Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Idealism

WILKINS: I think, Julian, that we lived in a little box, and we didn't – from where we lived in that box and what we were permitted to see in our education, we had a very skewed view, a limited view of America. And black people in the movement were among the most idealistic people in the country.

BOND: Do you think we were done in by our idealism?

WILKINS: Right. I mean, somebody who knew Thurgood said, "Thurgood Marshall really believed that there's no problem in America that can't be solved by the Constitution of the United States properly applied." And these people were all American patriots. They believed in the American dream. And they believed in the promise of America. And so – and as I say, virtually all the white people there were terrific people. So –

BOND: And it must have been all the more disappointing and disillusioning as they become aware, as we become aware, that these things are not going to happen like that. It's not going to be '63. It's not going to be the hundredth anniversary [of the Emancipation Proclamation]. It has got to be a rude shock.

WILKINS: Well, it was rude then. For me, the shock was – it animated me, because the shock – every fall, there was at least one violent hideous outbreak in this evolving morality tale. And I remember with Clinton, Tennessee, and a guy named Kasper blowing up stuff.

BOND: Yes, John Kasper.

WILKINS: Right. There was, of course, Little Rock. There was Plaquemines Parish right outside New Orleans.

BOND: Some little town in Texas the year before.

WILKINS: Right. So, all of sudden, you're energized because there really was good and evil. And of course, in that period, you also had the Montgomery Bus boycott and the emergence of Martin King. So all of a sudden, instead of getting depressed, what you are seeing is a morality tale in which black people are becoming energized.