Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Crisis in Black Leadership

BOND: Do you think there's a crisis in black leadership today? I can remember hearing almost every so often there is such a crisis. Is there a crisis in black leadership?

FRANKLIN: You know, it depends on how one frames this because I think that there are all sorts of --

BOND: Let me tell you how Cornel West says it. He says, "The crisis is a symptom of black distance from vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle. That black leadership," he says, "is alienated from that, separated from this past."

FRANKLIN: Yeah. Yeah. I'd argue that that is slightly overstated, so yes, there is a crisis, and it is most evident among leaders -- some who are particularly visible -- and who, I think, have been distracted from the agenda of lifting as we climb, and who have become, I think, too assimilated into the systems of power to speak truth to power which is the function of the prophet. The prophet is she or he who speaks truth to power. The expectation of the black masses is always that our black leaders will speak truth to power, will carry this prophetic mantle. And I do perceive certainly among the masses a sense of disappointment, a sense of betrayed expectation that religious, elected officials, business leaders in the African-American community, should carry that mantle in a persistent way and do not -- often seem to be silenced, or distracted, or sort of preoccupied with the stuff in their lives and the material gains, etc.

So yes, there is a crisis, but it's remediable. I think that those leaders, and this is why I think that we're in a time, turn of the century, where the historian, Vincent Harding, says this is a time when black leaders should be caucusing in summits, the heads of organizations should gather to strategize and think together about complementarity of purpose and mission and activity. I see that happening and -- you know, Tavis Smiley convenes summit meetings and thoughtful people. I think that's a good and exciting enterprise, and for me, I think, is mitigating the strength and force of the crisis that Mr. West diagnoses.