Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond


BOND: Let me tell you a story I heard about you. This is out of context here. You know Werner Sollors?

BARAKA: Of course.

BOND: And Werner Sollors was going to be a James Joyce scholar. You know, he was studying James Joyce. That was what he was going to do. And he came to the United States and got one of these trip tickets that allowed him to go many miles on the bus. And he lands in Watts as the riot breaks out. And he's befriended a black woman who lives in Watts and she rescues him from the bus station, takes him to her home. They can't leave. He's there with her parents, and so on. And they turn on the TV and they're having a panel discussion about the Watts riot. And there's several people on the panel. And this guy says, "Oh, this is terrible. This is awful. This is terrible destruction. Burning, looting, terrible." Another guy says, "Oh, this is awful." And they come to you and you say, "This is the greatest thing I've ever seen." And the announcer says, "Well, we'll pause a moment for a commercial," and they go away. And when they come back, you're gone.

BARAKA: You're gone.

BOND: And Solars told me that from that moment on he dropped James Joyce, and he decided to study you. I don't know why I thought of that just now --

BARAKA: Well, because that kind of -- my reaction was coming from way back, from a whole other thing. It didn't have anything to do with America the Grand, so much as America the Oppressor, you know, because -- I'll tell you another story related to that. When Dutchman -- long, long leader -- when Dutchman was produced, and the opening night -- I went to the corner after. There were a lot of newspapers in New York then. And I went to the corner of this joint that stayed open all night and I got all these papers. This is in the Village. I got about five or six papers. And each newspaper would say, you know, in variations about "This man is crazy." "This man hates white people." "This man uses bad language." "This man -- " And my take on all that was finally, well, they want to make me famous, I see. They want to make me famous. That's what it is. No matter how much they hated the work they said --

But, you know, some didn't. But then, in some kind of not really miraculous, but surprising, fashion to me, there came down at my head this fierce understanding of responsibility. I never had that before. I was like a wild, young Bohemian. You know, I would do whatever was happening. But then suddenly this feeling, "Oh, now you're gonna make me famous? I see. Now, you're going to pay for that." Then I'm going to say everything I ever thought, everything I ever heard, everything my Momma, my grandmother, my father, my grandfather, all those people in the ghetto. Now is my turn to run it. See? And I felt that very clear. I mean, that was not a vague thing. That came into my head clear as a bell. You understand? "Now I'm going to get you." And so that feeling there, that story, I can see that because I really, genuinely felt that. You know?

I felt that like if you're going to kick our behind all these years, you know, and you say, "What should we say? Should we send you another letter saying that we don't like it?" -- that whatever had happened, the people did it because they were forced to it by the conditions and the context. And so be it, and right on. That's what I was thinking. And so that's when I began to think. Now, obviously, you try to provide, as you get older and can see some, you know, more productive direction, you know, because, finally, if you're burning down your own joint, you know, that's got some kind of negative --

BOND: Right. Right.

BARAKA: -- feedback.

BOND: Yes.

BARAKA: When Dr. King got murdered, I was out there in the street telling people, "Don't burn down your own joint, you know, because we did that before." You know, in '67 we burned down, you know -- and I was in the middle of-- out there in the middle of the street now telling people, "Don't burn down this part of town. This is where you live." You know? And they started to go downtown, you know, down the middle of the city. And I knew it was going to happen then. I was telling them then, "When you go down there, you know that them folks are waiting for us with their guns." Now you know that.

BOND: Yes. They'll protect that --

BARAKA: Yeah. So we went downtown, but we didn't -- you know, we went down there to put a presence. But by that time I had come to the understanding that, "No, I do not want them to try to run amok down here, because they will get killed". And I had a responsibility now for that. And so I'm going to tell you, "Do not do that. Stop. We can demonstrate, but do not run amok down here cause they will kill you."