Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Race as the 800-Pound Gorilla

BOND: So, now you get to the U.S. Senate and that's an entirely different experience. It's a unique experience in American life, and not only are you a woman. There'd been women before, but you're the first black woman and I read some place where you thought people couldn't talk about this, couldn't mention this because they're so unused to discussing race. What did your colleagues say about race, about you, or did they just act like you weren't black?

BRAUN: Oh, no, no, no, I mean, if anything, race was the 800-pound gorilla in the room always. When I was sworn in, some civil rights leaders, who will remain nameless, who had nothing to do with my election, came, showed up and, you know, taking credit for my election.

BOND: I know their names.

BRAUN: And we were all sitting on a stage and people were giving — and Strom Thurmond showed up and one of my girlfriends in fact started to boo and, of course, the crowd of people who came were just entirely too civilized to let that happen. They shut her up, shushed her, and everybody was standing there literally in shocked disbelief because Strom at this point as you can imagine was 9,000 years old and barely — I mean, if he knew he was in the Senate I would be surprised— but he made a point to come to say a few words at the podium at my swearing in and I laughed about it afterwards because it was so funny. It was part of him, you know, this is the new face of Strom Thurmond that he was showing at the time. So race was the 800-pound gorilla in all of it and did play a role and, frankly, I didn't realize until — you know, you learn from experience, but there was some aspects of my tenure that were absolutely tinged and colored by race. Aspects is the wrong word. It's expectations. There were expectations having to do with race that I didn't fully appreciate until, you know, obviously after the fact.