Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Ruby Hurley

BOND: You talked last night, and you write about, Ruby Hurley who, you know, sadly is just a forgotten figure in the history of the movement. What did you learn from her? What did she teach you?

JORDAN: She taught me about the mechanics of organizing. She taught me about how to give leadership to people who were afraid, how to make them feel comfortable in their leadership. She taught me a lot, and you know this as chairman of the board of the NAACP, that there are local politics and there are regional politics and there are national politics. And these politics, you know, play against each other. She controlled Region 5. And she was Mr. Wilkins' person. She was a very loyal NAACP, and so she helped him withstand the attacks of Eugene Reed -- just died in New York -- who was sort of a radical, always on the other side. And Bill Booth from New York. I mean, these guys were genuinely NAACP people who had a different point of view. And that was a healthy tension in that dissent and dissention. But Ruby Hurley taught me how to manage dissent and how to be a leader.

BOND: And from the NAACP Arkansas and then to the Voter Education Project and here is another world for you, as opposed to the hierarchical NAACP and these regional, state, local branches and visions and politics. You're in a relatively brand new organization that has a board of directors, but really takes some direction from the foundations who originally funded it. So how has this changed?

JORDAN: The change was, it was very healthy change, because this was the interracial leaders of the South who cared, liberals and moderates, black college presidents, deans, lawyers who were brought together under the bankers, John Herbert Wheeler, but also liberal whites from the South who really cared, and that was a different dynamic. And it was a research organization and to bring facts to life about the horrors of segregation and discrimination. But it was a logical step for me, and I worked for this marvelous man, Leslie Dunbar, Ph.D., from Cornell, who was committed to research and that process at the Southern Regional Council, taught me the value of research and how to use it. And that's when I started reading the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Washington Post everyday, and I've been doing it ever since, because the fact-gathering and understanding of events was very important. And it was also the first job where I had clear administrative responsibilities. I was in charge of the budget and I had to present the budget and so -- and it was also the first time that I ever took a proposal to a foundation in New York to argue its merits and to defend it and to ultimately get funded. Leslie Dunbar sent me to the Ford Foundation during that time.

BOND: And you're also in charge of an interracial staff, which is new for you.

JORDAN: In charge of an interracial staff, managing that staff, resolving disputes within that staff, making decisions about hiring and firing. That was -- that was a necessary step in this process of growing up.

BOND: Now along this way you give the Emancipation Day speech for the Atlanta NAACP and the local paper raves over this speech. And in it, you talk about the necessity for these older institutions, like the Voter's League, to change and adapt to new circumstances, new people like the Young Turks, very much like Eugene Reed and Bill Booth. What prompted this? What made you think of this?

JORDAN: First of all, that was 1965. Ten years earlier, that speech had been given by Martin. And when we left Bethel Church, I said to my father, to his great disbelief -- I mean, he just looked at me like I was crazy. I said, "Daddy, you know what? I'm going to make that speech one day." And in 1965 I was fortunate enough to be true to my promise to my father. What most appealed to me -- and I'll get to your point -- about that speech is that I was really doing what I promised my dad that I was going to do. It took place at Union Baptist Church, sitting on the platform, in the pulpit that day, was A.T. Wallen, in braces. And when I finished, I got from him the blessing. He fixed his braces and he walked over to me and he said, "Son, you hit a home run." And I felt like that was the laying on of hands, that was Mr. Wallen saying that I had, as we would say in the fraternity, "Crossed the burning sands." It was -- it was a very special moment. I don't remember what I said in that speech, you've obviously read it. I remember the Atlanta Daily World wrote an editorial about it, and Sam Cook, who was then a professor at the political science department at Atlanta University, he said, if C.A. Scott an editorial about your speech, it must have been one hell of a speech. But it was -- it was a kind of affirmation, a confirmation process for me that I was on the leadership track. And to have been asked five years after law school to give -- the Atlanta Emancipation Proclamation Day speech was a big speech, it was a big event. And it was -- I was so honored and pleased to have been able to do that.