Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Being "Black Enough" to Lead

BOND: You mentioned a moment ago these criticisms for not being black enough.


BOND: What does that say about your overall leadership style? Has it affected your leadership style, these comments?

WILLIAMS: It doesn't say a lot about the state of our community I've come to believe after all these years. That's what I actually believe now. Why should I apologize for how I speak? Why should I apologize for where I went to school? That's ridiculous. When are we going to fight for everybody to be able to go to these schools, and if somebody's goes to this school, gets good grades, speaks well — and I know "well" is culturally biased and loaded and duh — I mean, I understand all that, but I shouldn't have to apologize for it. What I would hope is that parents are saying to their children, "You know what?" I'm saying to my daughter, "You know, he was adopted. Look where he is. You can do the same thing," instead of saying to my child, "You don't like him because he doesn't represent us," or you know — it's crazy.

BOND: In 1988, you said that the D.C. was moving from an old generation of black leadership to a new style. What did you mean by that? Does that have to do in part with these depictions of who's black and who isn't?

WILLIAMS: It's related to that, yes, because I think part of — I think we have to — I used to believe that the new generation was replacing the old generation, but life is always more complicated than, you know, your kind of abstract typologies. Okay, so maybe there's a lot of overlap, but the old generation served a hugely, critically valuable purpose. I've never said they didn't. Because of their advocacy, I'm where I am. I readily — I always say that. But, at a certain point, advocacy will only get you so far. You've got to be able to couple that advocacy, or succeed that advocacy with real implementation and I would say that a leader like yours truly compared to my predecessor, Marion Barry, Dennis Archer compared to Coleman Young. But then it gets complicated because I would say like when I got to know him, I really have tremendous respect for him. You know, I think that Maynard Jackson was a great implementer, but he was also a great leader so it's not — you know.

BOND: It's not black and white.

WILLIAMS: Exactly.