Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Seizing Opportunities and Pursuing Potential

BOND: You know, thinking about your own career, it may have been easy for you to say, “I think I can get elected to the State Senate.” You know, risky, but “I think I can do it.” It had to be much more of a risk to say, "I think I can be Lieutenant Governor." No one had ever done that before. You know you had state senators are all around the country. But nobody had done that before. And then to say, “I think I can be governor.” That’s a big leap.


BOND: How’d you make those leaps?

WILDER: You have to believe it. You see because, if you’re good enough as you say, to be in the Senate -- stayed there for years and afforded chairmanships of various committees and voted tops of etc., etc., and if you become lieutenant governor, the arithmetic progression suggests that you move up or out. And I’d made up my mind -- I need to go up or out. Because I’m not -- I don’t want to get a gold pin for having been here for as long as the next guy. And I want to show that Americans believed what they say in this creed of new freedom, and pursuit of happiness, and that our words to our great documents are not just words -- they could be and should be implemented. But it’s our responsibility, our job to put them to the test at every possible opportunity. And in so doing, we’ve got to be prepared. That’s why education is still key and still number one.

BOND: You know, one theme that’s been running through the conversation we’ve been having is that you believe that the possibility is there.


BOND: And another person sitting in this seat might say, “I never believed that. I don’t believe it now, and every experience I’ve had tells me it’s not true.” Why do you believe it?

WILDER: Well, you know, we’ve had a great president at Howard University Mordecai Johnson.

BOND: Spoke at my high school graduation.

WILDER: And he was a great man. He cared so much for the cultivation and the development of black lawyers -- told Charlie Houston [Charles Hamilton Houston], “You do this. I’m behind you 100 percent.” One of the things that he spoke about, and you know he spoke forever --

BOND: Yes, he did.

WILDER: -- but beautifully.

BOND: Yes, he spoke almost for two hours at my high school graduation. Without a note -- no notes.

WILDER: Without a note! But he always spoke to the high possibility of the individual. And that was his theme. Whatever he would be speaking about, he would always come back to say, "And we must always develop the high possibility of the individual to its greatest potential." So it means you can’t stop anywhere along the way to say, "I've done it." Have you challenged yourself to the highest possibility? That’s what Herb Reid meant when he said, “I’m going to fail you.” Because “Oh yeah, you’ll be a fair lawyer, a good lawyer. But have you challenged yourself to the highest possibility of potential?" That has stayed with me all through these years.