Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Impact of Historical Events on Leadership Goals

BOND: Do you remember specific events, either historical or personal, that were critical to your understanding of American society — that’s to say even events from the civil rights movement or events in your neighborhood or events in your family, things that made you think differently or think more critically about American society and the role you might play in it?

JEALOUS: Yes. And more critically of American society, frankly, just stories about the events surrounding my parents’ wedding were transformative, in my own thinking, because it made it — your parents, to a child — really they become the most beautiful people you know, everything. And to find out that my father’s uncle had driven down to where they were studying in Vermont to officially disown him on behalf of my father’s grandfather, to explain to my father he really did believe that my father loved my mother, but that if life had taught him anything, a man could love many women and that if he wanted to stay in the family, he needed to get out of love with my mother. To find out that they weren’t allowed to get married in my mom’s hometown of Baltimore at the family church, St. James Episcopal, but rather had to get married in Washington, D.C., because it was illegal, and that some people apparently pulled off to the side of the road when the caravan of wedding cars was making its way back from D.C. to Baltimore because they mistake it for a funeral procession. They just weren’t used to seeing sort of, you know — whatever, a limo and a bunch of cars and it not being a funeral procession. You know, or that my parents had to ultimately had to find to a place where they would be accepted to live because it wasn’t clear they’d be accepted either in Maine or in Baltimore or in San Diego where they moved to first at that time.

It definitely made discrimination feel very, very personal, and I think more ubiquitous and overwhelming, just all the things that were involved in that, than anything I experienced myself — you know, as a child, you experience those, a person following you around the five-and-dime or whatever, but you just pitied the person who followed you around the five-and-dime. This made it feel like much bigger -- the laws and a loss of wealth and everything.

My parents also took me to protests and they talked to me about protests they were involved in the 1960s. I remember my mom talking about the experience of making her way down to tent cities in Tennessee where black farmers had been pushed off of land and made homeless and had to erect tent cities on the farms of the blacks who actually owned land because they had demanded the right to vote and what it meant to have to, you know, hide to evade the Klan to get down there and to get back, you know, bringing them supplies.

And, you know — finally, I guess it was Jesse Jackson’s campaign. I got very excited. It was a time between Jesse Jackson and Doug Wilder becoming governor of Virginia, in the state that my family is from, that just sort of captured my imagination about what might be possible for my generation and what our cause was. And the experience of being fourteen years old and putting together a team of folks who registered thousands of people to vote and helped convince a county to support — that was predominantly not black, you know, white, Latino and so forth — to embrace Jesse Jackson. It took him from seventh in the polls to second in that county. That was the first thing that gave me a sense of my own potential, if you will, for leadership.