Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond


LEFFLER: So, let's go on then to those years in SNCC, a few years when you become a communications director and SNCC is obviously just making headlines all over the place and accomplishing so much in terms of voter registration and sort of a kind of political activism and empowerment. Why did you end up communications director in that?

BOND: Because I had a facility for writing. I'd always been a quick writer and a good writer. But I could very quickly write something that explained whatever this thing was. We had a need for someone to write press releases, and we had a newsletter called The Student Voice and we needed someone. That was essentially a newspaper of the civil rights movement, of SNCC. We needed somebody who could write that very quickly. I could type. I could do it. I think in SNCC, you did what you could do. If you were good at this you did this. If you were good at that, you did that. I was good at this, and I did it. I was eager to do it. I liked doing it. I enjoyed doing it. I had envisioned for a while being a journalist, and this was like being a journalist. SNCC did something, I took notes. I interviewed people. I wrote it up, and I could do it just like that. I was quick.

LEFFLER: Now Peter Levy, in a book on civil rights leaders, says about that time -- he calls you "the odd man out," which is hard for me to understand.

BOND: Yeah. Me too…

LEFFLER: But he says that, about those years that basically you stayed out of harm's way, and that you didn't really believe in physical bravado. So, can you comment on that?

BOND:  Well, that was true then;  that’s true now.  If you look upon the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizationally, I was a bureaucrat.  I worked in the central office.  I went out in the field where danger was, but it was in and out. I would visit a project here to research it, to write about it, sometimes with a photographer who’d take pictures of it – I couldn’t do that.  So I wasn’t in harm’s way in the normal course of things.  And I certainly didn’t seek out harm, because I didn’t want harm to come to me and had a great deal of respect and admiration for people who did who were brave and could face this kind of thing.  And when I went to these places -- Mississippi, rural Georgia, Alabama – I was terrified that something was going to happen.  Luckily for me, it never did, but I knew people to whom things did happen, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.

LEFFLER:  So you think your role as Communications Director came as your result or your writing ability, not out of --  Did it have anything to do with this desire --  

BOND: This fear?

LEFFLER:  -- to stay in the background, to not be on the front lines?

BOND:  It both had that and I was married and didn’t want to leave a new family.  The hard work was being done in these places where you had to live.  I was living in Atlanta, and didn’t want to move family to rural Mississippi or rural Alabama.  So, probably a combination of just plain ordinary fear and circumstance – and the circumstance and the fear kept me in the safe and secure bosom of Atlanta.

LEFFLER:  And you’ve said of those years that your experience at SNCC – you’ve used words in interviews like fantastic – that those were fantastic years.

BOND:  These were fantastic years…

LEFFLER:  You’ve even said that there’s never been anything like it.  Would you stick with that?  I think you said that in 1979. 

BOND: In my life, there’s never been anything like it.  Now I’ve had some wonderful experiences doing other things, but this was the most intense in my life.  First of all, I’m surrounded by other people my age, who are – we’re running this thing.  We’re in charge.  That’s awfully heady to be 22, 23, 24, 25 and running this thing.  We were running it. We were in charge.  There’s no older people, saying  do this, or don’t do that, or so on.  We did it ourselves.  We raised the money. We did the work. We did a fabulous job.

And the people with whom I’m working and who became closer friends than my high school classmates or than my college classmates, these people are my closest friends today.  We just shared this intense experience, likened to soldiers in a foxhole.  Now, we’re not really soldiers in a foxhole, because I’m living in Atlanta going out – some of those people out there being shot at, and beaten, and some of them killed.

For most of us, it’s a rough life, and a life way down on the income scale. Living in communal houses, ten guys living in a house, sleeping in bunk beds and so on. So it’s not an easy life, but it’s not like being at war – but it’s   intense, and you become so close to the people with whom you work that you’re bound to them for the rest of your life.