Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Civil Rights Leadership

LEFFLER: Just to go back for a moment. Did you stay in touch with Lonnie King beyond those early years?

BOND: Yes. He left, graduated and came to Howard Law School. Never finished, but lived in the D.C. area. So for a while, while I remained in Atlanta and he was in Washington, we were out of touch. But since I moved to Washington about fifteen years ago we've been back in touch.

LEFFLER: Did he stay deeply involved in the civil rights movement?

BOND: No, he didn't. He became "disaffected," he said. I was never sure why, or if that was the real reason why. But he broke away from it. It's odd. You know the four guys who started the sit-in movement in 1960 didn't stick with it. They drifted -- one went in the service. One went here and so on.

LEFFLER: So I want to get more specifically into these different stages of your leadership career starting with SNCC. But isn't it interesting that the people you would have thought of as leaders of this movement, who came to you to ask you to participate, didn't continue as leaders, but you did?

BOND: Yes. Well, it's true. If you look at almost all of these towns and cities where the sit-ins break out two or three people start it. It becomes a larger group. The larger group does something. Victory is achieved. The larger group contracts, and a small cadre goes on. …goes on to another level doing something else and they connect with others and the group grows…

…The four guys who started the sit-ins in Greensboro dropped out and others dropped out. What happens usually is, if you look at these communities where the sit-ins began two or three people started. The group grows. They sit-in, protest, march, whatever. Win a victory or win the victory and then the group dissipates or scatters and that little cadre goes on. Now some of the people in the original cadre have dropped off. They've gone back to school. Who knows? But one or two carry on to another level and some of the people who are in the larger group join the inner cadre. So it's -- I'm sure you could draw a chart of this. But that's the way it happens.

LEFFLER: What do you think it is about yourself that caused you to stay so intensely involved all these years even in many different capacities?

BOND: I've often wondered about a different aspect of that question. Why on a college campus of a thousand people at my college did roughly only, say, 200 participate fairly regularly? Out of that 200 only about 20 consistently? The group grew, shrunk, grew, shrunk, shrunk. Why did I carry on in this? I think those of us who carried on, saw early on, victory. We won. We integrated the lunch counters in Atlanta. I don't think we realized how tough the rest of it would be but we said to ourselves, "Hey, we won this one. We can win the next one." It was that early victory that made us see what possibility was. I don't think we understood how tough it would be, how large the problem really was. But having won once, we knew we could win again.And I knew we could win again, we could do it again. We'd have to change our techniques, change our direction, change this. But we could do it again.

LEFFLER: So there was a kind of empowerment for you personally that came out of that?

BOND: Absolutely. Absolutely. When you got arrested the very first time everybody describes it as a feeling of release. Marion Barry describes it as feeling more powerful than he had ever felt in life -- when he gets arrested. Of course, that's a time where you are power-less. But he and everybody else who talks about it, writes about it, has said, "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life, and it was a wonderful feeling."