as your result or your writing ability, not out of -- Did it have anything to do with this desire --
BOND: This fear?
LEFFLER: -- to stay in the background, to not be on the front lines?
BOND: It both had that and I was married and didn’t want to leave a new family. The hard work was being done in these places where you had to live. I was living in Atlanta, and didn’t want to move family to rural Mississippi or rural Alabama. So, probably a combination of just plain ordinary fear and circumstance – and the circumstance and the fear kept me in the safe and secure bosom of Atlanta.
LEFFLER: And you’ve said of those years that your experience at SNCC – you’ve used words in interviews like fantastic – that those were fantastic years.
BOND: These were fantastic years…
LEFFLER: You’ve even said that there’s never been anything like it. Would you stick with that? I think you said that in 1979.
BOND: In my life, there’s never been anything like it. Now I’ve had some wonderful experiences doing other things, but this was the most intense in my life. First of all, I’m surrounded by other people my age, who are – we’re running this thing. We’re in charge. That’s awfully heady to be 22, 23, 24, 25 and running this thing. We were running it. We were in charge. There’s no older people, saying do this, or don’t do that, or so on. We did it ourselves. We raised the money. We did the work. We did a fabulous job.
And the people with whom I’m working and who became closer friends than my high school classmates or than my college classmates, these people are my closest friends today. We just shared this intense experience, likened to soldiers in a foxhole. Now, we’re not really soldiers in a foxhole, because I’m living in Atlanta going out – some of those people out there being shot at, and beaten, and some of them killed.
For most of us, it’s a rough life, and a life way down on the income scale. Living in communal houses, ten guys living in a house, sleeping in bunk beds and so on. So it’s not an easy life, but it’s not like being at war – but it’s intense, and you become so close to the people with whom you work that you’re bound to them for the rest of your life.
LEFFLER: Looking at those years, and now thinking more globally about the rest of your life and career what influence do you think those years in SNCC have had on the rest of your career. I know you feel like there was a real intensity to that time and perhaps you've never had anything quite like that. But what influence did it have beyond just the intensity of friendships?
BOND: Well, it convinced me of the necessity for involving everyone in making a decision depending on what the group is that you're in -- we're all in groups and groups make decisions about things that they're going to do. It just struck me that you've got to involve as many people as you can in making the decision because the decision you make will be agreed to by everyone or by most people at any rate rather than my making the decisions or you making the decisions for all the rest of us. That principle, for me, comes out of my SNCC experience. We made decisions this way. It's odd. We have a reunion and people are saying, "Who made that decision?" It's a repetition of what we were doing forty years ago. We're still the same way. So that, I think, more than anything else came out of that experience, and also the feeling that if something's wrong you can say "This is wrong. We're not having this. We're not putting up with this. We're going to do something about it," and being willing to do something about it.
LEFFLER: Who were the leaders at that time, aside from your own group, that
you looked up to?
BOND: James Forman was the executive secretary, and he always had a phrase. He used to say, "Write it down. Write it down." -- and showed me and I haven't learned this lesson well, but he always said "You have to document everything. You have to write it down. If something happens write it down. Take notes." That had a big impression on me, which as I say I haven't absorbed as well as I could. But that just made a big impression on me and now I have records of things I've done because if I didn't write it down, somebody else did and I got that and I kept it. So I know what happened.
John Lewis who just had enormous courage and bravery, I mean was just almost indescribable. He would go anywhere and do anything and he was always non-violent. He's inviting the worst kind of punishment. You know he got a concussion at the bridge on -- Selma. He was beaten many, many other times -- at the Freedom Ride. Just a brave, brave soul, and absolutely fearless and deeply committed to non-violence. Much more so than I. It was tactical for me: use when on the picket line and don't use it, when someplace else. But he absolutely committed to it, in a deep way that most people in the movement never had.
LEFFLER: You're quoted in 1962 -- it's always dangerous to speak to the press because then it's in our information -- in 1962 as saying that you were very disappointed in Martin Luther King, you know, the man that everybody talks to as sort of the...
BOND: Everybody revered.
LEFFLER: -- the quintessential African-American leader.
BOND: Yes. I'll never get rid of that.
LEFFLER: So, why were you disappointed in him?
BOND: Well, I can't remember the specifics but something we thought was important, he wasn't paying as much attention to as we thought. We thought that he just wasn't -- he wasn't as militant as we were. Wasn't as willing to risk and dare as we were. I thought when I said that -- I remember thinking when I said that that we won't hear much more of this guy. He'll pass off the scene and somebody else will come along.
LEFFLER: I think you said that he was just going to become just another preacher, that he wouldn't be a leader?
BOND: Right. Well, boy was I wrong. But anyway, that was a feeling. We felt that in the scale of militants and aggressive behavior, and again we're talking about in a non-violent context, but on a scale of aggressive behavior we were first. He was maybe second or --
LEFFLER: More cautious --
BOND: Yeah. More cautious. And that you couldn't do this by caution. You had to be bold. We were bold and he was not.
LEFFLER: Now, what causes you to choose to run for the Georgia legislature?
