Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me ask you something that some people who've sat in that chair find hard to do, and that's look at yourself. Is there a difference between Henry Marsh's vision, Henry Marsh's philosophy, and Henry Marsh's style? Or are these somehow connected? I know they're -- I'm guessing they're connected, but are they the same thing?

MARSH: No, there's a difference.

BOND: What's the difference?

MARSH: There's a difference.

BOND: What's your vision?

MARSH: A community where artificial differences such as race and nationality will not limit a person's opportunity. That's a vision that I have that I think is achievable.

BOND: And your philosophy?

MARSH: Educate people and bring them along. It's tough to do, but you have to bring people along and educate them and use opportunities and situations to help educate people so that they can be motivated to do things for themselves. And you mention the Virginia values -- one reason why I approached the Daughters of the Confederacy like I did was because you don't hurt people's feelings unnecessarily, and that's not the way we do it in Virginia. So I'm saying, you know, it's all connected, but they're different things. And what we haven't learned as a people is that we have to earn freedom in every generation, and we have to earn it for ourselves. I mean, we have failed because we have not instilled in people the necessity to work for their freedom and to work for equality. My partner, Mr. Tucker -- the late S. W. Tucker -- used to say that the fight for equality and the fight for justice is all consuming. It'll burn you up. And he literally committed his life to fighting for that, every minute of it. And once you get hooked on it it's like being addicted to something. You just – you're wrapped up in it, and your every thought is caught up in how you can advance this thing. And you know the people who've gone on before you and what they've done. You know how much has to be done in the future, so you keep working for it in any way you can – politically, through the courts, through any other kind of way. That's what – you know, and it's enjoyable because you enjoy what you're doing and you know that it makes a difference. I mean, you see the difference when going from a situation where everything connected with the city and power is white to a situation where it's balanced.

BOND: What about your style?

MARSH: It varies with the occasion. You have to do what's necessary to achieve your objective, as long as you do it legally and gracefully and possibly with the Virginia gentility.

BOND: You know, you talked about gentility and persuading people and educating people just a moment ago. But two important parts of your life -- being a lawyer and being a politician -- involve forcing people to do things, not simply educating them or convincing them, but forcing them. If you win an injunction integrating a restaurant, you have forced the owner of that restaurant to integrate. He didn't want to do it. You forced him. The court forced him to do it. If you -- the City Council in Richmond, decide to annex a block in the suburbs, you have forced those people to come into the city. They didn't want to do it. So there's some force involved here, too, some exercise of power involved here too. So --

MARSH: There's nothing wrong with exercising power. That's why power's available. That's why it's created, to be exercised. I don't shrink from that. But just like we decided to change city management in Richmond, I guess that got a lot of publicity. We did that with gentility. We could have gone to the meeting without any forewarning to him, call for a vote. Somebody made a motion, and he would have been discharged summarily. People would have said, "Well, that was rude. That wasn't polite." We went to him privately and said, "Bill, we think it's time for a change." Fifteen months we tried to put up with him. He was the manager that the white folks had had who'd been working and testifying against us in court to keep us out of power. I persuaded my colleagues, "Let's keep him on. People will be more at ease. We can get more done. He's got to follow our policy."

Well, he didn't. For fifteen months he tried to sabotage us. So I finally went to him. I could have fired him. I said, "Bill, we're going to make a change." He said, "Well, when is this going to happen?" I said, "Well, you set your own timetable. Take your time. Look around." Instead of him doing what he should have done, he went to the other folk and said, "The blacks are going to fire me." So they called and sounded the alarm. They went to their friends in the black community to call the press and raised hell. They summoned me and my colleagues down for a meeting with the white leadership. We went down there, and I said, "Look, nobody say a word except me, because we don't want them -- " So I went down there and I listened to them and they threatened, and they said, "Look, you can't do this way. We got these bank buildings down here. We this, and we this, and we that -- we considered this and we won't bother you. We'll let it go. We realize you made a mistake," and they went on. So when they finished I said, "Is that it?" They said, "Well, yeah. What do you got to say?"

I said, "Well, thank you for inviting us down. You're an important part of our constituency. We heard your views. We'll consider them, and we'll let you know what we're going to do. Anything else?" "Well, we want -- " I said, "No. Do you have anything else you want to tell us? We don't have any response right now." So we left. We went out and had a drink and a chuckle. And I went back on my vacation -- I had had [my] first vacation in five years, and I interrupted it and halfway through, had gone four days and went back out on my vacation. Got my thoughts together. Came back. Called a press conference and announced thirty-three indictments against the City Manager. Not that we had to give interviews. Here's thirty-three reasons why we're doing this. They had a trial. The power of the city was assembled, black and white. We voted five-to-four to fire him. And I have no regrets on any of that. They said, "Well, you must have had a secret meeting to decide to fire him. That was illegal." I said, "Well, you don't know if I had a secret meeting or not." But the point is that we made that decision and we decided to be Christian about it and not to destroy his ability to get a job somewhere else. We wanted to give him a chance to move on. We had a right to make the change, and we did.

BOND: So you're not afraid to exercise power?

MARSH: Enjoyed it.

BOND: And would do it again.

MARSH: I would do it the same way. I would go to him and say, "Bill, we're going to make a change. Why don't you decide where you want to go and you can resign." You know, the WICs program was just one example. He had kept information about the WICs program away from us for two or three years, and pregnant mothers who could have had nourishment for their babies were being denied because he wouldn't share that information with us. I mean, that's mean. He's our city manager and he's doing things like that. I mean, there were a whole lot of things. We were just very tolerant and very patient. And we just couldn't take it anymore. So we let him go, but we did it with gentility.