Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Anthropological Perspective

BOND: I wonder also if this isn't -- first, this confrontation with Herskovits and then the study where you don't write about the ambulance and the welfare system and so on, but you see them -- if this isn't some kind of predictor for you of leadership battles and leadership styles yet to come. After all Spelman is an alternative institution -- this struggle with Herskovits -- you must have had these other similar kinds of struggles as your academic career continued on, and I don't imagine then you said, "Well, gee, I'm going to do this again," or "This is good training for the next clash I'm going to have or -- "

COLE: No, and this is, this is the real power of the interview, because I'm really having now a much stronger sense of the connectedness between exercising my own power in that situation and the continuity of that act, of seeing the importance of an alternative way to doing intellectual work, which it really was. I mean I've never made a big thing of -- and I did early native anthropology, but it was -- I mean, there was simply not that many black folk who were anthropologists, and the notion that we could study our folk as opposed to white folk studying our folk, was really, at that point, a very radical idea.

BOND: Have you ever wondered what would happen if you'd gone to Herskovits and said "I want to study the first white Christian church of Skokie, Illinois?" Might he have, although they wouldn't have been open to it, might he have been more open to that?

COLE: That's an interesting question. I think the answer is yes, because he really did believe that I could not be objective. And you see my position is that no one really is. I'm very fond of language that -- I'm pretty sure its the language of C. Wright Mills, I should go back and check it. But the line is this: "I will try to be objective. I will never claim to be detached and I think that my work really falls under that banner." Sure one should attempt to be objective, but some notion of being so distant from what one is studying, from being intellectually detached and detached in the sense of not allowing one's humanness, one's ability to care, to be outraged, to be exercised, I'm not interested in that kind of work.