BOND: Well, the legislature is reapportioned and these new seats were created with no incumbents. So whoever ran would be running for an open seat. I had a friend, Ben Brown, who was in an adjacent district who was running for the statehouse. He said, "Bond, you need to run for this. You live in this open district." I said, "Oh, no." He urged me and urged me and urged me and finally I agreed to do it. I have to tell you. I wasn't sure if I was a Democrat or a Republican. I think he said, "Would you rather belong to the party that Barry Goldwater heads, or would you want to belong to the party that Lyndon Johnson heads?" I said, "Oh, Johnson, by sure." That's how I aligned myself with the Democrats. I had voted for Kennedy in '60, because in Georgia you could vote at eighteen then. No other state in the union you could vote at eighteen. But I cast my first vote for John F. Kennedy. But Democrats, Republicans, it wasn't a big, big deal with me then.
LEFFLER: You didn't have any models of politicians, of people who had served elective office, did you?
BOND: Well, there were remote models. Adam Clayton Powell.
BOND: A tiny two, three other black members of Congress, but most of them were machine people. [William] Dawson from Chicago, [Robert] Nix from Philadelphia. These were machine politicians and they were -- I won't say they were useless because that's not true. But they were creatures of machines and weren't independent actors or thinkers. Powell was, but Powell had this kind of flamboyance, and so on. It was a little off-putting for, I think, those of us in the South. As he got older he became -- he was grasping for a place in the movement that had really passed him by and he became a less and less appealing figure. So I had these remote models of people who ran for office. In Atlanta, there was a guy on the city council, Q.V. Williamson, real estate guy, who was celebrated as the first. Dr. [Rufus E.] Clement, president of the Atlanta University was on the school board. He's the first black person elected to the school board in Atlanta many years before the 60's. But he was a kind of austere figure, remote figure. So -- no, I had no models anywhere close to my age or our ages because Ben and I are the same age. We were 25 years old then, and I didn't know any black person anywhere -- or white person for that matter -- who'd been elected to public office at 25. There probably were some but I didn't know any.
LEFFLER: Sure. So here you are. You have a young family. You have, I guess, given up your job at the Atlanta Inquirer -- ?
LEFFLER: -- which was by all accounts a logical direction for you to take because you were good with language and you liked to write and you were a good writer. So you give all that up to -- I mean, this seems to me to at the time to have been an enormous risk in terms of the resources that you'd have to come up with to run and the likelihood of success. What made you take that kind of risk?
BOND: Well the resources required -- at least in today's terms -- were relatively minimal. I don't think I spent more than a few hundred dollars on this. I think $500 to qualify, which I borrowed from my father, and borrowed means he gave it to me. Then maybe a couple of thousand dollars to run. Now people spend $100,000 to run for the Georgia state senate or statehouse. But I don't think I spent more than three or four thousand dollars on the whole race. But back to the writing real quick. At the paper I wrote everything. I wrote advice to the lovelorn. I wrote the letters and I wrote the answers.
LEFFLER: You can share that…"Dear Abby…"
BOND: Yes, it was like "Dear Abby." "Dear Abby, my boyfriend doesn't like me," and so I'd write "Oh, Dear Mary" -- so I wrote that. I ghost wrote a column for Lonnie King called "Let Freedom Ring" by Lonnie King, and I wrote news stories, too. But yes, I gave that up.
I don't know. I didn't think it was a risk. I thought we could win because we were in SNCC, we were superb organizers. All political campaigns are organizing efforts. You organize the voters. Turn them out. We could do -- that's what we did. That's what we did to demonstrate. You know you get the people. Find out who can do it, who will do it. Get them together. Say something to them. There they are. So we knew we could do that and I knew I could call on this cadre of workers. So when SNCC people would come to Atlanta for the weekend they would spend a day canvassing with me. I don't think anyone had ever run a campaign in Atlanta of the kind that's standard all over the country -- door knocking precincts, walking, doorbell ringing the way we did. We won.
LEFFLER: Your father is on record as saying he wanted all of his children to be college presidents. I think he had said that in some interview.
BOND: It'll never happen.
LEFFLER: No. And here you are at age 25 or so -- ?
BOND: School drop-out --
LEFFLER: -- having dropped out of college. Gone into political organizing. Now running for political office. Was this something that he supported when you did this?
BOND: Yes. I think supported. Was disappointed at it, but supported it. Wished I'd gone another way. Didn't want me to drop out of school. But my parents were always very supportive. He gave me the money to qualify for office and did some lightweight campaigning for me. I think rallied his friends and others who lived in the district to vote for me. So they were always very, very supportive. But I'm sure it was a disappointment for him.
LEFFLER: So, you never felt that this was a path you better not dare go down?
BOND: No. Not at all.
LEFFLER: Everything was really open to you then?
BOND: Yes, yes. All possibilities were open.
LEFFLER: Right, which is I think pretty unusual in and of itself.
BOND: It is unusual. I'm sure there are things I could have done that he would have said, no. But I wasn't going to do those things. I wasn't interested in those things.
LEFFLER: So once you get elected to office, I mean, you become a absolute named commodity all across America because of the inability to be seated, and the refusal of the legislature to seat you for three times, in fact, until you take it to the Supreme Court. As I look at that stage of your career it seems to me that that must have been really extraordinary to be twenty-five, twenty-six years old, fighting this, being in all the national newspapers, not really knowing how it would come out, probably being -- I mean, I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but probably being just furious by the actions of these legislators.
