Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Today

BOND: We were also talking just a moment ago, and I don't want to spend too much time on this, on the stature of those men, particularly that you just mentioned, and women like Connie Motley, and what appears to be an absence of similar kinds of figures today, and we were reflecting on whether it's a reflection on us and our age or what it is. Do we have comparable figures today?

CHAMBERS: We probably do, but not in the same vein that we remember them from times back. And it may be that the demands on people today are quite different. We, in our younger years, were fighting race discrimination, segregation, in fact. Today we are looking at something much more complex. And the leaders we have I think have to approach the problems differently. And we don't really see the kind of leadership we saw with the Connie Motley or Thurgood or Jack Greenberg, or Leon Higginbotham, because they are operating in a different mode. And I like to think that we have some leaders today who are doing some great things. I think of Vernon Jordan as a leader who does some great things. I know a number of people in business who are doing some great things. A number of leading educators who are doing some great things. But their approaches are different than the ones that we knew back in the 1950s and '60s.

BOND: Well, I wonder, for an example, I am the son of a man who was an academic and involved in higher education. And when I was, I guess, in my twenties, I knew the names of many of the presidents of the historically black colleges, probably because of my father's association with them. Today with the exception of you I know almost none of the names of these people. And I wonder if it is because — why is that so? Why don't these figures, these current day figures stand out in the same way that the past figures seemed to me as a young man?

CHAMBERS: Well, that's true. I mean, I know most of the presidents of HBCUs. But that's because of where I am today. But I think that you probably don't know the white college presidents either.


CHAMBERS: And so I don't know that it's a lot different in that respect. We have some good educators today. Not the Benny Mays or the Mordecai Johnsons. But they are doing great jobs in their own way. And they are not the kind of public figures that one would see with the Benny Mays or a Mordecai Johnson. And I wouldn't discount that leadership as extremely important for African Americans today.