Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Government Failures: Great Society, Affirmative Action

BOND: Let me get back to this. So now it's fifty-two years after Brown and in the same article I quoted from before, a column, you say, "Fifty years later we have not yet gotten around to securing that these students actually receive an equal education." And I think that's commonly understood, that's the truth. Now, why do you think that it is so, that fifty years after this historic decision that still we see unequal education for people of different races in this country?

WILLIAMS: Well, again, it goes back to it was a noble idea. But it was only an idea. They never put the resources, they never put the instructors, and they never did what was absolutely necessary to make this work. And then also, the Great Society programs. I mean, there's often this debate about these social programs that were put in place to sort of empower black people. To sort of make up for their forty acres and a mule that was promised to them, but I believe this. See, I don't trust the government even though I love this country. Would die for this country in its wars, would defend her to the end. I do not trust the government. I don't think that you can pass laws and expect within a few days that people are going to do the moral thing, to make people equal.

I think that even in affirmative action. Affirmative action was something -- it was reparations, is what affirmative action was. But I don't think the lawmakers ever had any intention of it benefiting black people the most because if that were the case, they never would have included white women. I mean, white women -- and we know about women's suffrage and we know about their plight in this country, but never to the extent to what blacks endured in this country. I mean, never to the extent -- I mean, you have to understand, the founders, because they knew that slavery was so wrong, so ugly, and so bad, they had to put in a worse counter form for slavery in order to justify it to those that they broke away from in founding our nation, and so they put in one of the most repressive and horrific regimes ever seen during that time, knowing that it was wrong, and so they had to find a way to justify it.

So, we go back to this Brown decision and they put this affirmative action in place and they included white women, I mean, and then the other thing that happened even in the Great Society programs, when they put these Great Society programs in place, I mean I don't know if you remember this, but my parents would tell a story about how during the late '60s and early '70s, social workers would go through a person's home, look under the bed, look in the bathroom to see whether there was any trace of a man in the household. What they were doing then was forcing that household to choose between the government check and having a man in the house.

People ask the question all the time, "What happened to the black family?" Before the Civil Rights legislation was ever passed Mr. Bond, around the 1950s, 1956 and 1957, 78 percent of the black households had a mother and a father. I would venture to say that these government programs that were put in place displaced the father. And more than anything else that has impacted the black family today is absentee fatherhood. I cannot imagine my life without my father. As much as I love my mother, I love her, I honor her, I've never talked back to my mother in life.

I could never imagine what I would have become without my father in my life because my father taught me discipline. He taught me how to work. He taught me self-respect. He taught me real self-esteem. He taught me discipline. He would spank my butt when I needed it and do it with a smile where I even smiled sometimes after the whipping. But my father was a man. He taught us how to be a man and, see, the problem today is that men don't know what it means to be a man. They don't know how to work. I mean, it's not that they don't want to work. They just don't know how. No one ever taught them. No one was ever an example for them to work and to fend for yourself and to survive for yourself and to provide for your family. And what happens today because there are so many absentee fathers, these mothers are embarrassed and apologetic for it, they make these men soft. They give them everything. They don't earn it, and then when they get out into the larger society they're just disastrous.

BOND: Now, I can understand from what you said earlier about your father's attitude towards the government, and -- but I'm wondering was an attitude that his father had or that his father before him had? Or is this something you think that originated with his generation and you, in turn, learned from him?

WILLIAMS: No. My parents, how could they trust the government? The government allowed slavery! I mean you are talking about a government that allowed one of the most immoral acts --

BOND: Sure, but you could also argue that the government ended slavery.

WILLIAMS: No, the conscience of the people. Good people of all walks of life ended slavery. What happened was is that a sleeping giant was awakened when they saw these images of the dogs being sicced on people and the lynching and the stories. And the stories of [Gus] Goodman and others. It was the conscience of the people that changed the government. If they had not awakened the sleeping giant, things would be just the same as they are today. It takes the character and the moral fiber of a people to change their government. No, I will not give the government credit for that.

BOND: But the government was the agency that ended segregation and at an earlier period, ended slavery.

WILLIAMS: Well, wait a minute. No. You are talking about the Freedmen's Bureau?

BOND: No. The conscience of the people raised up an army run by the government, Abraham Lincoln's army, and that ended slavery. I'm not saying their conscience didn't do it.

WILLIAMS: Well, Mr. Bond, I am also reminded what happened after Reconstruction, when blacks were elected to the Senate and to the Congress and to the legislature and they were thriving. And guess what, the conscience of the people who were still bloody racist, envious, and jealous rose up and took that away and put in a more repressive form of taking that away from them, the Jim Crow laws. This is the same government. Oh yeah, the government may have felt they needed to do the right thing, but when they did the right thing, others used it as an excuse to say, "Well, they're taking away from us, we should have these seats." And they found a way to take it back from them. This is the first time in our history that we can honestly say that the people have forced the government to do something for the long haul of this country. I don't think we can ever go back where the government can take away the kind of freedoms and opportunities and the portrait of life that we're bringing into this country.

You know, I just -- you cannot trust -- a government like that must earn your trust and, still, I see the government with its form of slavery in a different way. What it does through its social programs. The government tells you, "Don't take care of yourself. We'll take care for you. You don't need to think. You don't need to provide for yourself. We'll give you welfare. We'll give you affirmative action." Well, let me tell you something. A government that's big enough to give you everything is big enough to take it away from you. That's why I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit and the spirit of freedom and your own ideas. God bless the child that's got their own.