Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Development

BOND: At what point in your life, even going back as far as high school, did you say or think to yourself — may not have said it — I'm a leader. Other people follow me. I can direct the course of other people's actions. When did that come to you?

BISHOP: It never really came to me. It was when people said, "You know, Sanford, we want you to run for president," or an instructor said, "Sanford, I want you to run for District President." "But, I don't" — "No, you should run. You have all that it takes," and I got the encouragement. When Mrs. Reese would say, "Sanford, I want you to introduce this young man that's coming to Mobile to speak. You're the one to do it. I want you to do it." And people who expressed confidence in me.

I was not afraid to talk to the teachers and so other kids would come to me and say, "Well, ask Miss So-and-so this," or "ask her can we go out for recess," "ask her can we do this," and I was bold enough to do it and so that I guess allowed them to delegate and to allow me to be their spokesperson and represent them in doing what they didn't necessarily feel comfortable doing themselves and I guess it just grew and, of course, when I had the experiences in the Boy Scouts and in the student council, I got the confidence and I was able to I guess persuade people that I could articulate their needs and concerns.

BOND: Now, some of what you're describing is nurturing, people nurturing you and other people would say that it's nature that creates these leadership impulses. Which is it for you, do you think? Is it nature or is it nurture?

BISHOP: I would think that it might be a combination. Later in life, when I ran for the legislature, I happened to be sitting down with my parents and they were talking about how I acted as a child and they recalled when I was two and three years old in the yard or at nursery school playing with the other children how I seemed to — whatever I did, the other children went to do. If I decided I was tired of playing ball and went and got on the seesaw, everybody else would come around the seesaw, and if I decided that I wanted to go and pluck the clover from the grass and the other kids said, "What're you doing?" they would follow and want to know what I was doing and so they, in their own minds, said, "He looks like he's going to be a leader," but they didn't say that to me.

BOND: But they may not have even consciously said to themselves.

BISHOP: Right. Well, they did, they discussed it with each other.

BOND: Oh, really?

BISHOP: They said, "Look how they're following Sanford."

BOND: I meant the other children may not have—

BISHOP: No, no, no, but it was my parents, because I didn't notice it, but my parents noticed it and apparently maybe some of the people at the nursery school or at my schools noticed it and, of course, the teachers were — we all knew one another in our community and, of course, my parents were friends with many of the teachers whom they had taught when they were college students and so they would report on little Sandy.