Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Building Legitimacy

BOND: You've answered this question, but I want to ask it anyway. Is your legitimacy as a leadership figure – and you can't deny that you have legitimacy – is it your ability to persuade people to follow your vision? Or is it your ability to articulate the agenda of a larger movement around you? Or could it be both of these things?

FLAKE: It is both those things built on substantive accomplishment. Okay, so if you can articulate it, get people to believe it, get people to follow it, and then take them to your place, where they see that when you talk about housing and schools, and the product actually speaks for you, which is why I don't worry about celebrity. Because the product does the speaking. When the product does the speaking, people keep coming back to that. Because it is not a jumping from issue to issue or event to event. Because there are some events that have brought about a change that are going to be in place for the next one hundred years. So that when you begin to point to what I call the visible evidence of the manifestation of God's move in that leadership, then people have to say, "There is something to this." It is the same thing when you go back to the classical Du Bois/Washington kind of argument that is often made. And I tell people Du Bois was great in terms of articulating and bringing us to a level of awareness and understanding about a need to have an appreciation for those who succeed, those who have abilities, some natural, some acquired. But every time a child graduates from Tuskegee Institute one hundred years later, it also says Booker T. was equally correct. Two different models heading in what appear to be conflicting directions, but both of them had an emphasis on the ultimate education of people. And so I think we get so caught up in it having to be one way or another that we don't understand that different people go different ways about trying to accomplish the same goals.