Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Crisis in Little Rock

BOND: Now a moment ago you mentioned leadership from the top, which, of course, in a military organization, the person at the top gives an order, everyone below jumps to.

THEUS: Have to do it.

BOND: In civilian life, of course, if the person at the top gives an order it may or may not be obeyed and he may or may not have the ability to enforce the order. Can you compare these two examples and put the Brown decision there? President Eisenhower initially vacillates about it.

THEUS: That's right.

BOND: And is not in favor of it, he's not against it, he really is quiet, and it's not until the crisis erupts in Little Rock in 1957 that he's forced to call out the military to integrate the schools. Is that a failure of leadership?

THEUS: In my way of viewing it, yes. You can't paint it any other way. You can explain it, but you can't agree that this was appropriate for a leader, the leader of our nation at that time, because without that kind of push -- effort, if you will -- we simply could not move ahead. Now as you said when we had the eruption there in Little Rock, yes, he sent in the troops. He saw to it then that without his direct intervention, his statement of support of the Supreme Court ruling, that we would continue to have turbulence, we would continue to have resistance and, of course, with resistance on one side, with those pushing for the integration on the other side, and rightly so, we would never settle our society to an even keel. And so he saw this as something that as a leader he had to come for and to take a strong stand.