Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Arts and Civil Rights movements

BOND: Some characterize the making of leaders in three ways: no. 1 — great people cause great events. No. 2 — movements make leaders, or 3 — the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time. How would you characterize your path to leadership? Which of those three or a combination of all three?

DOVE: I think it's a combination of those, because I think first of all, I was extremely lucky to have been born when I was, coming to age during the civil rights movement. I was 11; in fact, it was my 11th birthday when the March on Washington occurred, so I was cognizant of it. We went down to Washington. My father marched and I was cognizant of it.

BOND: Your father marched, but you didn't?

DOVE: No. He brought the whole family down to D.C. We stayed with some relatives. They were afraid for our safety.

BOND: Do you think he intended that from the beginning?

DOVE: Yes. He intended that from the beginning.

BOND: So, on the one hand, you had the experience but you didn't have the experience?

DOVE: Exactly. Yeah. I watched it on TV and I was in the same city. And I was looking for my father in the crowd.

BOND: You couldn't see him.

DOVE: I couldn't see him, but he was there. There was a connection, so since he was protecting us and at the same time, he says this is — "You are here." And which meant that I was aware of this. I knew that this movement was propelling me forward, right? I was not on the front lines and even in terms of literature, the black arts movement had to shout to be heard. Up to that point, if you were a black writer, you were relegated to only write about black things, whatever that is, you know. In other words, write about being a victim. The black arts movement began to shout and said we're through with this. That allowed me and the whole generation of writers that followed afterwards to begin to write about the whole aspect of being a human being and to insist that that was of a piece, that you could not separate all the time the aspects of being black or being a woman or being in a certain class from looking at a flower. That was incredibly important. It gave me a freedom to do that and I was very aware of that and grateful for that, so that's a confluence of movements that helped propel me forward, though I think there were certainly and hopefully talent that [laughs] that got me to certain points, but I also realize that there were probably many talented writers or people who did not get forward or who were not heard who would write about something that happened to a love poem and someone would say, well, that doesn't say anything about being black and they didn't get published, so I realize that's behind me, too, as well.