Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Society

BOND: There is often criticism of leadership figures like yourself, who are black, from people who say, "Well, he just thinks about black things all the time. He doesn't think about the common good." Now I'm not asking whether that's true or not -- I don't think it is true. But are there occasions where you do say, "I've got to put the interests of black people first and believe those interests fit into the larger interests"? Or -- how do you look at these things?

MARSH: I'm not sure that there's that much difference. In other words, what is in the interest of black people is almost invariably what is in the interest of the community. I mean, there's very little difference, because black people are part of the community, too. We focused on public education first when I was mayor because we recognized that it was the key ingredient to change that helped me when I came from the country. And there are a lot of -- we have five major housing projects with lots of poor people. There are geniuses in those housing projects, and they need that kind of help. That was not only an interest of the black community, but that was in interest of the total community. We focused on preserving and expanding our housing stock because we realized that over the years, the decades following us, state funding formulas, federal funding formulas, political power all would be based on population. If we didn't expand our housing stock the state projections of Richmond going do to almost nothing would come true. So we took that discretionary money we had and poured it into education, and poured it into rebuilding our housing stock. So now even though we're losing a half a delegate, it came out yesterday, we would have lost a delegate and a half or maybe two delegates had we not done that. So those decisions might look like they were in the interest of the African American community, but they were in the interest of the total community because everybody benefited. There is no such thing in most cases of African American interests and the larger interests. They're identical. Because in America it's what's in the best interests of the community because African Americans have more need, they are affected by these decisions in a different way. But I don't recognize the distinction of choosing between blacks and whites. I represent a suburban constituency, an inner city constituency, and a rural constituency now in the eight jurisdictions I represent. It looks like I have to choose for the different issues between what interests have I represented. But it's not really. It's usually in the interest of everybody to do the right thing.

BOND: It is usually. But sometimes what the suburban people want isn't in the interest of what the urban people want --

MARSH: You're right.

BOND: -- yet the suburban people's need is real and great and true, and they've got to have what they want. How do you balance these? Help the suburbanites, hurt the city people. Or vice versa.

MARSH: Again, I'm not sure the interests are divergent there because you can't exist in a suburb without a healthy inner city. I mean, they recognize that in Europe and other places. But in this country, inner cities are catching hell. Pardon my French. But the inner cities are an integral part of suburbia. The corporations wouldn't come to the suburbs if it weren't for the cultural environment in the city. If it wasn't for the airport facilities or the stadium facilities in the inner city. The interests are inseparable in most cases. Now, there may be a few situations where somebody wants a building and you can't put the building in the inner city. You can't put it in there. But even there if you put the building in the inner city and that helps stabilizes the inner city that's not hurting the suburbs because suburbs need the inner city. So, I mean, I don't find that a problem. I follow Spike Lee's advice -- "Do the right thing." It looks like it's going to fall out one way or the other. But it doesn't.