Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Experiences: School and the Military

BOND: Now, was there a point in grade school, high school, or college that you began to think, "I am a leader. I can be a leader. I can lead others and make others follow me"? Did that come?

WILDER: That did. Through elementary school, through high school, until the end of high school I got a little disappointed because I didn’t see any scholarship money coming. And I didn’t -- we didn’t have any money, and I was just shocked that I didn’t -- there was nobody to talk to about any scholarship coming my way. We didn’t have these great foundations, grants.

BOND: Right

WILDER: So I slowed up considerably. When I went to college I was young, I was only sixteen, I got more interested in some other things -- you know who they were. I played a lot of intramural sports, I cut class to play ping pong, I did whatever I could to hang out. The next year I was eligible to join the fraternity, and I studied hard for that, and after that I started hanging out. And so I think in my sophomore and junior years I really sloughed off and then found it necessary to regain and try to get out of college. And I didn’t see too much -- I didn’t exercise too much leadership ability in college. More so in high school and elementary school. When I got drafted and went to the army, I started re-exercising that discrimination. I recall, one sergeant there that said, “Look, you know, this is not fair. We’re not getting promoted and everyone else is. We need to bring this to the attention of the major.” Who said, that “to report to him of this discrimination.” And I said, “Well, are you sure? Then we should do the following." "I wouldn’t lie about what we should do." So I said -- we pull back off the line to take showers, and he said “Well, let’s march down to see the major tomorrow.” He said, “Let’s go in full battle gear.” And I said, “We should!” Two bandoliers of ammunition, grenades, steel butt rifles on our shoulders. And I said, “But now, you’re the sergeant, you have to march us down.” So it got to a point that I was exercising that degree of leadership -- went the major, and told him the problems, I had to push them just tell it, but once we started telling him I was called upon to represent several guys who were charged with court martial offenses and pretty much got what we wanted in that. So in Korea, I picked up where I left off in high school. But college was dismal for me in terms of leadership. As a matter of fact, if you had to bet on where I’d end up in college, it’d be at the bottom.