Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Political Roles

BOND: But even before this you had demonstrated some interest in politics. You had run for a party office, had you not?

CONYERS: Well, I was always a precinct delegate. I was always in the Young Dems. I was always holding all kind of positions, you know, that we make inside of party structures.

BOND: So here's an early example of your reaching for and getting a leadership position. Now, what made you think that you rather than Joe or Mary or Sue, that you could fulfill this job?

CONYERS: Well, first of all, I thought I could win the job because nobody saw that this was a district that an African American could go to Congress on. All the pols -- my good friend even, Horace Sheffield, and the people at the TULC Trade Union Leadership Conference -- said, "Look, John, you've got a great future, but you're going to have to pay your dues, son. You're going to have to run for local office and, you know, in a few years -- but, first of all, we don't think anybody can win this job and secondly, you don't bring enough experience."

But it was me that saw that this could happen because I -- and the biggest thing I had going for me -- well, there were two things. One, I had worked with Martin Luther King and gone South, met you, and SNCC, and all the people, [Ralph] Abernathy, [Andrew] Young and so forth. The other thing is that I was active inside as a lawyer. I was representing tenants, police brutality cases, and I had a kind of budding reputation as a political activist. I was with the National Bar Association, the Wolverine Bar in Detroit, the National Lawyers Guild, and I was on the board of the NAACP in the Detroit Chapter which was just in its infancy. Now, it's, as you know --

BOND: The biggest in the country.

CONYERS: -- the biggest in the country.