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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
Mentors: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin
LEWIS: It was very hard and very difficult to say no to A. Philip Randolph, you know, he was a wonderful human being. I've said in the past, if he had been born in another country, maybe at another time, another race, he would've been king or president, prime minister or something. He was a wonderful human being. On one occasion, he said during one of those meetings, he said, "if you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything. Just don't say anything." And he would say in those meetings, "brothers, let's stay together, brethren."
BOND: I know when one of those meetings and I only know the vaguest thing about this, there was objection to Bayard Rustin playing a prominent role because he was homosexual, had been a communist and was a radical pacifist. Do you remember this?
LEWIS: Oh, I remember that meeting very very well. That was one of the first meetings. I can tell you that meeting was held on July 2nd, 1963 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City and it was the six of us meeting and Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young objected to the whole idea of being Bayard Rustin being a convener, the chair or the head of the call for the March on Washington and so we had what you'd call I guess a consultation, a little caucus, of Dr. King, James Farmer and myself, and we sort of agreed that we would select A. Philip Randolph as the chair and then let A. Philip Randolph pick this person because some of us didn't have any problem. We didn't have any problem with Bayard Rustin being the chair, but they thought that some members of Congress, especially southern senators, would get on the Senate floor and some of them did much later, get on the floor and denounce the March or denounce Bayard Rustin being associated with it, but we knew that if we selected Mr. Randolph as the convener, Mr. Randolph in turn would select Mr. Rustin as his deputy. It was Bayard Rustin who literally put together the March on Washington for August 28, 1963.
BOND: There's probably no one else who could've carried off such an enormous organizational job as Bayard Rustin.
LEWIS: I don't think we had anyone else available. He was one of a kind. He was so-- So smart, so brilliant. I remember one occasion, Julian, where we were discussing the planning for the March. We were so concerned about everything. He was concerned with things like people having some place to eat and everybody on the stage having a chair and that type of thing and the microphones and people getting in and out, how many buses, how many trains and that type of thing and at one point, he said, "how many toilets?" He said, "we can't have any disorganized pissing in Washington."
BOND: You know, I just read something that he said about Martin Luther King. He said, "King couldn't organize vampires to come to a bloodbath," and I think it may have been because he himself was such a superb organizer and could organize anything.
LEWIS: He was skilled. He could be talking on two and three telephones at the same time, you know, here and there. He was very skillful and he had the ability, the capacity to bring people together.