Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How are Leaders Created?

BOND: Now, even though you resist this characterization of yourself as a leader, I want to ask you questions about how leaders are made. It's been suggested they're made one of three ways: number one, great people cause great events; or, number two, movements make leaders; or, number three, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders who are appropriate for the times. Does any of those fit you, you think, or a combination?

BRAUN: Absolutely.

BOND: What?

BRAUN: I think the third one — the confluence of unpredictable events. I mean, when you consider that as a woman who is also black, if it were not for a lot of efforts to open civil society up in a lot of different ways, then none of my story would've been possible. As a black, my story wouldn't have been possible if Brown v. Board of Education hadn't made it possible for me to get a quality education. As a woman, I wouldn't have been able to go to law school if the times hadn't changed to allow for that kind of openness, and you can put whichever shoe on first. As a poor person, I couldn't have gotten to the United States Senate — when I say poor person, I mean, in the scheme of things, couldn't have gotten to the United States Senate if the times had not gotten to the point where people said, "Well, you know, we've got enough billionaires and millionaires, we'll open this up a little bit…"

BOND: And is it likely that had there not risen this outrage over the nomination of Clarence Thomas that you might not have been in the Senate either?

BRAUN: Probably not. Well, I wouldn't have run. I wouldn't have run. The timing and the circumstances would not have — I mean, that was not — it wasn't a function of personal ambition on my part. I wasn't looking to be, you know, "When I grow up I want to be a senator." That was not in my thinking but rather, again, the circumstances came together to make that the logical decision.

BOND: Now, some of the commentary we've read about you says that part of your legitimacy as a leader is grounded in your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement. Now, in the case we've just discussed, the Confederate symbol, that surely it's your rhetoric that draws people to change their minds about something they'd already made up their mind, they'd already voted on. They're already voted for it and you've made them change their mind. But is that so about you, do you think?

BRAUN: Well, I've had to use words. That's what a legislator does. The difference between being a legislator either at the state level or in the United States Senate or being Recorder of Deeds or ambassador is?

BOND: Or candidate for president.

BRAUN: Or candidate for president. Well, no, candidate for president is more like being a legislator, but the executive positions, you see, you basically tell people what you want to have them do, you know: do this, do that, this is my idea. I shared it a little bit when I was Recorder of Deeds. I had a blue ribbon committee that came together and made recommendations for change, but really, if I had decided to have a committee or no committee, that's the way it would be. The legislative process is one that's very different because it requires persuasion and compromise and understanding.

BOND: And consensus.

BRAUN: Consensus, exactly.