Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leading by Communicating and Standing Up

WATSON: Bobbi Fiedler — I'm fast-forwarding — but it was an experience going through that period of time speaking on behalf of the children that were locked into inferior schools and they were locked into one-race schools and I had to speak on their behalf. That's a whole 'nother story and you don't have time, but you grow a lot and you learn how to work with people and if you stick to your principles and your ethics and your morals and what is right in a democratic society and if you stand for children and the enlightenment of children and their progress, then you can't lose, but it's a hard road to get to your goal.

I can tell you another experience. On the first day of our integration program which might have been 1977, we had a student killed out at one of our high schools and the superintendent called us in an executive session early in the morning and he told us what had happened and when I thought about it, I went to Bobbi Fiedler who was Miss Bus Stop and I said, "Bobbi, now you talk about how violent our communities are and you don't want your children out here and you don't want white children at those schools. Would you go with me out to the high school to support what the principal is trying to do?" And she said yes. I said, "I'll drive you out and I'll drive you back. We'll spend an hour out there," so I had five hours with her and on the way out there we started to talk.

I said, "Bobbi, you do such a disservice to our black children when you condemn them all by saying that our communities, our homes, are all violent and saying that our schools are the lowest rated." I said, "you have nothing good to say about the situation in which they live and go to school and how do we encourage and how can you influence people to look at us without false perceptions but with reality?" And she said, "Diane, do you know that I was Roberta Horowitz from [SanMo] High School Democrats and I married Mr. Fiedler who was a pharmacist and he took me out of that environment and took me to the Valley." She was Jewish. And she said, "I don't want to go back." So I said, "I understand." She said, "When a mother comes to you and says I would've committed suicide had it not been for you," she said, "I had to represent these people." I said, "I have to represent these people and let's agree to disagree but not do it disagreeably." We're good friends right now.

BOND: Really?

WATSON: Good friends.

BOND: I remember that name.

WATSON: You remember and she was here in Congress. We're good friends, so in terms of being a leader, it happens. Rosa Parks didn't set out to be a leader. She was taking an action and, you know, she said, "I would no longer be insulted. I would no longer be treated this way. I'm going to take a stand and I took a stand by sitting down so you could stand up." Well, I took a stand by letting her know who we are and what our desires and dreams were and she let me know what hers were, so-- and then you find that people are following you because you're giving them something they need and that's knowledge and information and you know what I used to do? I used to call certain community leaders. I said, "can you call a meeting in the basement of the church so I can tell what they're getting ready to do to you?" And so we'd meet at the church and I'd lower my voice and say, "get ready to hear what they're getting ready to do you." "What?" And I'd go on, you know, and that's the way I'd get them there and we would plan out our strategy and we'd have marches to the School Board and asking for integration and, of course, by busing because we had such expansive land.