Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Heritage, Race, and Leadership

HALL: But in terms of black leadership, that's a very interesting—like how does one define black leadership? And once again I go back to that whole idea of black leadership often having a male face and it's because we have the Martin Luther King Jr. as the epitome of the black leader in our minds, but I don't think—I think we're moving toward a place where the idea of leadership, whether you're black or white, is becoming democratized, where you can be a leader…it's such a complicated question…let me take that back. [laugh]

BOND: Well, take Senator Obama, he is black, but I wouldn't call him a black leader. Would you? And why wouldn't you?

HALL: I would call him a leader and a black leader. I think he can be both. I call him a black leader—

BOND: In a way that Martin Luther King isn't? or was?

HALL: The thing is, I will say, especially toward the end of Martin Luther King's life, that white people wouldn't listen to him. That white people had gotten tired of this man beating them over the head with the fact that they were racist. He began to speak out against the Vietnam War, which actually, Obama has spoken out against the Iraq War, so there's a similarity right there, but Obama has a kind of malleability to him and also because he is black man with a white mother, people see that he can go across the color line. He's like a chameleon in a way and I think because of his heritage, he has an advantage in that whole definition of what is a black leader and what is a leader, period. He can have access to all different groups of people and I think that's a wonderful thing and I think that's where black leadership, or I think that's where leaders who are black are trying to go. Like, I think of Harold Ford Jr. who, when I look at him, oh, I don't think of him as a black leader, I think of him as a leader because he really tries to distance himself away from this whole issue of black—

BOND: Is that because of the political stands that he takes? Harold was my student.

HALL: Oh really?

BOND: At the University of Pennsylvania, yes, and I admire him a great deal, but I know he stood apart in a way from the kind of politics practiced by most of the members of the Black Caucus -- Congressional Black Caucus -- so does that distinguish him in your mind?

HALL: Yeah, he becomes…

BOND: Less black?

HALL: Not less black. No, not less black. He'll always be a black person because of his heritage, to me. But I think we're moving to a place where people are -- like, "I am an individual. I'm not just black." It's not that qualifier anymore. It's not like the black congressman, or the black senator. It's becoming Congressman, Congresswoman, Senator. That, I would say, is a reflection of how far we've come. But, at the end of the day, we have so much further to go. But back to the whole idea, can you be—the whole definition of black leadership, I think you can be both. You can be a leader and a black leader. You can connect with the black masses, but you can also connect across the color line, which I think Obama is a wonderful example of that being a reality. Something that could possibly happen, and the thing is, I think just now how we realize that, you know, you don't have to define yourself, pigeonhole yourself into this box of being black leader.