BOND: Oh, I was just so angry. But I knew how it would come out. I knew I was right. I'm not a lawyer you know but I had the advice of excellent lawyers who assured me that we were right, that we'd prevail in the end. So I had no doubt about that. I was fearful of what would happen when I eventually got in abut I knew I was getting in because I was -- everything was on my side.
LEFFLER: But how could you have no doubt that you would win, when you had watched the courts be -- you know, completely disregard the law in so many other ways?
BOND: Because knew the Supreme Court then, as opposed to now, then would do the right thing. I just knew they'd do the right thing and we knew they'd do the right thing. I had excellent lawyers. I had not only the man who became my brother-in-law, Howard Moore who is an excellent lawyer, but I had Leonard Boudin and Victor Rabinowitz, and they had won a series of Supreme Court cases, experienced attorneys expert in the First Amendment. They had a lot of Smith Act cases, too, representing communists. They were just such great lawyers we couldn't lose. I don't mean we were foolishly optimistic about it.
LEFFLER: But they also had the reputation of being very radical people and very strongly affiliated with the Communist Party.
BOND: Yes. But I didn't think the court would mind.
BOND: No, no, no. In fact because they'd won before. They'd been to the court before and won. That was good enough for me. I knew they could prevail. And I knew they were superior to the attorney general of Georgia. I was surprised when we lost on the lower court level when the two Kennedy appointees voted against me and the Eisenhower appointee voted for me.
LEFFLER: How were you so able to keep your cool during -- ?
BOND: My dear Phyllis, when they threw me out of the legislature eventually there was a period of about three hours one day between when we appeared before the body and something happens. About a three-hour delay. I went into a room in the basement of the Capitol and I broke out in hives, just all over my face, just awful, terrible. Just nerves, nervousness. I was nervous. That was -- everybody was looking at me. Everybody was staring at me. People were taking pictures of me, sticking microphones in my face. That was tremendously nerve-wracking. But I always knew we would win.
LEFFLER: You clearly always had the ability to hold on to your temper enough to not get yourself in trouble.
BOND: You know when I was growing up at Lincoln, I remember, I was playing with some younger kids and I picked this child up and threw him down. We were in something like a sandbox. I think it was the pit that high jumpers use, so it was, you know, soft. I threw him down. All the air went out of his body. I thought I'd killed him. I thought, "Gee, this is what happens when you lose your temper." He was perfectly fine, thank heaven. But I thought, "Gee whiz." So I just resolved, "I'm not letting this happen to me ever again. I'm not going to lose control again."
LEFFLER: Quite an object lesson.
BOND: Yes. It was really an object lesson.
LEFFLER: Let's talk a little bit about your years as a Georgia politician, first in the Georgia House of Representatives and then in the Georgia Senate. That takes up I think 21 years…
BOND: 21 years.
LEFFLER: …of your career. What points do you most remember? What points do you feel -- what were most distinguishing for you and most difficult?
BOND: The House years were not happy years. It was in the House that I was expelled from. My nemesis, Sloppy [James H.] Floyd, was still there. Whenever we'd get sworn in every two years he'd always walk out of the chamber. He wouldn't be sworn in with me. He had a small, a very small cadre of friends who were always hostile people. That was not a happy time.
I moved across the building into the Senate, and that was a much better time. I became chairman of a committee. I passed a lot of bills. I enjoyed -- here there were fifty-six of us, so if I get twenty-eight people to agree with me and I'm the twenty-ninth, then I've won. I can carry the day. And I loved that idea that you always knew: these people would vote no matter what it was. Whatever, they'd vote with me. They didn't care. These people might if you explained it to them. These people were a little tougher because you had to really explain it to them. These people you could trade with. I'll vote for you on this, if you vote for me on this. So I liked putting all that together and very much enjoyed that. I liked the kind of formality of the place where you would be the "Distinguished Gentlewoman from Albemarle County has risen to say this…" It's this enforced formality, which keeps civility in the place because I'd never call you by your name and never make any reference to you except in the nicest kind of way even though I'm attacking you, and what you're saying. So I enjoyed that. I enjoyed asking the questions and making the speeches. So, I enjoyed that a great deal.
LEFFLER: Do you feel that in the Georgia House that you were never given a chance?
BOND: No, I wouldn't say never given a chance. It's just that the people who were opposed to me were among the most powerful -- committee chairs, a couple of others. The Speaker was always very friendly toward me. When I came it was a man named George L. Smith. He was a fair guy and treated me as fairly as you could imagine. But I always felt as if there were hostile forces afoot and that probably was inhibited from trying as hard as I might because of this fear that no matter how hard I tried nothing would happen. So it wasn't so much people said "no" as there was a sort of implied no. When I got in the Senate there were people I knew didn't like me. I didn't like them. But generally speaking that didn't make any difference. We could work together on something of mutual interest. We'd be apart tomorrow and then the next day we'd be back together because all these people are politicians and politicians know that you're nothing but a vote. You can be a vote for. You can be a vote against. And they want you to be a vote for. So it's in their interest to be friendly and nice to you.
LEFFLER: Thomas Rose and John Greenya in an article I think they wrote claimed in 1972 that you were viewed in '72 -- this was before the Senate years -- as "an enigma in a family of strivers and doers." So the suggestion would be that somehow you weren't striving in your years as a legislator. How do you respond to that?
