Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Style: Embracing Collective Goals

BOND: In Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen who writes, “There’s a danger in continually thinking in terms of race or gender. Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces us all, we’re going to continue to harm this country.” Do you think there’s a danger of divisiveness when we focus on the concept of black leadership?

JEALOUS: Not really. I mean, when we tend to do, we tend to do it in a sense that’s academic often, that’s historical — or we do it in a moment of crisis, when the crisis is really — like a police shooting, and there’s just sort of a notion of kind of cultural obligation that certain people show up. And I think that’s all fine. I mean, it’s no different than many other ethnic groups. There’s a lot of talk right now about all the Catholics on the Supreme Court, for instance. A number of them attended, I think, mass together recently.

What is dangerous is when we talk as if we’re only leading black people. We in the — the NAACP is not a black organization. It’s a very black organization, but it’s not a black organization. It’s a human rights organization, it’s a civil rights organization. Our mission is race neutral but very partisan on ending racism. And I think that’s the opportunity of the moment and really, it’s always been there and really in some ways what it’s necessitated by has been the utter secularization of progressive language. I read an article in The Nation by a Jewish guy in the mid ’90s who was outraged and he finally just needed to let progressive Christians know what he thought about them, that we had abandoned the metaphors and the mandates of the Bible in our speeches ever since King had died. In his mind, that’s when it stopped. I don’t know when it stopped. I know in my entire life it hasn’t been very present. There’s been a very sort of conscious sort of secularism. And he said simply, “Look, this is the most powerful vocabulary that we have in this country. This is how Southern county judges with sort of what might be called socialist leanings were able to be extremely powerful political figures because they would refer to the lexicon of the Bible and the mandates of the Bible and they were seen as therefore great Christian men and not political scalawags.” And he said, most importantly, I think, to the secular argument that, “I was never offended when Dr. King spoke from the perspective of being a Christian. If anything, he affirmed my perspective as a person of faith. It was always understood that my faith was different than his, in some ways connected, but that what he was talking about were the sort of the universal truths contained in the great religious works inside and outside the Abrahamic tradition.”

That’s — if we do anything, we have to give ourselves permission to remind people that Jesus only gave His followers one commandment. It was to love your neighbor as yourself. And everything else is conjecture — what Paul said, or Corinthians, whatever, is conjecture. And to challenge people to make that manifest. Yes, what will Jesus do? You really only have one thing to refer to which is — you know, and he talks about it I think in Matthew when he talks about the story of the Good Samaritan. This goes back to, are you treating your neighbor as yourself? If you’re not, probably what you’re about to do is wrong. If we could get back to that place as progressives in this country, I think we could do a lot to advance a whole bunch of causes that are commonly referred to as wedge issues.