Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy and Style

BOND: Now, what do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy, and style in expressing leadership? Vision, philosophy, and style.

HOOKS: Well, my style is sort of, I guess, based on my vision and philosophy. For instance, when I assumed the pastor of the church, nobody ever heard me make a criticism of my predecessors. When I came to the NAACP, you will never read anywhere where I had any criticism of anything that Roy Wilkins did or said. In my mind, perhaps I did have some thoughts, but it's not my style to be critical. It bothers me when somebody takes a position and starts immediately tearing everything else somebody has done. Unless the structure is crooked or bad, why try to destroy it? And that has been my style. And I suppose that's based on my philosophy.

When I came to the NAACP, there were those who warned me that the people who were there were all Roy Wilkins' devotees or clones, you know, loved him and they'd never work with me or, if I could use a worse word, never work for me. That's a little shade of difference there. And so I was advised that my best bet would be to clean house. And I've talked with my college presidents who brag on the fact when I came here there were fifteen deans. In three years I have hired thirteen new deans. When I went to the NAACP, I didn't move anybody, you know, from the position they're at. I worked with them. Later on I made some adjustments, but I made it my business to try to work with the people who were there because I thought when I got there the institution had existed long before I got there. It had done without Ben Hooks from 1909 til 1977, so obviously I was not indispensable. But they never knew me. So I try to work with people. I think that's my style and I suppose that is also a philosophy. Try to use what you have until you find out how it fits.

BOND: Now did you apply this style in other instances, the FCC and the pastorate of these two churches and in the Mahalia Jackson chicken franchise? Does this apply in all cases? Is it adjustable?

HOOKS: I think I've found that style to be applicable in my church. When I went there, I didn't move anybody at first. Now, that doesn't mean that down the line you don't find out people who simply resist your philosophy and not work with you. And you have to act. You just can't keep -- and in my church there were one or two instances where I had to say, "We just can't make it and it'd be better for one of us to leave. And since I plan to stay, you have to leave." But it took -- but I didn't do that the first day. I tried to work it out. NAACP, as I recall it, the people who were there I kept as many of them as I could. If they left, they left on their own for reasons other than me trying to send them away. Clarence Mitchell was there. I regretted sincerely when he had to leave. Mildred Roxborough stayed with me and did an excellent job throughout her tenure there. All the people who were there I tried to work with them.

And it has been true at the FCC. I brought one new person in, and my two principle assistants were folk who were there. And we had a glorious time at the FCC and made so many changes that it would be -- I could take the next three hours and tell you some of the things we were able to do there. I also discovered that you can get help out of people you never looked for. At the FCC there were seven commissioners. And we did so much in the realm of EEOC-- see, remember, when I went to the FCC, there were about 9,000 radio stations, only thirteen owned by black. Not a single television station owned by a black. If you had gone across the country, you'd see very few anchor people in newsrooms or very few camera people. They were just non-existent. And we brought about a wholesale change. In the FCC itself, we had two hundred twenty-five lawyers. Only three black. Before I left there, we hired sixty-five. But I discovered that I could do better working with the Commission in every decision that had to do with EEOC with 7-0. Every decision. That meant sometimes I had to compromise. We instituted broadcast rules in which we looked at each station individually as to what they were doing with minorities and women, if they had more than ten employees. There were many of my black colleagues out in the field who wanted me to get it down to five. I saw if I went for five employees, I'd be in deep trouble. Most of the Commission wanted twenty-five. So I had to go with ten. You have to make certain strategic compromises, but more important, to have a unanimous commission behind me. In a day of budget cuts, we set up a several million dollar budget just for EEOC enforcement and hired some fifteen people and never cut it. You know, it kept going up. I discovered that you can work with people sometimes better. I also found --

BOND: Now, where'd that come from? When do you first discover that "If I want to get something done, I've gotta go to Joe and Frank and Bill and Bob?" I mean, as long ago as grade school and high school? Or when?

