Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Money and Power

BOND: In many of the things you've written in your book and elsewhere, and in this publisher's page, one repeated theme is that political power and social power, economic power are all connected – and that economic power sometimes must or can precede the political power. How does that balance out in your mind?

GRAVES: Well, I mean I always – politically I always thought it was the right thing to do to support my school. But I had to have the money and the wherewithal to do it. I think that, you know, you can have great ideas and great thoughts, but they have to be backed up by something even if you have a son that's running for president of the city council. One of the most important things he has to do in order to politically be able to drive home his philosophy of what he thinks he should do as the president of the city council is to get himself elected. In order for that to happen, it's going to take resources. So that's a part of it. I think you need the two. Those things have to go together. They can't work of themselves politically, independent. I mean, the – you know, if you look back in history in terms of leadership, people need it. Martin Luther King did not have a bunch of money, all right, but he had friends who had money to support what it is he was doing, who believed in him, and therefore you could go out and raise money to make this Southern Christian Leadership Conference as strong as it was and be what it was. You can't have campaigns and be riding around the country and not have somebody paying for it. So either – so you have to – if you've got the political idea, you've got to have somebody else who's going to back it up if you're talking about what you're doing.

BOND: The King example leads to another question. Is there a direct connection between personal wealth, or personal economic worth, and leadership? Is every businessperson a leadership person outside of the business he or she may run? What's the connection here? There are quite a few well-to-do black people. But most of them I would not think of as leaders except in so far as their leadership has made them economically successful.

GRAVES: Well, some people don't have a desire to be as well-rounded, I think, as you can be and judge the things you can do. I think you can be very introspective, if you will, in terms of just looking in on yourself and therefore you can have a business where you can forget who you are as an African American. I mean unfortunately we have people who have done – succeeded and done well in business, and they don't identify with any of the issues or problems we have at all as a people. I think that's unfortunate, but that's – and it's their problem because it's to our demise as a people if we have people who are successful not realizing who they are. I clearly think that – and if I'm understanding your question right? Have I answered it for you?

BOND: Yes. But how does it happen that John Smith, let's say, is a tremendous success in some business, making millions and millions of dollars. But John Smith has demonstrated no leadership ability outside of this. Not because he's conservative or because he doesn't belong to the NAACP. But he just has no social conscience. How does that happen, that this separation between success here and no engagement here?

GRAVES: I could say he could come hear my speech this afternoon when I lecture at the business school because that's right on the money from where I'm going to be speaking to the students. I say you've got to do both. I think it makes you less of a person [not to]. I would like to believe that there are very few – I know a John Smith who was the chairman of General Motors, just stepped down recently. That was his name. He was the chairman of General Motors, the world's largest corporation. But he was also a person involved in many social changes. One, because it was the right thing to do, and two, because it made good business sense. He supported the United Negro College Fund. He supported the NAACP. He supported things within what you would identify as the white community, if you will, or the general market area. So therefore he recognized that those two things did go together and it was good for business. And you're not going to find unfortunately that many business people who are not going to have something – and the people that I will talk to at the Darden School this afternoon, if they intend to really be successful, they're going to have to take leadership roles in things which may be unpopular also.