Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Father's Influence as Writer

BOND: Roger, moving very quickly through the last forty years, you leave the Department of Justice, you go to work for the Ford Foundation, you are in New York for a couple of years, and then in 1972, you come back to Washington and you go to the editorial board of the Washington Post, and in very short order, you write almost all of the editorials about the Watergate scandal and you get a Pulitzer Prize. And I'm going to suggest to you that...that is the beginning of a career as a writer. Even though you are now a professor, that I think the larger world knows you as a writer, as an opinion writer, not only for the Post and later for The New York Times, but as an opinion person, somebody who puts his opinions out there, this is what I believe and so on and so on. We talked a lot about how those opinions may have been developed. But just very quickly about the writing. It is interesting that when you were at the Ford Foundation you mentioned associations you have with Gore Vidal, with Norman Mailer, with Leonard Bernstein who is not a writer but part of that artistic, cultural world. And I am wondering if those associations in any way affected this later writing period in your life?

WILKINS: I think the writing period was entirely attributable to my father. When he was dying, he died at home. And he was in bed. And he wanted to help support the family. And he sat in the bed with the Royal portable typewriter in his lap. And he wrote pieces that he sent out to magazines. I didn't know he was dying but I knew he was very sick. And I knew he was determined to help the family. And then he died. It was just in my mind that was what brave, strong people did, that you wrote, that you tried to part the fog and you wrote because you were strong and you cared. And so I – if there had been a journalism job available to me when I graduated from college, I would have gone straight into journalism. So it wasn't all of those people. But by the time I went to the Post obviously I'd had all these experiences that we've talked about. And so – and I was almost forty – so by this time I am pretty clear about an engaged kind of blackness being at the core of my work.

BOND: Yes, that is what I am curious about, because it is obvious your father, by the very nature of what he did – believed that words had the power to transform events. He wasn't writing kiddy stories. He wasn't writing romantic novels. He wasn't that kind of writer. He was this kind of writer. And so, that's the example that you have been held up to. So when you actually become a writer, that's the example you are going to follow.