Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Maneuvering Types of Leadership

BOND: Let me ask you about different concepts of political leadership. You're the mayor, but you’re also a professor at VCU and you’re also helping to build this museum. Now, some people could argue these are three different things that require some different kinds of leadership. Do you agree or — ?

WILDER: Yeah. I think, yeah, they do. The slavery museum is amazing when you consider the — you've got to go begging for your money. You listen to Skip Gates the other night talking about how Du Bois had to literally give up on the Encyclopedia Africana, you finally now — Skip [Gates] is doing his encyclopedia, after having finally gotten some grants. I think when you consider the problems that people have had with museum building all over the country, it’s very difficult. These are tough times economically. At VCU, I've found, as you have found, I know, such an enriching opportunity to stay relevant, and to — your students make you stay younger. It keeps your mind more active, more facile. I like to engage in questioning, and I like for them — and they do hold me to task. In government, it’s different because you are discharging the responsibilities of a constituency, as you know, and you — you do the best you can to represent the people. When you’re teaching, you’re teaching them to demand more from government, you teach them to criticize government, you’re teaching them to be a part of government. And I think one of the mistakes we make is believing that people to be involved in politics have to be elected. And as you know, some of the most powerful positions in this country, people never run for. They don’t have to. But they’re involved in politics, and I think that’s a disconnect that hasn't come about. I try to separate them to a degree, but I’m mindful of the differences of all three.

BOND: Do these three different jobs you have, or you've taken on — teacher, mayor, museum developer — do they require a different kind of leadership? Does one require more consensual kind of leadership? Does one require — I don’t want to use the term autocratic, because it's weighted, but you know, in your classroom, you’re in charge. You're absolutely in charge in a way you're not as mayor. You're, other people are —

WILDER: That's right.

BOND: So, how do these require some different leadership?

WILDER: They do. I think being in the classroom requires you to do more research. You need to be certain. I think you have a higher responsibility to choose what you say very carefully because you are instructing. And there are some people in the classroom who will take what you say to be fact, to be truth, because they will have that degree of respect for your research and your involvement academically. You can abuse that. You can abuse it so easily by not being studious in your research and making certain that what you are saying is not just some idle thought but based on something. Being in the position of an elected official, on the other hand, requires you to go against the grain if necessary, to pay the price for that. But by the same token to be the representative. And when I say go against the grain — going against the grain of popularity. But always, you got to understand that you are not there for yourself. You should never have considered that. It is not a matter of what you gain from the position or whether it’s wealth or recognition, or any other thing, it’s what your job requires in terms of making certain that government runs properly. As far a museum is concerned, that’s another form of education. But it’s not as direct as classroom, it’s more exposing something that has been left pretty much unspoken of to the extent that it should be. Slavery and the role it’s played in this country has never really been fully shown to the American public, so much so that people on both sides of the fence — when I say the fence, [I mean] racial — I say, "Why, that’s something to get away from." You can’t get away from what you don’t know! Learn! And then be informed. And then you’re in the position to say, "Yes, well, this is what we should do to show how America has come from that and will confront the problem that we have today."