BOND: I don't know what that means. Did it mean my own family -- my sister and brother?
LEFFLER: I think the suggestion was that you came from a family of people who were strivers and doers, and somehow the suggestion was you were not living up to that in those years. Do you -- ?
BOND: Well, I was striving and doing. I was getting re-elected to the legislature, which is one measure of success. I was building seniority that would pay off eventually, more years than I cared to put into it. I was passing the occasional bill. I was extremely active in -- Georgia like most places has this local courtesy rule, where you legislate your city without any interference from people from the rest of the state. I did a lot of that helping Atlanta pass bills. They wanted to do this or that or the other, kind of mundane stuff. So I was striving. I don't know quite how to put that.
But you know I've always had the feeling that people had great expectations for me, which, of course, is flattering. But I don't think their expectation and my expectation are always the same thing. When I haven't met their expectation, then somehow or the other, I've failed when by my lights I'm being successful.
LEFFLER: Sure. Sure. Of course, one real measure of that success was both in 1968 when you're nominated for Vice President, and of course you can't accept it because you're too young, and then in 1976 when you float even a bid for the presidency, which I know you withdrew from early on. I mean those are enormous measures of esteem, it seems to me, to be in that league. So, obviously you are now at this point in the '70s, really at the height of your political career, at the height of your political recognition. You talk about the years in the Georgia Senate as really important and positive years for you. So, then it seems to me one of your choices was where to go from there?
LEFFLER: You decide to run for the Congressional district, fifth Congressional district? Is that right?
LEFFLER: And lose to your friend, John Lewis. So I'd like to talk a little bit about what it was like.
BOND: The thing about that district, I drew that district. I drew those lines. I created that district.
LEFFLER: So, what was it like to run a campaign against your good friend with whom you had -- ?
BOND: I'd like to think my good friend ran against me because I was the first to announce and all of the other people who ran ran against me. But it caused a serious break in a relationship, which so far as I was concerned, had been as close as it possibly could be. I can honestly say that John was my best friend. We went places together. Our families vacationed together. We did everything together. Christmas, we gave each other Christmas presents and so on. And when he ran against me the nature of the criticism he issued against me was a surprise. I'd run against people and people had run against me before in my House and Senate races. But always the level of dialogue was, I thought, on a pretty high plane. I've done these things and people would say, "Well, I can do them better." We'll see. I'd always prevail. But in this race he began to talk about himself as a different kind of personality than I was. I was a slacker, lazy, non-successful. He was brave, courageous, strong and true. So, you know, it was real hard to face him.
LEFFLER: He said at one point that you were a tail light rather than a headlight.
BOND: Yeah. And he said, "You know, Julian Bond worked for me."
LEFFLER: Yes, I know. I read that.
BOND: And in SNCC nobody worked for anybody. We all worked -- we were all equal. We all worked together. Nobody worked for anybody else. There were no bosses in SNCC. That was just awfully painful for me.
LEFFLER: I'll bet.
BOND: You know it's a break in a relationship that never healed. Never healed. We see each other from time to time, and I like to think we're cordial. But it has never healed.
LEFFLER: So, you said you were the first in and he ran against you. Do you have any understanding -- I know this is not about him, it's about you -- but do you have any understanding of why he would do that?
BOND: No, I don't. Because I'll tell you, he had just gotten re-elected the year before to his city council seat with the implied promise that he'd serve four years. So why after one year would you give that up to run? I don't know. Well, everybody's ambitious. Everybody wants to improve themselves. This was the opportunity to do this. The person who won this seat would be there for time immemorial as long as he wanted to be or she wanted to be. So I guess he saw the chance and took it.
LEFFLER: In 1987 you are really at a very difficult part of your --
BOND: Yeah, I'm at a low point.
LEFFLER: Real low point both in terms of your personal life, in terms of your career options. Was 1987 a turning point in terms of -- ?
BOND: Oh, tremendously so, because see in running for the House or the Congress I had to give up my Senate seat. So I'm -- when it's over not only do I not win this job, I'm unemployed. I have no job. I had no prospects for a job. And, my marriage is ending, falling apart. So all of these things at the same time was just a tremendous -- I don't want to say burden because -- well, whatever it was it was tremendous.
LEFFLER: Well, you were forty-seven years old and your world was clearly falling apart at that point.
BOND: Yeah. Coming to an end.
LEFFLER: And so one really -- one thing I'd really like to hear you reflect on is how you saw the way out of that. How did you -- where did the strength come from or what kind of strength did it take to be able to figure out a new path, a new way from there? Was it just circumstance that led you to where you got?
BOND: Well, it was a combination of circumstance, I think, and then my seeing a chance and going for the chance. Because I think when you get in a situation like that what can you do? You can go up. You can go down, either way. You're going to go one way or the other, no matter what happens, unless you take hold. I decided I had to take hold. I had to find something else to do. As I had no prospects. Nobody was saying, "Wouldn't you like to work for me? I have a job. You can do this." And I didn't think I had the kind of skills I could turn into a job. University teaching was not in my mind. I didn't think about it. So circumstance -- I fell into that through circumstance. But I fell into the circumstance through effort. I know I had to do something and I began looking for something. It wasn't so much I was considering, "Maybe I'll do this. Maybe I'll do this. Maybe I'll do that." But I knew I was going to do something. I had to do something. I had responsibilities. I had bills to pay. Alimony not the least of them. Then I had to live myself. So I had to make money.
