Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Historically Black Colleges and Universities

BOND: What about the Howard atmosphere? Was there something there that pushed you further along?

JONES: Oh! Oh, you know when I was in Howard in the '60s -- Stokely Carmichael and I took the same classes together. We took Philosophy of Art together. There were seven of us in the class, you know. All the freedom riders -- I mean, it was all coming through Howard. And I was on -- I had, I don't know, I just had no money at Howard. My brother was in school at Virginia Union at the time and I had very little money. I don't know why I didn't have more money, but I just didn't have it for some reason. And I worked on the desk -- behind the desk in the quadrangle at Howard, in the dormitory, for the whole four years I was at Howard. And so, Julian, I saw everybody.

BOND: Yes.

JONES: I saw everybody who was at Howard. They all were coming to the quadrangle, all the guys were coming to the quadrangle. And I knew, on Saturday night, time to go out, or Friday night, who was asking for whom.

BOND: Yeah, yeah.

JONES: Because -- I knew that. And I mean, they would all come through -- I mean, I just saw everybody. And they would come through, and it was a buzzing system. You would buzz on this board behind you. And I got to the point, I knew who was going to buzz and I would automatically do it. Sometimes, though, the guy would come up, and he would say, "Oh no!"

BOND: "Not that one!"

JONES: "Not that one!" I'd say, "All right." And I say, that was tremendous, valuable information -- I never used it in any way to help my economic status.

BOND: Well now, what about teachers? What teachers do you remember that helped push you along this path?

JONES: At Howard?

BOND: Yeah.

JONES: Nobody at Howard pushed me into law. Howard --

BOND: Well, into activism, into -- you know, there are lawyers and there are lawyers.

JONES: Yes, yes, yes. Let me see, how did I get pushed? I think -- now, I think what motivated me primarily was just the atmosphere at Howard. You know, I was a Political Science major and I said, "This is the wrong major for law school." Best major for law is English, in my opinion. English is the best major for law.

BOND: Yes, because it's reading and writing.

JONES: It's just reading and writing and speaking, you know -- but I need to think a little more -- I know Howard had an influence. Oh, I know, Jim Nabrit, Jr., who was the president of Howard --

BOND: Right.

JONES: -- became president the year I entered and I knew of his role, you know, in the legal side of civil rights movement because he had just come from being dean of the law school at Howard, you know. And so Martin Luther King came through Howard. You know, it was just the entire atmosphere, but then I honed a few political skills at Howard.

BOND: How so?

JONES: Oh well, I was very active in this sorority, the Deltas. I became the dean of the pledgies. I ran for student government, was supposed to be a shoo-in, did not do the right campaigning I should have done and got beat, you know, which was a surprise to everybody and I learned a valuable lesson.

BOND: You have to ask.

JONES: Have to ask, never take anything for granted until it's done, you know, and that's one of the things that drives me now.

BOND: So -- but maybe these are leadership training exercises. Whether you thought of them that way or not, that's what they are. But did you think then that "I'm training for something else," or "I'm just doing something I'm interested in"?

JONES: No, I'm doing these things I'm interested in. No, and just taking lessons. I always knew there was a lesson in most things. And I didn't always know what the lesson was, but I knew it was a lesson. Losing that election like that, you know, it taught me something which stood me in good stead in subsequent years. But the friendships at Howard -- Pat Swygert, president of Howard now, was in my class, you know, that class -- we were the "Great Society" class. Lyndon Johnson came in and made the speech to that graduating class.

BOND: Right.

JONES: So a lot of different events, Julian, impacted to make me who I am. And then when I left Howard, one thing my senior year, I knew I did not want to go to law school then.

BOND: But why not?

JONES: Because I had worked so hard, you know, I had really worked hard. I mean, not only physically but academically. I mean, it was challenging. And I needed a break. I needed a break, but yet I wanted an educational break. I didn't want to just do nothing, but I wasn't ready for a three-year grind in law school and I kept thinking through that thing.