Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Shifts

BOND: At the same time, you face the understandable concern and criticism from friends and enemies alike that you're abandoning the great causes and going into the money world. And --

JORDAN: You're absolutely right about that, and the explanation for that is very simple and that is that the reason we went across the Edmunds Pettus Bridge was to create options, for people to do what their ambitions want them to do. And so on the one hand you can argue that it was right to go across the Edmunds Pettus Bridge, and on the other hand say that Jordan has abandoned the movement. I did not abandon it, I just repositioned myself from leadership to follower or from leader to follower. I did not cease --

BOND: But you can't deny, Vernon, that you haven't maintained a leadership position? It's a very different kind of leadership that we haven't seen before, with the exception of maybe one figure I'm thinking about, Bill Coleman, on the Republican side.

JORDAN: Right. Well see, I agree with that. And the distinction is when I was head of the Urban League or head of the College Fund, I was a black leader because I had a constituency. But when I went to Akin Gump to practice law, I ceased to be a black leader cause I had no constituency, and I became a leading black. And I think that is a distinction worth noting, that they are many leading blacks who have no constituency for which they speak.

BOND: Do you have to have a constituency to be a leader?

JORDAN: I think you have to have a constituency to be a leader in one context -- in the context that -- I mean, you as chairman of the board of the NAACP, you address yourself to those constituent needs.

BOND: By virtue of the position, I have a constituency. By virtue of being head of the UNCF you have a constituency. By virtue of being head of the VEP you have a constituency. At Akin Gump, it's true you don't have the same kind of membership -- but you do have a constituency.

JORDAN: And no constituency formally.

BOND: But a constituency nonetheless.

JORDAN: In other words, when I express myself, I am not -- I am speaking for myself. I do not have a board of trustees. I do not have a group of management with whom I consult. When I was head of the Urban League -- take that Carter speech in 1977. That was speech was written in consultation with my colleagues. And there were some of my colleagues who said, "This is not an Urban League speech. This is more like an NAACP speech, you can't say this." And that was a legitimate disagreement, but I was also the leader and the boss, and so we made the speech that I wanted to make. But there is a -- I think, a distinction that has had to be made between black leaders with constituencies and leading blacks.

BOND: I understand it, but I want to argue with you that when you make a speech like -- as you did last night here, there are a fair large number of students from the Darden Business School, they're black young men and women who aspire to success in the for-profit world, and even though you didn't give a speech, you really are speaking to them. You're telling about your life and experiences, the process of writing this book. So I'd argue that you have do have a constituency that may not be the formal constituency, but that you speak to a large segment of black America -- and white America, too -- who are interested in the things you have to say because they identify with them quite closely. So I'd argue you do have a constituency.

JORDAN: Yes, but, and I don't disagree with that. What I would say is that the responsibility for the constituency is not a formal one, it is not a structured --

BOND: Agreed, agreed.