Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership and Social Movements

BOND: People characterize making of leaders in three ways: either A, great people cause great events; B, movements make leaders; or C, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time. Do you fit one of these three paths.

DAVIS: I think B and C. I think you probably already know I would say B and C. Yeah, exactly. I think that movements give rise to the most effective spokespersons for those movements and I like to talk about Dr. King and what an incredible leader he was precisely because he was able to give expression to collective aspirations and that — that he didn’t simply appear one day and the movement arose in response to his presence. Oftentimes, we focus so much on him as an individual that we erase the groundwork, the day-to-day, unglamorous organizing work that was done by so many people, especially women.

BOND: Yes. You know, Ella Baker said, "The movement made Martin more than Martin made the movement."

DAVIS: Absolutely, absolutely.

BOND: But did the movement, in effect, make Angela Davis as much as Angela Davis made the movement and continues now to make the movement?

DAVIS: Well, yes, I think that I was a creation of the movement in many respects, you know, both in terms of who I am and my own passion for justice but also a creation of the movement that developed around the demand to free me in terms of the iconography that that movement created and that doesn’t have very much to do with me. You know, I see young people today wearing t-shirts with my image on it and it used to really bother me at first. It used to embarrass me and it bothered me and finally I asked a young woman why she wore that shirt and she said, “It makes me feel strong, it makes me feel powerful, it makes me feel like I can do anything I want to do,” and so my response was, “Right on," you know, "if it does that for you.”

BOND: And it must make you feel good about that.

DAVIS: Well, it does. It does, but again, I see that as the strength of that movement.