Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Financial Reward

BOND: Now when you leave here -- leave the University of Virginia Law School -- you have a chance to go to a firm that becomes Nixon-Mudge. JONES: But I'm, no I'm in my third year.BOND: Oh, in your third year, you get an offer.

JONES: That's right. We get out of law school in May. We graduate in May so everybody looks for jobs the first semester of their third year. So, you have to have your job by Christmas so you know where you're going.

BOND: Right.

JONES: So I was interviewing. And meanwhile my contracts professor, who's name was [gestures] had gone to Mudge Rose and taught me contracts, did okay in law school. My contracts professor had gone to Mudge, was at the firm and so I interviewed and, lo and behold, they invited me to New York. So, I go to New York, and you talk about intimidating, Julian -- I'm scared to death. You know, I mean I think I broke out in hives and my legs started shaking so bad they wouldn't stop shaking, my left leg, I remember.

BOND: Scared of what? After the Peace Corps, earthquakes, Virginia? JONES: Peace Corps -- I'm in the bowels of Mudge Rose. It's a whole different level. You don't hear anybody walking down the hall. Everything was quiet in this inner sanctum, and here I go, in this thing. And I have to meet with this -- who's I'm sure is the senior partner, you know, and he's about seventy, you know, and he -- and I'm given the job offer. Well, it was $18,000 a year. BOND: Good money. Good money.

JONES: Oh! Today it's a $100,000. $18,000 a year, top dollar. I had debts. Peace Corps, you know. I had a National Defense loan to get through school. Law school, they didn't give me any money but I had the three percent National Defense Loan that had to be paid off and all of that. It's more money than I had ever seen, and so I accepted the job.


JONES: I accepted the job. This is October, November. Mr. Nixon had just left the law firm. He was president, because it was Nixon, Mudge, Rose. After I accepted the job, "Elaine's going to Mudge Rose," went all around the law school. It got to the point, Julian, I would walk by a mirror and I didn't want to look in it.

BOND: Now you've taken the job at the law school, and people in the law school -- I mean, at the law firm and people at law school are saying, "Elaine is going to Mudge."

JONES: Right, and they were saying it very positively. "You landed something."

BOND: Yes, indeed so, it's a tribute to them, it's a tribute to you.

JONES: Right.

BOND: So what happened?

JONES: I felt awful. After I said yes, because that's not the reason I had gone to law school, to go to Mudge Rose, and I was doing it only for money and that's another principle I picked up that stuck with me -- I stumbled into it but it's a good principle. It's all right for money to be a factor in decisions. It's the real world, you know, we need it. But when it's the only factor, and you're doing something solely because of money, then you need to stop.

BOND: Why couldn't you have said, "Well listen, I'm going to go to this law firm. I'm going to make a lot of money for twenty years, and then I'll go back to social activism. I'll be better prepared." Why couldn't you say that?

JONES: Well, some people can say that.

BOND: Sure.

JONES: And they say it now all the time. But I -- for me, I wanted to start right away. I mean, it's the reason I had gone to law school and I didn't -- I said, you know --

BOND: So it's money that's weighing on you?

JONES: Well, no.

BOND: I mean, doing something for money?

JONES: Doing something for money is weighing on me because the only motivation was money. And usually if you – and I believe that today – if you're doing something, you have to, there has to be something else about it as well. Money can be a factor. It can be a predominant factor. It can be an important and significant factor, but when it's the only reason you're doing it, that's what gives me pause and that's the only reason I was taking that job.

BOND: So how did the Legal Defense Fund come along?

JONES: Well, I wrote them and I said, "No."

BOND: So you had nothing.

JONES: I had nothing and there was a tactical error because there's somebody from the University of Virginia got that job and I should have negotiated with him, you know, who knew something. So that was another important lesson. Gave it up for nothing. But then I had no job. I gave it up after the holidays, after Christmas holidays. And I went to the dean's office. And I told the dean, I said, "I have no job." He said, "What do you want to do?" I said, you know, "I want to be a civil rights lawyer. That's why I came to law school." He said, "Well, look, I'm going to call my friend, Jack Greenberg who's head of the Legal Defense Fund and I'll get you an interview with him." And I [say], you know, "Thank you, thank you," and so that's what happened. I went up to New York the next week and LDF's office is in 10 Columbus Circle and I got to the offices and all the offices were empty. I got to the offices around two o'clock in the afternoon, walked around, nobody was there, and I said, "This is interesting, laboring in the civil rights vengeance and there's no one here, you know." And come to find out, there had been a bomb scare and they emptied the offices. I don't know how I got up there wandering around, but when they came back to the office, Jack and I interviewed and he hired me right there.

BOND: On the spot.

JONES: Right there on the spot.

BOND: And so you finish law school, you go to work for them.

JONES: I go to work for them --