Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Political Beginnings

LEFFLER: Now, what causes you to choose to run for the Georgia legislature?

BOND: Well, the legislature is reapportioned and these new seats were created with no incumbents. So whoever ran would be running for an open seat. I had a friend, Ben Brown, who was in an adjacent district who was running for the statehouse. He said, "Bond, you need to run for this. You live in this open district." I said, "Oh, no." He urged me and urged me and urged me and finally I agreed to do it. I have to tell you. I wasn't sure if I was a Democrat or a Republican. I think he said, "Would you rather belong to the party that Barry Goldwater heads, or would you want to belong to the party that Lyndon Johnson heads?" I said, "Oh, Johnson, by sure." That's how I aligned myself with the Democrats. I had voted for Kennedy in '60, because in Georgia you could vote at eighteen then. No other state in the union you could vote at eighteen. But I cast my first vote for John F. Kennedy. But Democrats, Republicans, it wasn't a big, big deal with me then.

LEFFLER: You didn't have any models of politicians, of people who had served elective office, did you?

BOND: Well, there were remote models. Adam Clayton Powell.


BOND: A tiny two, three other black members of Congress, but most of them were machine people. [William] Dawson from Chicago, [Robert] Nix from Philadelphia. These were machine politicians and they were -- I won't say they were useless because that's not true. But they were creatures of machines and weren't independent actors or thinkers. Powell was, but Powell had this kind of flamboyance, and so on. It was a little off-putting for, I think, those of us in the South. As he got older he became -- he was grasping for a place in the movement that had really passed him by and he became a less and less appealing figure. So I had these remote models of people who ran for office. In Atlanta, there was a guy on the city council, Q.V. Williamson, real estate guy, who was celebrated as the first. Dr. [Rufus E.] Clement, president of the Atlanta University was on the school board. He's the first black person elected to the school board in Atlanta many years before the 60's. But he was a kind of austere figure, remote figure. So -- no, I had no models anywhere close to my age or our ages because Ben and I are the same age. We were 25 years old then, and I didn't know any black person anywhere -- or white person for that matter -- who'd been elected to public office at 25. There probably were some but I didn't know any.

LEFFLER: Sure. So here you are. You have a young family. You have, I guess, given up your job at the Atlanta Inquirer -- ?

BOND: Mm-hmm.

LEFFLER: -- which was by all accounts a logical direction for you to take because you were good with language and you liked to write and you were a good writer. So you give all that up to -- I mean, this seems to me to at the time to have been an enormous risk in terms of the resources that you'd have to come up with to run and the likelihood of success. What made you take that kind of risk?

BOND: Well the resources required -- at least in today's terms -- were relatively minimal. I don't think I spent more than a few hundred dollars on this. I think $500 to qualify, which I borrowed from my father, and borrowed means he gave it to me. Then maybe a couple of thousand dollars to run. Now people spend $100,000 to run for the Georgia state senate or statehouse. But I don't think I spent more than three or four thousand dollars on the whole race. But back to the writing real quick. At the paper I wrote everything. I wrote advice to the lovelorn. I wrote the letters and I wrote the answers.

LEFFLER: You can share that…"Dear Abby…"

BOND: Yes, it was like "Dear Abby." "Dear Abby, my boyfriend doesn't like me," and so I'd write "Oh, Dear Mary" -- so I wrote that. I ghost wrote a column for Lonnie King called "Let Freedom Ring" by Lonnie King, and I wrote news stories, too. But yes, I gave that up.

I don't know. I didn't think it was a risk. I thought we could win because we were in SNCC, we were superb organizers. All political campaigns are organizing efforts. You organize the voters. Turn them out. We could do -- that's what we did. That's what we did to demonstrate. You know you get the people. Find out who can do it, who will do it. Get them together. Say something to them. There they are. So we knew we could do that and I knew I could call on this cadre of workers. So when SNCC people would come to Atlanta for the weekend they would spend a day canvassing with me. I don't think anyone had ever run a campaign in Atlanta of the kind that's standard all over the country -- door knocking precincts, walking, doorbell ringing the way we did. We won.

LEFFLER: Your father is on record as saying he wanted all of his children to be college presidents. I think he had said that in some interview.

BOND: It'll never happen.

LEFFLER: No. And here you are at age 25 or so -- ?

BOND: School drop-out --

LEFFLER: -- having dropped out of college. Gone into political organizing. Now running for political office. Was this something that he supported when you did this?

BOND: Yes. I think supported. Was disappointed at it, but supported it. Wished I'd gone another way. Didn't want me to drop out of school. But my parents were always very supportive. He gave me the money to qualify for office and did some lightweight campaigning for me. I think rallied his friends and others who lived in the district to vote for me. So they were always very, very supportive. But I'm sure it was a disappointment for him.

LEFFLER: So, you never felt that this was a path you better not dare go down?

BOND: No. Not at all.

LEFFLER: Everything was really open to you then?

BOND: Yes, yes. All possibilities were open.

LEFFLER: Right, which is I think pretty unusual in and of itself.

BOND: It is unusual. I'm sure there are things I could have done that he would have said, no. But I wasn't going to do those things. I wasn't interested in those things.