LEFFLER: Did 1987 effectively end any prospects for further political career for you? Did you ever consider going back?
BOND: No, I don't think so because you know in politics there is always a second act. I mean look at Richard Nixon. It doesn't matter. I think had I stayed in Atlanta I could have done X, Y, Z. Run for another office, and may have been successful at it. I don't think that -- it ended it for me. There was nothing else I wanted to do. But think I could have something else had I wanted to do it. I could have run for county commission, I could have -- but none of those were appealing and Atlanta had become -- it was not a happy place for me. It was a place I didn't want to live anymore. The newspapers were just so hostile to me, just incredibly so. I just couldn't live in the situation like that. I had to get away.
LEFFLER: So, is that the point at which you moved to Washington?
BOND: Yes. I moved to Washington. I --
LEFFLER: And what caused you to move to Washington in '87? Why Washington? Why not -- ?
BOND: Washington. I knew someone here and moved to be with her.
BOND: And we subsequently got married. Pamela Horowitz.
LEFFLER: That was Pamela.
BOND: We subsequently got married. I have to say she has just helped me achieve a new life in ways that were unimaginable to me in so many different ways. So, it's been a godsend. I can't tell you how great a godsend. But it was she. She made me come to Washington.
LEFFLER: Of course, then after that you begin to get requests to teach for a term at different universities. You're at Drexel. You're at Pennsylvania. You're at Harvard. You're at the University of Virginia, before you take on the full-time position. How did that come about?
BOND: I'll tell you how the first one came about. I was -- all during this time I'd been hosting a television show in Washington. I would come to Washington every third week, say, and we'd do three shows in one night, three half-hour shows. A constant guest was Richard Berendzen, the president of American University. He was articulate, bright. He was the perfect TV guest. He could talk about anything. So one day we're doing a show and it's commercial break and he said "Have you ever thought about teaching?" And I said, "No, I never have." He said, "Would you like to teach at American University?" I said, "Well, gee, I'd like to do that." So he was the president. He fixed it up. I began to do it.
I enjoyed it. This is something I had not thought I would enjoy. My father had done it before he became an administrator and it looked to me like an awful lot of work. It was. It is an awful lot of work. But it looked to me like an awful lot of work. I had easily spoke to thousands and thousands of people. But as you know you can give the same speech every night. You can't give the same talk in the classroom every day. You've got to have -- you've got to have a long narrative and notes, and you've got to have -- back it up with something. So beginning at American and then at Harvard and Penn and Drexel and Williams, I began to put together -- and I'm still putting it together -- but I began to put together then, this -- several courses on the civil rights movement. But it was at American where I really started out. I'm still at American today.
LEFFLER: So that opened up that possibility and then -- so in a sense...
BOND: It made me see "I can do this. I can do this."
LEFFLER: So that was really just chance...?
BOND: Yes, oh, yes. Absolute chance. Absolute chance.
LEFFLER: ...that that opportunity came your way. It wasn't something you went out and actively sought.
BOND: No. I'll tell you something else -- how I got to Drexel. I was driving from western Pennsylvania back to D.C. Pam and I had been -- I'd been to make a speech. We stopped off in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, because a friend of mine was having a party for his wife. One of the guests was the Dean of the Business School at Penn. What's it called? Anyway...
BOND: Wharton. Wharton School. I didn't know Wharton had an undergraduate college. He said, "How'd you like to teach at Penn?" I said, "Well, okay. I can do that." So I agreed. We drove on to Philadelphia to see the flower show. Philadelphia has a great flower show. I called a friend of mine who teaches at Drexel and I said Gil, "I'm going to be teaching at Penn." He said, "How'd you like to teach at Drexel?" I said, "I'd love it". So I taught at Drexel in the afternoon and Penn at night.
LEFFLER: So one opportunity led to the next. Then you began to be known as somebody who was available for the college circuit…
BOND: For a while it was "Have syllabus, will travel." And the more I did it the more I understood I could do it and I could do it well. I think I do it better every semester I do it.
LEFFLER: Now, the last aspect I guess of your career that I'd like to talk about would be your involvement with the national NAACP. Now, of course, your national leadership once again as the national chair of the NAACP. In the earlier period of the 90's there was a lot of tension and struggle and difficulty within the NAACP, and for a number of years you were on the board there…
LEFFLER: Then are not re-elected to the board. You actually say at that point you essentially got eliminated from the board?
BOND: Yes, I did.
LEFFLER: I'd like you talk a little bit about your personal feelings through all that turbulence, and how you developed the strategy for helping to move the organization forward.
BOND: Let me start earlier than that. When I was with SNCC, we were a little contemptuous of the NAACP. It was slow moving. It appeared to us to be overly dependent on legal-isms to the exclusion of more activist things. It was not for us. That's why we formed this new organization. When I got to be in my late 20s and 30s living in Atlanta, SNCC was gone. The NAACP was there. And Atlanta had an excellent, excellent NAACP branch with a paid staff. Wonderful woman named Jondelle Johnson. I got on the board of the local NAACP and then I got elected president. From that, I got elected to the board, and I served on the board for about 16 years. Then this dispute arose with the then-chairman William Gibson -- who just passed away. I opposed him, and in retaliation he targeted me for defeat. I have a newspaper clipping: "Gibson Says Don't Vote for Bond." So I lost my seat on the board.
