Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Black Leaders

BOND: Now, you now know it took eleven years. But at the beginning you must have initially thought that it was achievable right away at that first election.

MARSH: Oh, yeah.

BOND: That had to be a disappointment. What made you keep going? Was it the closeness?

MARSH: No, it was something that had to be done. If you can imagine black people serving on the City Council speaking for you, saying the things that were detrimental to your race -- for example, when Dr. King was assassinated in '68, as a member of the Council I asked Council to let the school children watch Dr. King's funeral. We were very indignant about Dr. King's assassination. A lot of us felt that we let him get too far out in front of us and we felt guilt over his assassination. So we really got extremely aggressive -- some people say so -- we just asked for three things: the right to watch the funeral, a human relations commission to discuss things, and one other thing. They denied us -- and the two blacks on Council voted -- to deny us the right to have the children watch the funeral. That was the crowning blow. We said, "What reason?" They said, "Because Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist, and we have to protect the separation of church and state." I said, "You're kidding. John Kennedy was a Catholic and they watched his funeral after his assassination. Why wasn't that a violation of the separation of church and state?"

And they couldn't explain it. From that point on – this was in April. The election was in June. We turned the rascals out. They didn't get – they got – the blacks got overwhelming votes in the white community but they didn't get hardly any votes in the black community, and they were defeated from that Council. And of course, I was reelected overwhelmingly, and from that point on I was recognized by blacks and whites as a leader in Richmond. And it also repudiated this Uncle Tom-type leadership. But that was because Martin had been assassinated, and we tried to get Council to step out, and we got the Human Relations Commission. We had to picket and demonstrate. We got the Human Relations Commission with a staff for the first time.