Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Development

BOND: But let me put it to you another way. Some people think that leaders, like yourself, make great movements, or like Charlie Houston. And other people think that movements make great leaders. Now do you have an opinion about which of these is the truth, or do both things happen?

HILL: Well, I think -- I think activities -- people move forward in activities to correct things and so, unquestionably, circumstances make leaders, but also leaders make movements. As I pointed out a minute ago, it never occurred to me that I'd done anything great until way -- much later. As a matter of fact, we had gotten the Decision before I ever thought about what you pointed to now. A kid came up to me one day and asked me what influence did Dr. -- Dr. -- he was a preacher. You know, who I'm talking about -- leader in the late '60s --

BOND: King.

HILL: King. What influence did Dr. King have on me? I told him, as far as I could tell, none, because when I had decided to do something, Dr. King hadn't been born, or was just being born. I don't remember now whether he was '28 or '29 he was born, but he was born around the time that I decided to do something. It occurred to me I had shown remarkable good sense. But he wasn't -- it just sort of came naturally.

BOND: But I guess the question -- if Charlie – you had already made the decision about what you were going to do, but then Charlie Houston helped to direct that decision --

HILL: That's right -- he directed me and helped trained me, yeah.

BOND: But had it not been, say, for the Garland Fund, then perhaps Charlie Houston would have taken another course?

HILL: I don't think he would have taken another course. I mean, he -- I think Charlie would -- see, Charlie had filed a suit, you know, before that, in the covenant cases. And that's when the judge from Massachusetts who was on the court -- he pointed out to them how they could do -- they ruled that what they were doing was wrong, but he pointed out to them how they could do it right, and that's what they did. So then they had to go after back to the covenant cases.

BOND: I guess the question is, does a leader -- is the mark of a leader the ability to persuade other people -- in your cases, justices on the Supreme Court -- to do the right thing, or to do something? Or is it the ability of the leader to sense what has to be done, and then translate that into some kind of vision, or maybe these are the same thing?

HILL: I guess they are same thing. I mean, as far as I'm concerned you've got to recognize the things that are wrong and then determine if you're going to do something to correct them, and you have faith in your ability to do something to correct them. So I had sufficient faith in the Constitution to believe that they meant what they said, and that we ought to do something about it. You also got to bear in mind that -- I don't know -- I just don't know how to describe that.

Now Charlie -- the big difference between Thurgood and me was that I was an advocate for social change. I had no great regard for the law. Just like I think about law and religion. They're about the same. It all depends on who's administering it. And -- but I was always had as companions people like Thurgood --

BOND: Spottswood.

HILL: -- Spottswood Robinson, and S.W. Tucker -- they all had high regard for the law. They had a love for the law. I didn't have this. I never wanted to be a judge. I permitted myself to be a candidate for a judge once, to try and break the ice, but that's not what I personally wanted.