In that interim he -- the organization -- is mired in scandal. This all came to a head and he was defeated by one vote by Myrlie Evers. By this time I'm back on the board. We have to hire a new executive director and we hire Kweisi Mfume and he brings a real breath of fresh air to the organization. Then Ms. Evers decides she won't run for re-election after three terms, three one-year terms. Board members approach me and ask me if I'd run. Eventually I agreed to do so and campaigned and got elected in a contested election -- there were four other candidates running, and in a run-off election I won, and have since been re-elected four times unanimously without opposition, without dissent -- and saw this organization as a little backward, a little old-fashioned, terribly slow, riven by internal disagreements, and not disagreements over policy, not "Are we for affirmative action or are we against it?" Nothing like that. But personal disagreements -- fights among members of the board. The board described as a circular firing squad with all the guns pointed inward.
So I thought I have to overcome this somehow or the other. I have to make these people work together. So both building on something Myrlie Evers had done, which was forming a relationship with Harvard Business School, where we spend a weekend a year for the last four years, and where they've helped us enormously with these issues of self-governance and how a board behaves which has just been magical for us. Then working with the CEO because we had to fire or layoff 75 percent of our staff because we were four and a half million dollars in debt and working with him to rebuild the staff and bring it back up to strength once again. Then I was lucky enough to get a couple of donors to give us fairly large contributions, in the millions, and that, of course, money is a great salve to many, many wounds. So that helps us out a great deal.
But the big challenge has been to keep moving forward and to keep improving and not to get to a place where you say well, we're okay now. But to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. It's not easy to do because the board is so large. The organization is so large, and the organization is so democratic, small "d" democratic. People have said it suffers from an excess of democracy, because at every step the leadership is elected: The local president's elected. The state president is elected. The regional president is elected. The board is elected. We're all elected. And we're consumed all the time with these election battles and disputes. "I'm going to win." "No, you're going to win." "No you lose, you challenge…" So it's a tough, tough -- it is the toughest job I've ever had -- and it's not a paying job.
LEFFLER: But listening to you speak about this, just as you spoke about the Georgia legislature you talk in terms of others approaching you to run.
BOND: Um, hmm.
LEFFLER: So as a reflection on your leadership it's very interesting because it seems so consistent. You're not saying I decided I wanted this. You're saying and, just as Lonnie King did, it's like people approached you. You decided to step up to the plate. It happened.
BOND: Maybe the thing I decided myself was to run for Congress and I lost that. Maybe that's a lesson to me, to wait for somebody to ask. But at the NAACP Bishop Graves, who is a member of the board, respective member of the board, asked me to run and he said something very clever. He said, "I want to ask you to run for chair." He said, "Don't say no. Don't say anything, but don't say no." Then he got other people to call me and ask me. When two or three called me I said "maybe I have a shot at this."
LEFFLER: What would you say have been the enduring principles by which you lead and live?
BOND: By which I lead, it's the idea that everybody has to have a say. On the NAACP Board that means sixty-three people. I'm the sixty-fourth. Everybody has to have their say. Even some people who may not contribute much. They have to have their say or their chance at a say. And that there's got to be transparency, which is the modern word for openness. There's got to be openness in -- organizations that depend on public support have to be transparent. The public has to see that you're spending your money wisely, safely, nobody's enriching themselves, everything's on the up and up. You adhere to the group's principles. You have to have that. If you lose that, you lose everything. So that's part of it. I think people have to see you the leader as someone who adheres to principle. I do the best I can. Sometimes I get angry at people raising their hands and want to talk for the fifteenth time on something. But usually I'll say go ahead because you have to give -- I want them to do it for me when I raise my hand. I want to be treated -- I want to treat other people the way I want them to treat me. The old Golden Rule is --I really believe in that --Treat me the way you want me to treat you. If you do that we can get along, we can be okay.
LEFFLER: Would you call that your vision?
BOND: I guess so. I guess so. I believe in fairness. I don't mean in big, racial terms. I believe in it there, too. But in personal terms I believe in fairness. "Let's be fair with each other. You give me something. I'll give you something. You ask for something, I'll ask for something. We're even. We're even." It may be that you have a million dollars, and I have a thousand dollars. But we're even. We are each due the same level of respect.
LEFFLER: How would you distinguish between your vision, your philosophy and your style, or are they one in the same?
BOND: I think they're probably the same. Well, my philosophy, and I'm not sure if I can really sum it up the way I'd like to, is that "I want to go here." There may be several different ways to go all of them equally good, none of them bad ways. I'll take which ever way will get me there, and it may not always be the fastest, but it hopefully will be the one that gets me there in the best shape. That's -- none of these are bad choices. These are all decent ways to do this. But I want the one that will get me there. Everybody feels good about it. Everybody's happy at the result or most people are anyway. You can't make everybody happy.
LEFFLER: So ultimately you're really returning to this concept of the consensual model of leadership?
BOND: Yes. I believe in that. I believe in that.