HOOKS: I think so. But I also had another unusual experience in my early legal career in a strictly segregated society. I practiced law before I went on the bench some fifteen years. Circuit Court judges. Our general sessions -- Chancellor Court, Criminal Court. And it was one of the most amazing things in my life. I never ever had a decision rendered in court against me that I thought was based on race. Not one time. And I look back on it in amazement, you know. So I discover that day-by-day. It was very different in the federal court. The one federal court judge kicked us unmercifully. But in the state courts, men were of a different caliber. And later on I became their colleague. Went on picnics and brunches and eating dinner in their homes. And I discovered a void of people who really wanted to -- didn't know they wanted to know some black folk. You know, didn't -- didn't know that. I'm sure you've had that experience. They didn't consciously recognize it. But when Julian came and they had to deal with it, they say, "Well, how can we, you know, make this thing work?" So I guess it was an evolving process, you know, with me.

Then I was in the Masons. I was in the Elks. And I was -- I remember one day in the Masonic organization I wanted to be the Master of my lodge, and my lodge didn't meet very often. My Grand Master helped me to get a dispensation so I could be elected. I remember calling individually eighteen men to come to the meeting. They all came and I sat down with them. I said, "I'd like to be Master. Does anybody else want it?" Nobody else wanted the position but me. I said, "Well, will you elect me?" They said, "Yes." I said, "Well, I'm chairing Dr. Walker's campaign for the school board and I've got a very important speech to make. And I'm going to rush out and make this speech and come back." And I did. When I came back, they had elected somebody else. That taught me a great lesson. When I walked in feeling big and, you know, I made my great speech and I'm the campaign manager, and when I started shaking hands, nobody looked at me. They looked off, you know. And finally I said, "Well -- well, what happened?" And I discovered that somebody else had been elected and was elected by one or two votes. So I discovered early on that while you have to depend on people -- I saw it on the back of a cab here -- "You may trust a dealer, but cut the cards" -- a cab, I know you've seen it --

BOND: Yes. They have little sayings on the top.

HOOKS: Little saying on the back. "Trust the dealer, but cut the cards." So I learned also that you can take your philosophy too far. You can be too trusting. You have to watch. I don't mean to say that I wanna be naive and suggest that people -- suggest -- believe that folk will do what they say. But you work at it. You attempt to set up and find out, "What is it that John wants? Can it be done? What is it Mary's looking for? You know, can it be done?" In my law career so many people came to me for divorce and I'd talk to them about it. And to merit, many of them are still together. You know. So that it's a matter of a philosophy of trying not to be confrontational if you don't have to be.

And then I had this other experience, there was a fellow in Tennessee called John Hooker who ran for governor and for senator, one of the most brilliant men that I knew. Great lawyer. And somehow when he lost the senate and the governship, he felt it was because he didn't have enough business experience. So he started a company called Minnie Pearl Chicken System. Did very well. Became a multi-millionaire. Came to Russell Sugarman who's a friend of mine, A.W. Willis and myself, asked us if we wanted to have some -- because we had supported him politically -- if we wanted to have some franchises. Minnie Pearl. And we didn't think a Minnie Pearl Chicken System would go very well in the ghetto, so we decided we'd like to have our own system and he financed us. He owned 50 percent and we owned 50 percent. One of the early minority ventures. And I went to Mahalia Jackson and she agreed to lend her name. We gave her stock in the company.

Well, Julian, during the two or three years I worked with John Hooker, I was exposed to more of the business world and how things were really done. It is almost criminal how black people have been kept out of the business life of America, how little we know about how things are really done. We were sitting out in another room when they -- and I would sit then, John Hooker was the kind of fellow who would let A. W. and I sit right in the room while he was cutting multi-million dollar deals. We didn't interfere, but we listened and we'd go out and discuss it, then go back and ask him about it. So I had a chance to learn how to compromise, why you do certain things certain ways at a very young age as a lawyer. I don't want to spend too much time on that, but I was exposed to things that most young blacks are not exposed to because I had a chance to be with this man who -- he became a spectacular failure. But before he went down, he became overnight with over $70 million back in the late '60s when that was a whole lot of money. When his empire collapsed, I collapsed with him. But the knowledge I had gained I still have.