Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Father

BOND: Let me take you back to something I passed by and didn't mean to, and that was your father's role in the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon election. He played a unique role in there. Do you remember being involved in that, in any kind of way?

GRAY: Well, I was rather young, and was away in school, but he was very involved. My father, like a lot of Southern blacks, in the '40s and '50s, had been a Republican, but by the '60s had become a Democrat. And he was very much involved in supporting John F. Kennedy, and one of his favorite pictures was a picture of himself and John F. Kennedy holding a baby in North Philadelphia, and both of them lifting him up. And what he had done was to join with some other ministers, to organize preachers all around the country, to get active, to be involved in voter turnout in key states, in the black community for Kennedy. And, of course, as you well know, when you look back at the Kennedy race – the race that he won, that the black vote was absolutely critical.

BOND: It was absolutely critical. Your father put together this pamphlet, which the campaign called the "Blue Bomb," because it was printed on blue paper. And hundreds of thousands of copies went out under the radar of every political observer. And there's a great story told by Sargent Shriver standing outside Jackson's church in Chicago, who is an opponent of Martin Luther King and hated Martin Luther King, and seeing these ballots go in, and saying, "I know we got it now. I know we got it now."

GRAY: Well, I do remember that, and it was very, very important, because what you did was for the first time, you saw a national organization of black religious leaders, done by religious leaders, and this little pamphlet talked about John F. Kennedy's positions on key issues that affect the black community – civil rights, had excerpts from his letter to Coretta King when Martin was in jail. And basically, it was given to preachers to put in their Sunday morning bulletins, or to distribute any way they wanted to. And it was very effective. And my father received a lot of thank you's from later-elected President Kennedy, including several invitations to White House dinners, which he enjoyed. But I do remember it, because the "Blue Bomb" – blue became Bill Gray's color for Congress.