Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race Work

BOND: Now, those names you're mentioning, James Robinson and Kenneth Clark and Morsell, these are people all go on to make a name for themselves --

HEIGHT: All go on.

BOND: -- in what you generally could call race work. Did you feel that your generation was destined to do this, or this was your calling or -- ?

HEIGHT: We felt that our -- we helped each other understand that we were in college, and as tough as it was in dark days of the depression, that we had a responsibility. And to me, it was so exciting to be a part of a group where you had, say, James Robinson, who went on to found Crossroads Africa, or Kenneth Clark, who had a role in Brown v. Board of Education, or John Morsell, who became assistant to Roy Wilkinson in NAACP. And Juanita Mitchell -- and if you -- Juanita Jackson, she was then. The time that we spent, and I mean, we worked at this every week. We had the anti-lynching group one time. We were working another time against the chain gang. We had Angela Herndon come to the city.

BOND: Really.

HEIGHT: And James Robinson wrote a whole worship service around him. We had it at Paul Robeson's brother's church. We put on armbands and with our group called the -- we had the Harlem Youth Council, and we had the Harlem Christian Youth Council. And we would wear armbands when the NAACP would hang out a sign saying, "A man was lynched today." And all we had to do -- we had eighty-eight youth groups, and we would call them and say, "A man was lynched today," and therefore we would go down to Times Square, wear our black armbands and walk around chanting, "Stop the lynching. Stop the lynching." We did not let a week go that we did not meet and chart what we were going to do. I was very active and became at that time president of the United Christian Youth Movement of North America, which had as its slogan, "Christian youth building a new world." So that, you see, we had what I would call the most invigorating kind of experience, and we really worked to feel that we were changing the society.

BOND: Now, you say you had Dr. Du Bois speak. Could -- is it fair to say that what you and the others were doing was an extension of Du Bois' dream for the Talented Tenth?


BOND: Now, of course, he's talking in all his language about men, and I think it's peculiar to the time that he would reference men only. But you had no worry about being included in that?

HEIGHT: No, I never saw -- besides Juanita Jackson, there was Olivia Stokes. There was a number of us. And Lionel Florant and his wife. And it was an -- also, I have to say, it was at a time of the United Front. Because Lionel Florant's wife worked for the Daily Worker, which was a Communist newspaper. So that we had these different political interests, and -- but all of us became more African oriented and more determined to do something about this society, and we believed that we could. We worked for the American Youth Act, which didn't pass, but we joined with the American Youth Congress to kind of get that passed.