Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Political Leaders

BOND: So, you're with Kennedy, he's assassinated, the staff gets these job opportunities, you instead decide to engage in this study. But you also get involved in the Charles Evers campaign. Tell us about that very quickly.

GRAVES: Well, I had met Charles Evers as a result of knowing Robert Kennedy. When he announced for the Senate, Charles Evers was right there with him and that gave him an official – he was the brother of the martyred leader, Medgar Evers, who had been shot.

When the Evers campaign came, it was after the death of Kennedy and so I called Charles, and a couple of us, and we said – who had worked for Kennedy, said, "We want to come down and work in your campaign." He said "Fine, you come down, and you know, boy I'll put you to work." And so there we were at Fayette, Mississippi, and Charles said to me – and he invited me to stay at his house one night during the campaign when we were working for him down there. And we were at his brother's house, he took us by his brother's house and showed us the – where the shot had shot had hit the door, because if you remember it went through his body and hit the door, the screen door. And I mean the thing, the guy must have hit him with an elephant gun, I mean, in terms of the death or the assassination. And so I said to Charles, "Well, how do you know we're going to be safe if I'm staying here with you? And he had a brick fence about four feet high around and he said, "Watch," and he hit his flashlight and across the street a signal came back with another flashlight and then he turned in another direction and flashed it again, and another signal came. And I said, "Who are those?" He said, "Those are the Deacons" – if you remember the Deacons –

BOND: Deacons for Defense.

GRAVES: Deacons for Justice. Deacons for Justice, and I said, "Those are the same guys that have been following us." He said "Right." He said he didn't go anywhere there wasn't a car load of guys with shotguns riding right behind him. It was like, you know, it was like the military all over again except that this was survival. But the Evers campaign gave another opportunity to see the power of people being in charge, whether or not it was Steve Smith, the president's brother-in-law; whether it was Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York at the time; whether or not it was Charles Evers, who in his own right was a real leader in terms of what he was doing. But it was another part of my life which I'll never forget.