Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Crisis in Black Leadership

BOND: But still, you said a moment ago that this -- today is so different --

HEIGHT: So different.

BOND: -- than when I was young, when you were young. It's just -- we live in very different worlds now. The nature of some of the economic problems seem more severe than was true in the Depression.

HEIGHT: That's right.

BOND: The spread -- our communities are so much larger than your -- than Rankin was, or than even Harlem was.

HEIGHT: And I did not grow up in the midst of a drug culture. I mean, that's the other thing. So many of the forces in our community now are so overt. The violence, the drugs, all of these are there. But I think that means that it's one of the reasons that I -- we came up in the National Council of Negro Women with the idea of the black family reunion, trying to just lift up values and say, you know, "We're not a problem people, we're simply people with problems." And that our young people have to feel that they are not alone in the community, and that they don't have to be taken in by everything that tags at them.

It is not, however -- and I think many think that in my day there were not forces trying to pull you in another way. I don't think -- I think many young people today think, "Well, you had it easy." But they don't know. They were not the same. I think -- even the lack of money in the Depression made it very hard for -- and I know some of the young people, even, who were in my school, who got caught up in things simply because it was survival. So that I think that the -- when I look at myself and realize that I had twenty-five cents a day to go for my transportation, and my lunch, back and forth to school, in New York City, I look back myself and say, "Well, how did I really do it?" But I did. And I think that many young people today think, "Well, naturally, it was easy for you." No, it wasn't easy. But it was the situation that we felt that drove us to see what we could do about it. It was not just to say, "This is not just about me. Something has to be done that changes the situation."

BOND: You know, in all that you've said, it seems to me that the biggest difference between then and now is that feeling that "I can do something about this."

HEIGHT: "I can do something."

BOND: Why is that missing today?

HEIGHT: Well, I think -- I think we'd have to say some of it is because of the progress we've made. The fact is, we do not have legal segregation, and so it's very hard for people to realize what the struggle has been. It is hard for them to even imagine some of the things that we went through, even during the period of the sixties. All of that seems ancient now. And many people think, you know, the civil rights movement was about Martin Luther King having a dream. So that they live in a different time. They have no connection.

And I think that we have failed this generation in not having them keep connected with their own history, and I think many have no -- they have practically no patience with what they're doing, but that the advances we have made, the doors have been opened. They go through the open doors, they don't know how they got opened. They don't know what the struggle was. That many who could do more, now feel more comfortable. You see, I think that in my day we never got quite comfortable with the situation in which we lived.