Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Early Development

BOND: Now are you thinking in this period, in high school, that I want to be like Bishop [Louis Henry] Ford, I want to be a minister? Is that on your horizon?

FRANKLIN: Toward the end of my high school years, I think that that began to loom as a possibility. I was, I think, early on like so many kids, you know -- sort of sports and music occupy one's attention. And only later do I realize that this is an important form of community service. I still wasn't attracted to the idea of ministry, however. I just, something about that that kind of repelled me and I thought it was a bit presumptuous to sort of stand and tell other people how they should live their lives. So I wasn't attracted to that dimension but some form of public leadership community service was clearly attractive. And Bishop Ford represented a style, an option for me.

BOND: You said leadership. What did leadership then, if you can recall high school, what did it mean? How did you exhibit, if at all, leadership where you were president of a club or -- ?

FRANKLIN: Well, you know, bear in mind in this period there were, as the Bible says, there were giants in the land. I mean, there's Martin Luther King, Jr., there's Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam is there in Chicago and so Malcolm X is coming and going and Elijah Muhammed, people like that. So there were a lot sort of larger than life figures on the scene in my life there in Chicago at the time. And so as a high school student I recall beginning to listen to the speeches of some of these leaders. And certainly by the time I was a junior in high school, this was a daily lunch time activity where a group of students at Morgan Park High School would sit and we'd have our lunch and someone would pop a tape into a cassette player and we'd listen to, you know, Eldridge Cleaver or Malcolm X or someone give a speech. And I recall wanting to imitate that, wanting to be a provocative speaker, wanting to mobilize people to inspire through both rhetoric and through service, and I recall that wedding those was very important in my own understanding of leadership.

So there was a student council at Morgan Park and I did run for Student Council and part of it, I think -- I won the election part because I made a pretty -- what the students regarded was a compelling speech, but I also tried to sort of back up the speech with pointing out instances in which we had actually done some things to help improve the school. I mean, pick up garbage during the break and urge people not to litter our campus. Little things like that. Because I was annoyed with leaders who only made good speeches but never sort of stuck around to do any dirty work. And Bishop Ford always taught us, because he wasn't himself a particularly eloquent speaker, I think he always felt a bit of inferiority next to some of the more eloquent, the silver-tongue orators of the black pulpit -- King included, and Joseph Jackson in Chicago. Ford wasn't that kind of speaker. He was just kind of a home-grown, practical exhorter. He'd exhort people. But he said, "Look at their deeds. What have they built?" And it was almost this Booker T. Washington style. You have to have skills of the hand as well as the head. And he always, one thing that just comes back to me now, he says, whenever he walks into a new sanctuary or into a sanctuary -- he was a guest speaker often -- he said "The first thing you do is go and visit the restroom. Not to use it but to simply survey it." And he said it told him a lot about the leader, the pastor of that church, by looking at how he allowed the restroom for men and women to be presented. And he said if there was paper on the floor and it was unkempt, he knew that this leader was just more about words than about service. So I don't know, that just registered with me, to be suspicious of people who were eloquent but who had never built and never served people.