Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of the Civil Rights Movement

BOND: Were there any incidents in the news when you were growing up in Savannah that let you know who you were and what some people thought about you or how you ought to think about yourself?

THOMAS: Oh, you know, I can remember being herded into our little den — that's where the Motorola TV was. And the news was a big deal in those days and we all had to watch what was going on in Little Rock and being horrified. And later on we’d see the hosings and we’d watch what happened in Birmingham and the fire hoses, the dogs, things like that, and it really — oh, absolutely, it had a tremendous impact on all of us.

BOND: I’m the same age as the Little Rock Nine and they had a big influence on me because they were my age. And I saw people like me in Birmingham I’m guessing in ’63 —

THOMAS: I was in the eighth grade.

BOND: So these are children roughly your age. Did the fact that these young people were doing this speak to you more profoundly than it might’ve done had they been older people?

THOMAS: Well, first, yes, I was in the ninth grade when that happened. In ninth grade as a young kid, you begin to feel your oats a little bit.

BOND: Right.

THOMAS: And you begin to have this sense that we should be doing something and I can remember my grandfather distinctly telling us, "No way. You’re not old enough." That your job is to go to school, your job is to learn. That’s what all of this was about and so, yes, I mean, you saw it all. You saw other parts of the country and you also read about what was happening in Savannah — the lunch counters, the kids from Savannah State with the sit-ins. My grandfather in hush-hush conversations to use his property for bail working with the NAACP. And it can’t but have an effect on you.