Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Challenges

BOND: What about when a leader faces doubts among the people the leader is leading?

HILL: When he faces what?

BOND: Doubts, doubts and uncertainties. The leader is saying, "Let's go in this direction. Let's do this," and the people the leader is leading says, "No, no, no. We can't. That's a bad way, that's a scary way, something bad is going to happen." How does a leader have to overcome these doubts and fears in the followship?

HILL: Well. Only thing I know is he sticks with his views, and -- now, you've got to bear in mind, this -- you gotta be practical about a lot of things. I mean, for example, when I was coming along, you couldn't just stand on the corner and make any fool remark that you want to make about segregation or about white people. You had to temper your own remarks and be respectful. And be practical. You also from time-to-time, you have to compromise. I don't have no problem on that, but you don't compromise basic principles. For example, I wouldn't compromise about anybody that's in -- "I agree with you we don't no longer need -- need -- " What was it we need? What's the word? What's the thing everybody's opposed to right now?

BOND: Affirmative action.

HILL: Affirmative action. Affirmative action. We need affirmative action. But now I might go along with some things that might not be quite what I want and so forth, but as long as there was some portion of affirmative -- moving in the right direction. But all I'm trying to point out is that you have to be practical sometimes, but you can't just stand on a corner and -- I never called some SOB's that I thought were SOBs, an SOB publicly because it didn't make sense. I wouldn't gain anything. But you wouldn't have gained anything by doing it.

BOND: Well, how have you dealt in your career with your own threats or threats against you? The cross burned on your lawn? And you must have had telephone threats.

HILL: Oh gosh.

BOND: Now how do you deal with those things?

HILL: Well, we took the telephone off the hook at night and put it in the trash can next to the bed. From 1947 until I went to Washington in 1960. Every now and then, after six or seven months, we'd try to see if it's going to let up and they didn't, so the only way we could get a full night's sleep was to put the phone on the hook. Telephone company raised hell about it, and I told them, "You could trace these calls if you wanted to, and you won't cooperate, and I'm not going to put up with it." So you just stand up for your rights. That's the only way I know to deal with things.

BOND: Now how did you deal, during this long legal career? I'm sure many of your clients couldn't pay. How'd you deal with that?

HILL: I just didn't get paid. That's all. We just didn't get paid. I mean, I bet you six bits to a dime that you can't find, over the years that we worked from – first as Hill, Martin, & Robinson, on down to Hill, Tucker and Morris – that people did as much free legal work as we have done down through the years. We never turned away anybody because they didn't have money – that we could afford to do with it. I mean, supposing somebody come in with some kind of case that required expenditures of two or three hundred thousand dollars to ultimately win. We couldn't do it because we didn't have that kind of finances, that kind of capitalization, but anything that we could do within reason, we did it, whether we got paid or not.

BOND: Do you ever think that had this been a very, very different world, that you could have been the senior partner by now in a big downtown Richmond law firm, charging $500 or more an hour to clients to come in, to get your advice?

HILL: No, I never even thought about things like that. That's just some kind of fantasy and waste of time. I was never dissatisfied with situations which I was in, so far as that was concerned. I never aspired to be rich. All I -- we made a fair income, have been able to live comfortably, with my wife's help, and that was -- we were doing things that we wanted to do, and that was all we ever aspired to. You remember now, great wealth is not only a blessing, it's also a burden, and you can't -- it's not always benefit. You know when I was a kid, we used to feel sorry for poor little white children, I mean poor little rich children, 'cause they couldn't run all over the field and play baseball and do things they -- according to the movies, the only thing they could do was play along with the butler and the maid.