Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Ethos of Quakerism

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."

BOND: Yes.

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.