Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Reaching Different Groups

BOND: Do the leadership lessons that you learned from Hooker and Mahalia Jackson, are those applicable in the leadership you exhibit in your church? Do they fit exactly with the leadership you exhibited at the NAACP? Or are there different styles and visions and philosophies that you put in each of these? Is there an overall vision and philosophy, and then alterations to fit each of these circumstances?

HOOKS: Basically, I try to teach from my pulpit that the Christian ideal of life will fit business. I don't think one has to shed his Christianity to be a business person or to run the NAACP. And certain kinds of things about loving people, treating people correctly -- "Do unto others you'd have them do unto you" -- I've tried to let my Christian philosophy work in every avenue of life. And, therefore, I think that I could say basically I don't alter that philosophy too much. I believe that I'd be a hypocrite if I preach one thing on Sunday and practice another thing on Monday and Tuesday. So basically, I think the thing that has crippled us has been too many people try to be Christians on Sunday and act like non-Christians all the week. You can't lie and cheat and steal and misuse and put one person against another person and, you know, do all kind of devious, deceptive things and expect to succeed.

BOND: Let me put it another way. Are there things that the very structure of the church -- particularly the Baptist church, where the minister's all powerful, the board of deacons, but all powerful and relatively independent -- are there things that are different in that structure than in the NAACP, for example? Or even in the FCC, where there's some degree of dependence on the other Commissioners. Do you then exhibit a different style of leadership?

HOOKS: Yeah, I think I see where you -- when I went to the NAACP, it was frustrating that my first two or three years the board of directors was all powerful. And while I had the approval of 95 percent of the congregation, the rank and file members of NAACP, they didn't have any vote on my contract, on my tenure or anything else. So I did have to adjust, you know, to the fact that I could not appeal to the congregation. And I mean by that, the larger mass of people at the convention. But I tried to change the structure somewhat. I led in the movement to put tenure into the constitution so that the board, you know, could not serve forever. I led the movement to give the convention a little more, you know, say so. I also recognized the fact that in a very loose organization like the NAACP you had to have some checks and balances so I didn't go overboard. Later on, I became much more powerful within the NAACP and then I had to try to exercise the restraint of not misusing, you know, the power. The board sort of collapsed. The movement's power collapsed. And by default it fell in my lap. So that, yes, that I get shades of difference, but basically what I'm saying here is that I try to use a basic Judeo-Christian philosophy in my approach to life, and that is true in every angle. I didn't in my law practice try to misuse people, cheat, deceive; not in my court practice, not in my days as a public defender, when I was a judge, wherever I've been.

But you do have to, perhaps -- in the Baptist church, I have evolved. When I first went there forty-five years ago, I suppose I was like most people of that day. I was dictatorial. Over a period of time, I've become much more able to deal with it on a basis of trying to share and use lay people. You know, for what -- when I pastored in Detroit and I had enormously successfully pastorate, moved the church from 1,800 members to over 3,500 then. So a tremendous budget -- built two churches and bought all the property, had the largest Sunday School, largest mission department. I learned then, more than ever, to use the lay people in the church. The person who prepared my budget was a woman who understood it and I trusted her implicitly. In many other things, I began to use people who had abilities and it's been a great lesson to me. And I could recommend it to anybody cause there were a lot of things that -- you know, you have CPAs in the church, you have lawyers, you have people with great ability. And you've got to learn use their ability and they have to learn to work with the pastor within the framework. So I've tried to grow. Hopefully I have.

BOND: I don't want to make too much of the differences between a church, the FCC, the NAACP, but there are some structural differences. In the Baptist church, the minister is on top in a way that the Executive Director of the NAACP isn't on top, and a way an individual commissioner of the FCC isn't on top. And so without any relaxation of moral standards or ethics, just by their nature these institutions require a different kind of functioning.

HOOKS: Well, let me put it this way, I was active in the local branch of NAACP during the days of Walter White and during the days of Roy Wilkins. And I don't know of any Baptist preacher who had more control of the institution than those two men did.

BOND: Okay.

HOOKS: And they ran the NAACP. There were periods when others rose up against them, but they maintained control. Walter White, as you know, got into a situation where he had to resign briefly. Not resign, but take a leave of absence. But until that time, he ran it. Roy Wilkins got pushed because many people thought he had stayed too long. But until that apparent weakness, if it were a weakness, occurred, he ran it completely.

