Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Across Racial Lines: Kenny Hahn

BOND: When I think about Kenny Hahn, I think about a white politician who's able to engender this enormous love and affection from black people. And I wonder whether or not the reputation he established has been a guide for you.

WATSON: Well, let me tell you what he used to do. He would get in his car on a Saturday night and start riding the streets, and if he saw the police stopping a black kid, he would get out and he'd say, "Officer, how're you doing? Hey, young man, how you're doing? Anything I can help you with?" You know, and they just fell in love with him. Nate Holden was one of his field deputies, you know, was out there among the people and I could call Kenny and I'd say, "There's a drain here, you know, a sewer drain and it's all stuffed up." Kenny would have somebody out there. Now, he wasn't to fill potholes and clean drains. That was the City, but you'd always call Kenny because he would get things done. And I'll tell you another thing that he did, too, that endeared him, is that if he were talking to you, he had a photographer and the photographer would take a picture of the two of you together. He'd sign it and send it to you and say no thanks required. And that's what he did. He was always in someone's home after church. He visited every Protestant church there was. Then he would be in someone's home with his feet underneath Mrs. Jones' table having chicken and mashed potatoes on a Sunday afternoon. His presence was always there in the community and people trusted him and loved him.

BOND: And you represent a multi-ethnic population now —


BOND: — and did on the School Board.


BOND: And I wonder to what extent Kenny Hahn's example served you.

WATSON: Well, of course, all of us wanted to be the politician's politician, like Kenny, so you would go to him. You know, if you were planning on running for office. You had to make a stop there. You had to get the nod of Bishop H. H. Brookins. There were kingmakers. Gil [Gilbert] Lindsay doing his state. These are all people you know well. And you always went because with their support came resources and, of course, with Kenny's support in the 2nd District, you had everything you needed. And so you watched how he operated in our community and then you patterned what you did very much like what he did. You have to touch bases with people, and that's what I do. I used to go to factories when I was running for School Board. I'd go to factories when they opened in the morning. I'd go to factories when they closed in the evening. We'd ride buses. People have to know who you are and I learned that from Kenny.