Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Greatest Contributions

BOND: Looking back over your life to date and it’s going on for many many years after today, what do you see as your greatest —

BERRY: You think so, huh?

BOND: I know so. What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American leader?

BERRY: I have no idea. I hope what I have done is to say to people that it’s possible to be a scholar and an activist. It’s possible to survive even if you’re attacked. If you continue to stand up on issues anyway, you can survive and you can lead a relatively pleasant life despite it all.

BOND: Are there moments that you’re particularly proud of that you say, you know, I’m so happy I did that or said that then?

BERRY: Well, I like the fight that I made against Ronald Reagan when he was president, when he gutted the Civil Rights Commission, and when we stood up and said, you know, he wanted to turn it into an outhouse public relations operation for the White House and I liked the fact that I sued him and that I won the case because it was important even though we lost most of the Commission for a while and it’s still not righted. It was something that had to be done.

I also liked the fact that I took the Commission to Florida in 2001 and investigated the election down there even though the Bush people got very angry with me and even though people wrote all kinds of vitriolic things about me and said all kinds of things about me because I thought that one of the most important things the Civil Rights Commission did over the years was to hear from people, have their government body listen to them when they had been mistreated and to subpoena folks and have them come in and stand up and have to explain themselves, so I thought that that was very important and it did make some changes. Not, you know, we got a lot of other changes to make, so I think that— And both of those occasions, it was very difficult to do, but I’m happy I did it.

BOND: Are there things that we don’t know anything about that you know about that you’re particularly proud of doing?

BERRY: Things that you don’t know —

BOND: That the public doesn’t know.

BERRY: That the public doesn’t know.

BOND: The Florida trip, the suit against Ronald Reagan, these are well-known things.

BERRY: The public knows those.

BOND: Yes.

BERRY: Yeah. Well, if the public doesn’t know about it, some of those things that I told you earlier that I don’t take credit for.

BOND: What about the Free South Africa movement?

BERRY: I would say that that is another example of something that I did that I think helped to make a great change and it was very important and that I didn’t have to do. I mean, I didn’t have to do any of these things and I was very happy when Randall Robinson asked me if I’d help him and if I’d be willing to go to jail and be willing to challenge those folks and I’d been working on the South African issue for a long time and there were people who attacked me and said I shouldn’t have been doing that and all the rest of it, but I think it did help to get sanctions and it did help to get freedom from apartheid.

BOND: It undoubtedly did and it was so simple.

BERRY: It was simple, wasn’t it?

BOND: But it took somebody like you and Randall to get it going. I even— My little daughter who was under age came up here with me.

BERRY: And got arrested.

BOND: And got arrested.

BERRY: Yes. And the first— The thing that’s so interesting is before we got arrested and started it and we had talked to all kinds of people about getting arrested and nobody wanted to get arrested.

BOND: And then it became fashionable.

BERRY: After we got arrested and after it became worldwide news, you know, people would call up and where can I get arrested?

BOND: Yes. When’s my day coming. What day can I have.