LEFFLER: Now some would say that leaders are made because they're just great people. That they're great people and therefore they become leaders. Some would say that movements make the leaders. And some would simply say it's the confluence of unpredictable events that create leaders for their times. Which is the case for you?
BOND: Well, I -- you know, I can't say well, of course, "I'm great person." That's --
LEFFLER: Sure, you can. We hold with that.
BOND: But, I think it's a combination of the circumstances and seeing an opportunity and being able to put them together and being ready at the moment, being prepared at the moment. I was someplace and a fire engine came by and I thought, you know, maybe there's -- it was at a construction site at the library. I thought what if something has fallen on somebody and somebody is hurt? Is there something I can do? Well, luckily there's nothing I could do. I wasn't called upon to do something, but I felt as if I could do something. Whatever it was I could do it. So I like to think I'm ready to do it. I may not be always ready to do this thing. But I'm ready to jump in there and do something.
LEFFLER: Do you think being the age you were and in the place you were in the early 60's had something to do with your future leadership? Would you say that those circumstances -- ?
BOND: Absolutely. Now who can say if I'd been born ten years earlier or ten years later what would have -- we can't say. But I think having been born when I was and being where I was when I was had everything to do with it. We're -- young people are doing this all over the South. They're popping up every day sitting in someplace new. They're people very much like me, black college students in the South doing something I know I can do. I never tried to do it, but I knew I could do it. I was frightened about it, scared about it. But I knew I could do it. I think that was a common feeling among all of us. We knew we could do this.
LEFFLER: So there was something about that historical moment --
LEFFLER: -- that created a whole generation of leaders? So when you sort of talk about where does leadership come from, there was something about that moment that gave people the opportunity to find out that they could do it.
BOND: Yes. I think nine times out of ten, movement throws up leadership. The tenth time someone comes along and says, "I want to be a leader and I'm going to become a leader." We can look around us today and see figures who fit both these models.
LEFFLER: What are those issues of today that will throw up leaders?
BOND: Well, take the administration's domestic prosecution of the war on terrorism, the imprisonment of these many, many people without charges. Already there's a body of people who've sprung up both old and new. Old like the ACLU, who traditionally worry about these issues and new, like new people who are just outraged by this. Movements are thrown up. Or take the campaign against sweatshops. The manufacturer of university shop clothing like UVA t-shirts. I don't know if that's the case here. But students who previously have not been engaged at all in anything all of a sudden become engaged in this. This strikes them for one reason or another -- we don't know why -- are outraged by this and they rally together. They form a group or they create a new group or they join an existing group. They take some action. So something commands people to these things sometime too.
LEFFLER: But they're really -- I mean there are these very important issues, I don't doubt that. But there is really--is there anything of the magnitude out there?
BOND: I think there is but I don't think most people do. I think race is just as big an issue now as then. It's certainly been ameliorated a great deal from then to now. This is a very different and better world now than it was when I was a college student. And I can't understand why more people aren't grabbed by this, aren't seized by this, aren't compelled by this. It compels me. I've got to do something about it and have found a way to do something about it and it's not the same thing everybody does. Other people do it their own way. But I'm compelled. I have to do this.
LEFFLER: So would you define yourself as a race conscious leader?
BOND: I would define myself as what used to be called a race man. I'm a race man. My grandfather was a race man, somebody who put the race above all. I don't mean that he thought his race was superior to other races. But the concern for the race was above all, and I'm a race man.
LEFFLER: Would you say then that working on issues of race doesn't just improve things for the black man but for the...?
BOND: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's the whole point of things. I'm fond of saying I'm doing America's work.
LEFFLER: So then are you a race-transcending leader? Do you see yourself as...?
BOND: I don't know. I don't think I'm seen that way. I think I am but I don't think I'm perceived to be that way. I think I'm seen as someone who is overly race conscious and therefore cannot transcend race. I'm race fixated. I'm fixed on it, and I think I am conscious of a large world and a complex world we all live in made up of many different people and what helps one helps all. Lifts the whole.
LEFFLER: Do you have a different leadership style when you deal with all-black audiences or mixed audiences or all-white audiences?
BOND: I know I have a different rhetorical style, and it's not radically different, but it is different.
LEFFLER: How is it different?
BOND: Well, if I'm speaking to an all-black audience or a mostly black audience, I tend to speak more in the cadences of call and response, you know, that are familiar to ministers. Not just black ministers, but white ministers now. But it's more associated with black ministers. The repetition of phrases and the repeating of rhetorical questions. I do that deliberately because I know I'm getting a different response. This audience is used to that and in fact expects that. It's disappointed if it doesn't get that. So I'm deliberately different in that response, in that way. But the basic -- I will give the same speech to a black audience tonight and to a white audience tomorrow and get a good response from each audience. But my delivery is very, very different.
LEFFLER: So many African-American leaders have come out of a religious background. Been grounded in being a member of some black church or some church. It's been so fundamental in so many ways to the civil rights movement. Has that been a problem for you?
BOND: I don't think so. Now I am not religious in any regard. I've never attended church except when I was very young. My parents took me. I'm just not a religious person at all. I imagine there are people who are saying "He's not a Christian," or "He doesn't go to church or..." And every now and then people will say "What church do you belong to?" I say "I don't belong to any." They're sort of taken aback because it's expected that you do. At the recent NAACP convention almost everybody who stood up prefaced their remarks by saying "First giving honor to God," and I never say that. It's not a part of me. I think for some people that's something lacking in me, but it's perfectly fine with me and I'm going to keep on doing it.
