Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Tuskeegee Airmen

BOND: We talked just before we began here about the achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, who, many of whom went onto tremendous success in civilian life and just a remarkable group of people. Were they a remarkable group of people because they were drawn to the Tuskegee experiment or did the Tuskegee experiment make them into a remarkable group of people?

THEUS: You know, Julian, you're asking the question that is raised so frequently among all of my associates and, of course, including myself. Do events make great men or do great men – and I use men in the generic sense of it – or do men make great events? And you know there -- I can't answer you directly, categorically. I can't give you a categorical answer, but I would say that it's a bit of both, it's a bit of both. From the standpoint of the Tuskegee Airmen, I truly believe that those young men who answered the call to become Tuskegee Airmen, would have succeeded. The vast majority of them would have succeeded anyhow in whatever undertaking that they might have gone into. But the military probably -- in fact, it did -- hasten that development. It hastened their development as leaders and instilled in them the desire, the ability to achieve and so they carried this over into the civilian community. So again, I lean toward, I should say a bit of both. It depends on the individual. I don't know many, if any, Tuskegee Airmen that you could call failures, you know, who have transitioning to the civilian side. Some, I wonder, if they would have succeeded as well had they not had the experience. But it awakened within them, probably. And so again, at the risk of redundancy, a bit of both and I lean toward the theory that the Tuskegee Airmen experience really brought out the leadership ability in them and prepared them so that they could be better successes in our civilian society.

BOND: General Theus, we could talk for hours and hours but our time is up. Thank you so much for being with us.

THEUS: Well, this has certainly been my pleasure, indeed. Thank you so much for inviting me, it's an honor and a privilege.

BOND: We've enjoyed it, thank you.

THEUS: My pleasure, indeed.