Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Contemporary Requirements

BOND: What kind of leaders does contemporary society demand? Different from than the past? And how will these future problems demand different leadership styles?

WILDER: Well, they are very demanding times, because a lot of people don’t want to get into the fray. They know that they’ll — their personal lives will be examined beyond scope and imagination. A lot of people believe that "As long as I can look up for me and my family and my children," they want to do it. I think it demands a different type of leadership in terms of people who maybe not have gone through the same rigors, but would have to reconnect and understand what some of those things have been. As you know, there are many people who are profiting in this country as a result of the sacrifices of so many people. But they don’t recognize it. And they don’t know it. That’s why they’ve got to be re-inculcated, as you would put it, with a spirit of contribution.

BOND: Now, you like to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson —


BOND: — who wrote, “Events are in the saddle, and they ride mankind.”

WILDER: I believe that.

BOND: Yeah, you believe that today?

WILDER: I really do. I believe that today. And I believe that you don’t predict what those events are going to be. They — it gets back to what you were saying about what makes that leader. And events made Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, any of those kinds of things. So yes, I do believe that events are in the saddle and they ride mankind. But to the extent that they are in the saddle, you've got to be able to jump on that saddle.

BOND: On your desk you got a sign that says, “I don’t get mad. I just get even.” But in your law office, you've got a poem by Langston Hughes, “Hold fast to dreams for dreams die. Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Are those statements a part of your philosophy of leadership?

WILDER: Yeah. Particularly the —

BOND: How did they come together?

WILDER: Well first of all, with Hughes, it goes back to what your questions were here earlier. Vision. And how does that vision materialize? Vision is almost a dream. But you hold fast to them, that gets back again to you're really believing in them. And then the implementation of them comes back to, look in politics, you don’t say, “Well, you know, they did this to me, blah-blah-blah." Don't argue about that. You do what you need to do to get the upper hand. Politics is a give-and-take thing. It’s not a hateful thing. It’s a matter of the art of the possible. And how is that done? It’s done on an everyday basis. Republicans and Democrats eat lunch and go to dinner in the evening after they fought each other half the day. It’s not a matter of saying, "Well, we hate each other." It’s a matter of the art of that possibility, to hold fast to those dreams and to accomplish.

BOND: In a 2004 interview, you said, “The politics of race is gone.” Yet you’ve also been quoted to say, “Racism is not going to leave.” How can both of these things be true?

WILDER: Well, racism has been around since man has been around. And the question isn’t whether that’s here, the question is what do you do in terms of pitting one race against the other as far as politics is concerned? To my view and to my way of thinking, that should be gone because people in politics shouldn’t be the best of whatever each race can produce but what can be produced to eliminate the need for racism to exist. Racism can be minimized. Will it ever be obliterated? I doubt it. Like hatred, will that be obliterated? I doubt it. Love, I hope, never will be either. But I think it’s really a question of making certain that the people we choose, whether it's a George Wallace on the one hand, or a Carl Stokes on the other. The question is that we are not voting for those persons because of race but because of contributions.

BOND: Well, Doug Wilder. Thank you for doing this.

WILDER: Julian Bond! Thank you very much. Always good to be with you.

BOND: Oh, our pleasure. Thank you.

WILDER: Thank you.