Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Public Service and Color-blindness

BOND: Now, your constituency, and correct me if I'm wrong, has gotten whiter from the House to the Senate to the Congress. Is that true?

BISHOP: Yes—well, initially when I ran for the State House, it was a 35% black/65% white. There was redistricting three or four years later, which made it a majority black district. Then when I ran for the Senate, it was about 50/50, black/white. When I ran for Congress, it was 45% black voter registration with 55% white voter registration. It was 56% black population—men, women, children and prisoners.

Shortly after I guess my second term in 1996, the federal courts decided that that was reverse discrimination and they forced a redrawing of the district lines. In fact, they redrew the district lines and my district was then reduced to 32% black and, of course, by that time, I had four years of experience under my belt and I had four years of demonstrated service and so I was able to get re-elected even though I had white opponents and Republican opponents and, of course, several redistrictings later, my district has now become 40% African American now, 60% white.

BOND: Well, I ask the question because when one theme that seems to be common in all of your public service is a kind of color-blindness—that you strive to improve life for all of the people that you represent, not just some of the people that you represent. Is that fair to say?

BISHOP: Well, it's fair to say in part. I've never forgotten who I am and how I got there. But for the Voting Rights Act, I wouldn't be sitting here. But for the Civil Rights Movement, I would not be here. But for Brown v. Board of Education, I would not be here, but what's good government for everybody is also good government for black people and so I'm for good government and it helps everyone and whether it's education, whether it's health care, as long as it's available and accessible for everyone and everyone has access and opportunity, be they rural or be they urban, be they be black, white, young or old, that's what government should be about and if I'm able to help everybody, that's what I want to do.

BOND: I wondered when you were talking earlier about the Georgia prison case if the white prisoners realized how they were the beneficiaries of an action begun by the black prisoners who were segregated from them.