Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: NAACP

BOND: Talk a moment about your time with the Georgia NAACP as field director for Georgia. Now you are entering into what traditionally has been a hierarchical, traditional, and relatively speaking, conservative organization. How did you find it?

JORDAN: I liked it. I liked the mission. I liked the tradition and the history. I loved Ruby Hurley. I had great admiration for Roy Wilkins. And this was a job about organizing basically. And the time was right. It was 1961. There was a lot of fervor. What was exciting about it is that you could go to almost any town in Georgia, go to the local filling station and ask the black guy in the filling station, "Who is the NAACP man here?" And he always could tell you who it was. Now, the organization may not have had a meeting for two or three years, completely defunct. But there was a person who was considered the NAACP man because, at one point he really was, and it was active, and for whatever reason, it was dysfunctional. And so I found that and I would find that person and I would -- so, you know, "So, we got to get this started up again."

I shall never forget the Brunswick, Georgia NAACP was run by a preacher and Mrs. [Geneva] Lyde, who may still be alive I think. And it had gotten down to about ten people and they just met socially, had cake and ice cream and sold a few memberships. And I got there as a -- and I said, "We've got to revive this. We got to do better." And got Julius Caesar Hope -- who now is in Detroit -- interested. He was in the Pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Brunswick. And we just brought that back. We brought it back and we had mass meetings and we got a program. The same thing was true in Albany, Georgia, in the midst of all of that. It was defunct, SNCC was big, SCLC had come in. But we found that core group of older people who found a niche for the NAACP and that program. So that organizing the work of getting people to join the NAACP had a process that not many people know about.

And some of the small towns in 1961, to have your NAACP membership card come through the mail, could mean that you would lose your job, or otherwise be discomforted. So with W. W. Law, who was then the president of the state conference, after a membership campaign, we would have mass meeting. And we would pass out membership cards like a college president passes out diplomas and it was a big thing. "Brother Julian Bond, come and get your NAACP membership card." And it was, it was a marvelous experience. And many of them in those days never carried the NAACP card around in their pocket, they would leave it at home in the family Bible. Pretty good place for the NAACP membership card, it seems to me.

And so that was... that was the beginning of my testing as a leader. You had to have a state conference, you had to write a report. You had to go do investigations, you had to secure counsel for local people who needed lawyers. You had to organize mass meetings. And the one thing that you learned, is that you never select the biggest church in town. You select a medium-size church and then fill it up. It's better to have a medium-size church full, so that the press can say there was an overflowing crowd, than to have the biggest church and the crowd's half empty. And so things like that you learned, you learned about leaflets and pamphlets, and how to organize the community around an issue or around a mass meeting at which Roy Wilkins was going to speak, and you learned how to navigate and negotiate with the NAACP, without the NAACP. I remember once going -- being sent to Savannah to solve a dispute between Westley W. Law, the president of the branch, and Hosea Williams, the head of the Crusade of Women Voters. Well, I learned a lesson about that, and that is that you never go into a local community as an outsider to bring the two groups together. I remember getting there and putting Hosea on one side, W. W. Law on the other, and I sat in the middle. Before the meeting was over, Hosea Williams and W. W. Law were on the same side, against me. It was a fabulous lesson in local dispute resolution.