Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Importance of Communication Style

BOND: Now, do you have a different style when you’re dealing with a group that’s all black, all white or predominantly white or mixed? Are you different in these circumstances?

RANGEL: I don’t see how. Like you, I’ve had my share of television, and I think a lot of people would know if you’re answering questions or your manners — as a matter of fact, when I first came down to Washington, a group of Howard students came in and gave me hell for defeating Adam Clayton Powell but they were doing it in such a street way that I had to kick them out of the damn office and I said, "I want to let you know that this is an office that you’re going to have to respect. If I thought for one minute that you could talk the street with me, you know, I know where you’re coming from and I would understand it, but if you’re going to a university and dealing with a member of Congress, you better learn how to talk to the congressman before you give me a rap because the man’s going to throw your ass in jail." And I worked with this group and it turned out to be a wonderful thing. They were just trying to show how militant they were, but I was saying how important it is for our kids to be able to know the rap, to talk the street and have this special relationship with each other but never forget that you’re not in charge and you have to make certain that you speak differently in terms of trying to relate to other people and I have enjoyed seeing as you have, too, people who talk with you in a very colloquial way —

BOND: Yes.

RANGEL: — but like many ministers and politicians, when they’re on, their language becomes a lot more formal, but the thoughts I think are more important than the delivery. But, no, I’m going through a problem now that for 38 years I have not had any serious political challenge and from Harlem, as a matter of fact, Adam and I probably, you know, we served collectively for sixty-two years. He was there in ’45 for twenty-six years and I’ve been there for the thirty-six years, thirty-seven years, and when you have a congressional district like a neighborhood, I’ve spent all my time in the streets and the churches and doing things, and now that I’m the chairman, I got to find some kind of way that I can spend the time that it’s going to take to pass legislation with the half a dozen subcommittees but I don’t think that's — that could not possibly change anything and thank God my community feels that that’s their chairmanship and they give me a break.

BOND: Well, good for them.