Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Black Leaders

BOND: Now, almost immediately after, commentators afterward, commentators like the New York Times are calling you a new power broker in Philadelphia. Was that election that significant? Had it shifted power –

GRAY: Oh, absolutely.

BOND: – and changed the landscape that quickly?

GRAY: Absolutely. I mean, before then, those blacks who were in public office were there primarily because they had been selected by white political leaders. Now for the first time, other than Dave Richardson, Hardy Williams, and a young man who ran with me the first time – he won a state rep position, John White – you now have most of the black leadership under the elected political office of a black who got there without owing the party anything – money, organization, endorsement. And we immediately saw as our mission, the changing of Philadelphia politics. And so immediately we went to work, established a new city council, formed a coalition with Hispanics and with whites, the progressive vote in the white community. And the very next year, we elected an entire new city council, that led to the first black president of the city council, Joe Coleman. And we had a black candidate who ran for mayor, Charlie Bowser, who lost to a white candidate named Bill Green, but Bill Green was a reformist himself.

GRAY: Congressman.

BOND: He was former Congressman. And so, even though Bill Green won the Democratic primary, he understood the reform movement, he saw the impact – what we had done in winning the city council seats – so he became a leader in the empowerment of the African American community, appointing, as a part of the commitment that was given for support from people like myself, the appointment of a first black city manager, whose name was W. Wilson Goode.

BOND: Goode himself later becomes mayor.

GRAY: Who also was my field organizer.

BOND: Really?

GRAY: And did the fieldwork for my first election, and who later became the first black mayor. And we did – in fact, I used to get criticized by a lot of people in the Democratic Party, and in the Philadelphia leadership, you know, "Are you the Congressman in Washington?" or "Are you the Congressman in Philadelphia?" because every election I would get involved in, in terms of selection of judges, calling for equity for women, for qualified judges, for African Americans, for Hispanics. In fact, we put together the first ticket that got Hispanics on the city council as well as into judgeships. And so – and the reason for that is you control or have influence over a large portion of the city, and if you keep your organization together, which we did, you don't care what the party does. You turn out 2,000 workers on election day, who are independent, who are part of this movement for reform, and who say, "No. No more judges who are just the friend of Senator so and so. But are they qualified? Have they been rated? And by the way, are there women? Are there minorities? And if there's not, no more of the old deals. You give us one, when there are twenty seats up. And oh, by the way, only ten of them are going to get elected, and the black one just happens to be number eleven in the vote tally?" No, no. From that day forward, with the independent movement, we were able to say, "No, this is – we want our share, and not only our share, but we also want all of them to be good. Don't expect us to support any judges who can't qualify."