LEFFLER: Is this call and response, that you're talking about is such a traditional religious...religiously-based…
BOND: It's both religiously based and independent of religious. It's a rhetorical style and when you get it going it's great.
LEFFLER: Do you think that there are issues for black Americans that are unique to the black community, that you would define as different than national issues? You said you were a race man and that you see those issues as good for all America. But do -- but take it a different way. Are there issues that are unique to black Americans today?
BOND: There are, and while you were asking the question I was trying to say "Yes, this is… this is… this is…" and nothing comes to mind right away. I think there are things that are unique to black Americans that aren't bad for non-black Americans. I mean they're not -- but there are peculiarities of issues. I think the same is true of Hispanics and other groups and Catholics and everybody else that every group has some set of issues that are theirs. That somehow or another doesn't touch the larger world in the same way. And what they are, I can't articulate right now, but I think there are such issues, there are these issue differences that make this group distinct and this group distinct and that group distinct.
LEFFLER: And perhaps there's a way to sum this up, could you articulate what you think are the major attributes, or characteristics, that are either common characteristics for black leaders, or that you think are actually essential for all leadership?
BOND: Well, let me talk about all leadership. I think communication skills -- and by that I don't mean being a highly polished speaker or the best writer in the world -- but the ability to tell others what it is you expect of them, what your vision is. You don't have to be the most polished person. Inarticulate people can do this. I've seen inarticulate people do this. So it's not smoothness or sophistication I'm talking about here but just the ability to get something across. This guy taught me math. He was inarticulate, but he taught me math and I learned math. So that's one important thing.
First, you have to have some vision, some idea. You have to have some notion of what it is you want done whether you're talking about education or economic -- whatever it is. You have to have some idea of what you want done or what you think needs to be done, what the larger world needs to do. What your audience needs. What -- you to have some idea. Here's my plan and you have to put it out there. And you have to be willing to have other people say, "No, that's not right. Try this, or that or modify this in some way" or even "Abandon that and accept this." You have to be open to new ideas and to challenges to your ideas. And you have to be willing I think to look over the long term, the long, long term. I mean years and years, and years and years. While you hope to achieve little victories that make you have another one and so forth. If you can get 'em that's great. But you have to have a long, long vision of where things are going to be ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years from now.
LEFFLER: Do you have to be tough?
BOND: Yes. You have to be tough. You have to be tough. You have to be able to take defeat and get up and do it again and try again.
LEFFLER: Do you have to have the ability to somehow distinguish your private life from your public life? Is that something that is a learned skill do you think in terms of...?
BOND: I think it's a learned skill. You have to do it. You can't always do it, but you have to try to do it because you have to have privacy, of some kind. You can't live your life in public under the public lens. Sometimes, because of what you do, or what other people do, all of a sudden there you are. But you can't have that. You have to try to not have that if you can.
LEFFLER: So are these different for black leaders than white leaders?
BOND: I don't think so. I think black Americans, and this is a generalization, are generally more forgiving of flaws in leadership figures than white Americans are, and this is a big generalization. So that when a leadership figure stumbles, the black Americans are more willing to forgive and forget and move on. We've seen this happen time and time again. There are probably other differences as well.
LEFFLER: But is it -- but are white Americans much less forgiving of black leaders for example than -- ?
BOND: I think so --
LEFFLER: Is it the same in reverse then?
BOND: And less understanding of the forgiveness. Now some of it is I think religious and religiously based. We know this controversy in the Catholic Church we're hearing about forgiveness as a tenet of Catholicism. So the priest who stumbles should be forgiven. We ought not have an ironclad policy; one mistake and you're out. I think for non-Catholics it's hard to understand. What do you mean? But for those who admire aspects of the Catholic faith it's perfectly understandable. They do believe in forgiveness. It is possible for the sinner to be saved. That's true you know of Baptists and Methodists and all kinds of other people, too. So there are things that are peculiar I think to African-Americans that aren't understandable by white Americans and vice versa.
LEFFLER: Well, you know the subject of leadership at least as well as I do. Is there anything you would want to add to this discussion that we've had today?
BOND: One thing: it just strikes me from a conversation I had recently. The people said where are our leaders? Where are our leaders coming from? I think they're coming. If you ask me to name the leaders of tomorrow, I know a couple of students here who are bright young people. We're going to hear from them. But I think there are hundreds of thousands of such people scattered throughout the country and the world in fact who are going to -- we're going to hear from them. Some of them we'll never hear from, but they'll be leading in one way or the other in their communities or someplace else. But they're coming. They're out there. They'll be around. Leadership will not go away.
LEFFLER: So you're not worried about the leaders of the future?
BOND: No, no. I will tell you this. I'm suspicious of people who say "Let's pass the torch." I'm 62, and I'm beginning to hear people say "Well, time for him to pass the torch." I'm not passing the torch. I think if you want the torch you have to take the torch out of my stiff fingers and peel them away one by one. That's the way I got it. Nobody gave it to me. So if you want it, you have to come get it.
LEFFLER: Well, good for you, and on that note I say thank you very much for doing this today.