Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Becoming a Leader: An Uncertain Calculus

BOND: Now, some people categorize the making of leaders in three ways — A, great people cause great events, B, movements make leaders, or C, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the times. Does one of these fit you? We’ve established you’re a leader.

THOMAS: Oh, I don’t know. I think I’d just have to take that as we’ll assume that I am, but I — you know, I think that at times, things are demanded of you and you can either say no. I mean, you think about your life. There were things that were demanded of you at a certain time. I remember when, and I relate this in my book, when I got here, I spoke with Justice [Thurgood] Marshall and I said, "Boy, you know, I’m sitting here talking to Justice Marshall and I’m like a kid, you know, wow." Two-and-a-half hours later in what was supposed to be a ten-minute meeting — you know, during that two-and-a-half hours, I said to him that if I’d had the courage when he was going around the South arguing these separate but equal cases and eventually leading up to Brown that I wish I could’ve been there with him, but I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage. And he just sort of leaned up on his desk and he just said, “I had to do in my time what I had to do. And you have to do in your time what you have to do.” And I think it might come down to that — that for leaders that we're called on to do certain things at a certain time. And I do see it as a calling more than ambition or anything else and I can’t say it’s planned. I don’t know which of those definitions fit. I think that they all might be right to a certain extent. I think it might be an uncertain calculus that leads us where we are.