Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

History of Black Leadership

BOND: Now, how does leadership change over this period? What are the demands on black leadership today as opposed to twenty, thirty, forty years ago? When you were at the Legal Defense Fund how was, if at all, how was the demand on your leadership different from the demand on Thurgood Marshall and then Jack Greenberg?

CHAMBERS: Well, I think as time passes leaders have to become much more diplomatic and less dictatorial.

BOND: Do you mean with their outside constituency or with the inside constituency?

CHAMBERS: With the inside, and somewhat with the outside as well. Thurgood could generally sort of make a decision and direct that it be implemented. Jack did a lot of that as well. But Jack had to negotiate more. I had to negotiate a lot. And I think that Elaine has to negotiate a lot. And employees, our people are much more at ease in raising questions about leadership.

BOND: Is that in part a reflection of the employer/employee relationship change over time? Or is it something else? That is, are the people who work for Thurgood Marshall in a different relationship with Thurgood Marshall than the people who work for Elaine Jones are with Elaine Jones?

CHAMBERS: I can't really answer that. I don't think that there is that much. I think the people themselves have changed. And we revered Thurgood. If he said that chalk was white, chalk was white. We didn't care to question that. If he said that the justice would do better if approached this way, then the justice would do better if approached this way. Jack didn't take that much hands-on in doing things. But he would say this is the approach that we are going to make and that was the approach that we were going to make. And he also would line up his votes on a board of directors to ensure that that happened. I had to go negotiate a lot more with everybody. And I know Elaine has to as well. So those are –

BOND: Well, what was the change between Greenberg's tenure and yours? Why did this increase –

CHAMBERS: It was a matter of degree. Jack became Director Counsel at a point when a lot of black people thought that civil rights organizations ought to be led by black people. And he did a fantastic job in holding the organization together and moving it ahead and focusing mostly on issues because we were right in the midst of the civil rights demonstrations and others. And people had to look at those issues more so than "leadership". But even so he still had to negotiate where he was going. I followed Jack and people had gotten to the point where they wouldn't mind questioning certain leadership decisions. And they did it even more so when I was there. And so that – and Elaine comes along and –

BOND: And is a woman –

CHAMBERS: And is a woman. And so they do question. And so you have to be a bit more diplomatic with the way you operate.

BOND: I just had a thought and don't want to talk about this a long time, but is it fair to say that Jack Greenberg was a black leader?

CHAMBERS: I would think that he was. As much so as any black leader I've seen. And I watched Jack operate and I know that he was as involved in directing that organization and bringing people along as anybody that I've seen. I've seen him work with the black leaders of that era, including Martin King and Whitney Young, among others. And they respected him as a "leader" in that respect. So I would think so.

BOND: So, at least in this instance, racial leadership is not dependent on your race. It's dependent on what you do and how well you do it.