When I went there, I ran into a situation where the board had determined they would never again be that way. But in two or three years I don't -- I just have to say it, that whatever mistakes happened, I ran it completely for a number of years. Then it took another direction. Today the NAACP operates in an entirely different thing. They have an expression in the Bible, "Seest thou the man who is diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings." Well, in the years I was at the NAACP, every inch and ounce of my life was devoted to it, every waking hour. Whether I was at the church, in the pulpit, all of my thoughts were trying to build the NAACP. And I worked with the board and I had a long, glorious period on the board who worked with me. I didn't work against them. I didn't try to usurp their power. We worked harmoniously, you know, trying to build it. But the burden of running it was completely, absolutely, positively on the executive director. I would think if you go back and read that history of Walter White and even James Weldon Johnson and Roy Wilkins, on one occasion when the board went to Roy Wilkins asking about salaries, he told 'em that was none of their business. He set the salaries. And that's when the -- I think he may have, if the story's true, may have gone a little too far.

You always have ups and downs and periods of change, but if you read this statement that "An institution is but the length and the shadow of one person," there's a lot of truth in that. And somebody runs everything. And things that are run by a committee usually end up not quite fitting. So that in the Presidency of the United States, Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore or Mr. Clinton, may let their cabinet members, have a lot of leeway. But at some point, the buck stops at the President. And he has to make certain kinds of decisions. Ask if you could wake him up, Douglas MacArthur. You know, the Harry Truman episode. And I happen to believe in ultimately, somebody's in control. You are now the chairman of the board of the NAACP. During a certain period of time when I was there, there came a collision. The chairman's duties had been set. Nobody can take your place. You may have an executive committee, you may have all kinds of people, but ultimately you're held responsible for the work of the chairmanship of that board, which is an awfully powerful position -- his presidency or he had certain business responsibilities. Ultimately, director of branches, membership, you know, the treasurer, cannot do what he is charged with doing. You both have responsibilities and only you can do it. And in a sense, you have to assume that authority. And the church, even though I have become more, what's that word -- democratic, though I pass out much of the work, ultimately --

BOND: It comes back to you.

HOOKS: -- the buck stops here.

BOND: And that applies across the board in all the different leadership positions that you've occupied.

HOOKS: All the different leadership. When I was the Commissioner of the FCC, the chairman had certain legislative duties, he had certain administrative duties. He chose an executive director, he chose this, that, and the other with our consent. But to the extent that I had a vote, that vote was exclusively mine. Never shall forget one day when we had a very important issue and somebody asked me was I a token, you know, on the FCC? A young, black woman asked me that on the television program. I said, "Well -- " When I first went there, I didn't vote on every issue. I didn't feel qualified. I went to the Chairman one day and said, "I'm going to vote on this issue involving AT&T." It involved multi-billion dollars. Multi-billion dollars. And I didn't think much of it. I just felt I had surveyed it enough to vote. Well, at the FCC they voted in seniority, so I was last to vote. And I didn't pay much attention to it except when it got to me it was 3-3. And then it dawned on me.

BOND: You were breaking the tie.

HOOKS: I'm breaking the tie. I had the only vote now. Here's a black boy from Beale Street voting on a multi-billion dollar, you know, situation. And somebody asked me do I have any, you know, any power? So at that level, there are levels in which the Commissioner, even though he's a member of a collegial body, has a responsibility which is solely his or hers and nobody else's. So that even in a collegial body you have to make certain decisions. And I never will forget when I voted there were -- you know, all over the room folk were looking to see what I would do -- and I wondered if I had not said I was going to vote what would have happened because it would have happened. Because on a tie, as I recall it, the status quo, you know, whatever had been. But anyway, the major point I'm making is that, I think as best I can say it, that my philosophy of trying to be non-confrontational and yet not -- that doesn't make me a pushover. That doesn't mean -- although some people have mistaken that, because I smile and because I'm not -- I try not to become confrontational or mean or rude, it doesn't mean that I'm not set in what I plan to do. Like my mother once -- we asked her not to whip the dog cause he'd, you know, chewed up the socks. And she just smiled, but she caught that dog and wore him out.

So, if I have a purpose and a point in mind and think I'm right, I am going, Mr. Bond, to pursue it to the bitter end. And this business of the NAACP director, the things I believed in, whether it was Reagan or Bush or Carter or whoever was in the White House, I pursued it to the bitter end.