Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Civil Rights Involvement

LEFFLER: You're at Morehouse right on the cusp of the time when the civil rights movement is heating up. I've heard you tell the story about Lonnie Bunch and meeting him. But if I were really to push you on this would you really say, would you -- were there not other things besides Lonnie Bunch --

BOND: Lonnie King.

LEFFLER: Oh, I'm sorry. Lonnie King. I'm sorry -- that pulled you into the -- ?

BOND: Oh, sure. I think my life until then had pulled me in. That everything my parents had told me about responsibility to others, everything I'd learned at the George School about speaking truth to power, everything I'd learned about daring to stand up to powerful people and say "no" to them whatever the consequences. All of that came together when Lonnie King came up to me and asked me if I would join in this movement. I was the third person that he spoke to. I imagine that had he not spoken to me I would have gravitated toward it anyway, but maybe not. But he did, and I did. But it was all this combination of things that sort of pushed me when he asked. I was pushed to say "yes."

LEFFLER: When you said "yes," describe, if you can, the very beginnings of that weekend --

BOND: Well, I was in this cafe where you used to go between classes and he came up to me with this newspaper that talked about the sit-ins in Greensboro and asked me if I'd seen it. I said, "Yes." Said, "What do you think?" I said, "It's great." He said, "Don't you think it oughtta happen here?" I said, "I'm sure it will." He said, "Don't you think we oughtta make it happen here?" I said, "What do you mean 'we'?" He said, "Well, you take this side of the cafe and I'll take the other, and we'll talk to people about doing it." Although I was pretty shy at that age, I was not too shy to go up to strangers and say, "We're having a meeting about this. Come on and join." Some of then said yes. Some said no. We got a core, and that was the beginning of the Atlanta sit-In movement.

LEFFLER: Do you remember being frightened when you went out on some of these sit-ins?

BOND: Oh yes. The very first time I went to the city hall cafeteria, which was segregated, and I was leading the group. I was the first person. I had to talk to the women behind the steam counter who were terrified. Then, I had to talk with these black women. Then I had to talk with a white woman who was a cashier at the end of the line. She was very nice, but I was frightened to death. Then she called the police and, of course, the police came. I was terrified of them. You know I had these images of clubs and all these kind of things. But this is Atlanta after all. This is not Birmingham, and the Atlanta police had relatively good relationships with black Atlantans. So they treated us in a decent way. Just arrested us. Put us in a paddy wagon. Took us away. There's no maltreatment at all. So all my fears were dissipated. Got in the jail and we're in these cells with these other people, other men who'd been arrested for heaven knows what, and you're wondering "What's he in here for? What did he do?" So...

LEFFLER: And "What's going to happen to me for leading the movement?"

BOND: "What's going to happen to me and how long am I going to be here?" But we were only there for a couple of hours and got out again. But oh, yeah. I was tremendously frightened.

LEFFLER: So then after you did it once or twice, did your fear lessen?

BOND: Yes. It dissipated, went away. And in that occasion and in others because I was in charge I had to not show fear because the other people would be fearful. So I had to put on a brave front, a facade, a fearlessness to maintain some spirit among the people I was leading because you can't lead others and be fearful or show fear. You have to be brave.