Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Development

BOND: Early on you talked about the Brown decision and having to be the interpreter of the Brown decision because you're the only black student in your class, one of five in the whole school. And I think your life has been as an interpreter, interpreting one world to the other, interpreting that world to this. But do you think you began doing that at an early age? At DePauw? Did the DePauw experience, being this real minority... The first time in your life you're a minority in a social setting -- in an organizational setting. Did that begin some path toward this role?

JORDAN: Yeah. By my very presence in Greencastle I was a teacher. By my very presence I was a source, for some people, of discomfort. But also by my very presence I got to learn things about people in ways that I did not know and vice versa. I can remember my roommates my freshman year as we existed, the three of us in this room. Two seniors and me, a freshman. And after the third week when I came in, once in the library, they said, "We're talking about you." And I said, "Okay. What's the subject?" He said, "We have made an amazing discovery." And I said, "What is that?" They said, "Well, we discovered that you're no different than we are." But they were seniors. One came from a small town in Indiana, another from a town just outside Cleveland. By the time of my senior year I had met a real buddy, who is here in this studio today, who was my roommate my freshman year. And we were just friends, buddies. And 45 years later we still are.

BOND: Now the experience of these two guys discovering you're like them, that's because, I'm guessing, you just went about your regular life as a student: studying, going to class, whatever. So you didn't have to convince them. You didn't have argue with them.

JORDAN: That was never...

BOND: Yeah.

JORDAN: ...my tactic. My view was that my presence was their problem.

BOND: If it was a problem at all, it was theirs.

JORDAN: It was... Yeah. I had a purpose and a mission to come and learn and prepare myself to do what I'm now doing. And so I did not view my... I was comfortable and I think my mother worried about that, my father worried about that. I was never discomforted by it, in part because growing up in a segregated situation, we always brought people home. And so my graduation present to my two white roommates my freshman year was to take them home to Atlanta.

BOND: Oh, really?

JORDAN: Yeah. They came and spent a week with me. And all during my time at DePauw I would catch rides with my white schoolmates going to drink beer in Fort Lauderdale. And they would stop and sometimes spend the night. There's a fascinating story of a young man who was on my waiting staff at Longden Hall at DePauw where I was head waiter. His name was Robert Smith. He was from South Carolina. He catches a ride with-- to Atlanta with a group of us. But because he's going to South Carolina, we'd get there in the middle of the night. He has to spend the night at my house. We finish eating. My mother made a great southern meal. The guys going to Florida kept going. And Bob Smith and I shared my bedroom. He slept on one twin bed, I slept in another. In the middle of the night my father comes into the room, turns on the light, literally weeps as he sees me sleeping in one bed and this white kid from South Carolina sleeping in the other bed. Goes back and my mother asks, "What's wrong?" and he says, "I never thought when I was growing up in Monticello, Georgia, Jasper County, that my life would come to this. That in the house that I own and the house that we pay the mortgage on that a white boy from the South with a very real southern twang would be my son's friend and sleeping in our house." So for my father it was a huge experience, so different from anything that he had experienced before and so different from anything that he had envisioned that he would experience. Here, again, it was a fallout of Brown v. Board of Education.