Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership in High School: School Plays and Protests

BOND: Now, something more mundane — were you ever in a leadership position in high school and in college, student government, that sort of thing?

JONES: Yes, I was. I'll give you two contrasting examples. One, the same Marylee Shappee, our drama teacher. Well, there had been problems — I think this is the order of things. We had done The Music Man, the Buddy Hackett part, the kind of the clown was given me. Buddy Hackett is supposed to have a girlfriend at the dance, but once again, in this community, the only community I had known, suddenly on stage to be a girlfriend would be too much of a statement so I had to dance a solo. The showman inside of me loved it. The other one knew there was something weird about this, so she just allowed me to make it up and I made it up. The whole community came to its feet applauding, but why was I dancing alone? That's another issue. I think she tried to circumvent that.

The next project was going to be Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She let me direct it and I'm seventeen. Now, she was there with me, but I don't know if this was somehow or other she was rewarding me or she was heading off something and then there was the walkout because the issues of the '60s had come to our little town and girls wanted the right to wear pants and they were not allowed them, so we organized. We — I — organized a spontaneous walkout. It was a cold December morning and we're all outside chanting as we had seen on television the way you're supposed to protest and so on and I became this face of it. The state troopers came to the high school to examine my locker. The principal, a decent man, Mr. Hulbert, called me into his office and asking me did I know what I was doing. I said, "you know, there's a revolution happening in this country" — A revolution, right. Girls should wear pants. Well, a revolution happening. He said, "lower your voice." I said, "are you trying to suppress my freedom of speech," and he said, "buster, you don't know what you're talking about and you should just" — I don't remember everything, but he threatened to call my mother in and he did call my mother in and this is when I understood something about Estella because when he called her in all she could think about was those white people and her boy.

BOND: Right.

JONES: And she spoke in that language, "just because my" — Now, you have to realize this is a very proper and if they're listening to this anywhere because I often sound like I'm beating up on my small town, but when Estella at 200-plus pounds wearing her leopard skin coat and a hat this big and a giant purse, when she came in there, they would move like this because she was going to raise hell because it was always — Now, I've seen this the negative as well, we know the problems with urban youth and maybe mothers or fathers who excuse the children's behavior because of racism, but anytime they called her in, she knew it was a plot of white people trying to get her boy, her boy. Lynching. All of that.

Yes, those events were seminal events. It didn't take much for me to become a leader because I felt I was performing being outrageous and talking to Mr. Hulbert, man-to-man like this, he was a good man. He definitely deserved more respect, but suddenly it became black and white for me. It was not about him being this father figure anymore.