Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam

BOND: You know, this is a little off the point, but there is an untold story about the influence these African students at historically black colleges had on American students in pushing them by saying just what you said, "We’re freeing our country -- "

WILDER: Precisely!

BOND: "We’re going to run our country -- "

WILDER: Precisely!

BOND: "When are you going to eat at a lunch counter?" It was just a great untold story.

WILDER: It is a great untold story, and some of them may not have experienced it, but I know and you know, because you’ve experienced the same thing with these people who came to Morehouse, they came to Virginia Union -- and they would say in essence, “Look, don’t look down at us. We’re doing things, what are you doing about riding in the back of the bus? What are you doing about sitting in the street car counters. No, we’re not going to come here to live we going back to our countries to govern. And why are you not governing?" And so these are the kinds of things that made you ask your fellow students, made you ask your professors -- it wasn’t going to be in the media. You were never going to be encouraged by that. You were never going to be encouraged by the general society. And so, if you understood that if change was to come, it had to come from within. You had to do it. Or else the land, as it is with life, you plow new ground or you watch the weeds grow.

BOND: But something you said about the media prompted my memory -- you were fortunate in a way to live in a city that had a vibrant black newspaper, The Richmond Afro-American.


BOND: And I just showed my students, the class at American University last night the front page of the Richmond Afro announcing that -- and I can’t remember her name, she just died. The woman who -- ?


BOND: No, the bus woman who --

WILDER: Oh, Ms. Tensley!

BOND: No, no, no.

WILDER: Oh, yes.

BOND: Jeez, what’s her name?

WILDER: I know who you’re talking about

BOND: She got in a fight with the driver.

WILDER: Morgan.

BOND: She got in a fight with the driver. She kicked the driver.

WILDER: Irene Morgan.

BOND: Irene Morgan! Yes. I showed them the front page of the Afro, and I imagine that you must have seen in the Afro just a parade of black figures who were doing things in other parts of the country, and you must have had to reflect on them. You know, why isn’t someone doing that here in Richmond?

WILDER: You know, you bring up an interesting point again. My classmate, Bruce Boynton --

BOND: It’s your -- Bruce, oh yes. Talk about him.

WILDER: My classmate was coming through Richmond, going back to where he lived in Alabama.

BOND: In Selma, he's from Selma.

WILDER: From Selma, Alabama. And he stopped at the Stay Away Trailways Bus Station to the lunch counter and I said, “No, not you. Because you’re a Negro.” So he called me and I was not in. He then called Henry Marsh and Marsh was in, but Marsh referred him to the Hill Tucker Firm. And they took that case. That was the case that ended discrimination in international buses.

BOND: Boynton vs. --

WILDER: Boynton vs. Virginia! And so, someone would say it, said to me, “This was your classmate?” “Yeah.” “Why didn’t — why couldn’t he just keep on going?” I said, "Because he decided that enough was enough. And decided that we were going, going to stick the ground, put it in the ground here." It was those types of things! I also was sitting in the court room when the judge to the young fellow did four jobs in Richmond, and said, “No, I’m not going to lose.” And didn’t. In that case, ultimately, the NAACP took it, won it -- ending discrimination in the court rooms. It’s those singular instances when people have to decide for themselves what their lives are going to be like. And they very rarely get mentioned, they rarely get the headlines, they rarely get any recognition. But it’s a combination of things that contribute to the leadership of the masses expressed in many instances by a few but that germ had to have been planted some place.

BOND: And I wonder to what degree the presence of the newspaper, The Afro, brought these things to you, if they happened away from Richmond and made you think, “Gee, this could happen here.”

WILDER: I said the same thing when I ran for governor, and I told Tom [Thomas J.] Bradley, I said, “You should have been the first elected African American governor in this country.” I said, “You got a bad shake. Even your own people turned on you. Everybody, 'Well, you didn’t spend enough time' -- they didn’t understand how big California was! They wanted you to spend all your time in what?” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, it was kind of you to say that.” And I said, “No, I meant it.” I told Louis Stokes, I said, “When your brother ran and became mayor of Cleveland, that told me that those kinds of things were possible." The same thing in Gary, Indiana, when --

BOND: Dick [Richard G.] Hatcher.

WILDER: Dick Hatcher ran for mayor. So it’s no single thing that brings things to the fore, it’s a combination. And those single acts of leadership. Carl Stokes in Cleveland, Tom Bradley in California, the people who ran in other places make it possible for Deval Patrick to recognize it and makes it possible also for Barack Obama to know, "Yes, we can do this in America because we have started that process." Why not? Why give up on Americans to believe that they are still stuck in the past? Ours is a constant evolution. And that’s what freedom is. A constant evolution. And fighting for it and leadership is a tautology. It speaks for itself, it defines itself. It moves. It doesn't wait to be defined.