Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Natural Leadership Tendency

BOND: Now, whether you do or not, at some point you have to say to yourself, and maybe it's not verbalized, you have to say to yourself, "I am a leader." What was that point for you?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's a fascinating question. My father, as a child, always said that people would trust me and believe me so therefore as a child I was a leader, is what my parents would say.

BOND: How did this exhibit itself as a child? I mean, not just the high school offices.

WILLIAMS: At home.

BOND: Okay. Did your siblings -- who trusted you? Who followed you at home?

WILLIAMS: My parents did and my brothers and sisters and then my uncles and my cousins. You know, I was like -- they felt I had wisdom. My father tried to figure out an issue with the farm, stuff that was going on with the farm and things were not working out the way they were supposed to work out and we would be around the dinner table and as a boy of fourteen years old, I said, "Well, Daddy, have you ever tried this, have you ever thought about this," because I was well read. Daddy said, "Boy, how did you know that? Boy, there's boy's out." You know, out? They used to say out when we were growing up, and so my father would say, "Boy, I'm telling you, you going places. That boy, that's a leader right there," and so he would try it. It would work.

Then when I was thirteen my father had me do the taxes for the farm. Yes, I was doing the taxes, putting together the taxes for the farm and I would pay the hands. I would -- my father would pay in cash, I would pay all the hands, you know, go to get all this money from the bank. I would pay and keep a track record of what is paid, what is outstanding, and then make sure that at the end of the year when we give it to the accountant, so I had all these responsibilities, so it's not strange that I'm an entrepreneur because my parents are entrepreneurs. I always had the gifts of the marketplace because I would tell my father, "You know what, I don't think cotton's going to do well next season."

BOND: How would you know?

WILLIAMS: I'd read the trends. I'd read a lot of economic periodicals. I got to tell you, I said, "Daddy -- " They didn't have the Internet back then. So, I was reading these trends because my father didn't read, and I said, "I got to tell you something. I would skip planting cotton next year. I think you should go more with barley. Go more with tobacco, but I think you should go heavy on the swine because I think that you're going to make money," and it would always work that way. So in my household I could always sort of drive the economics, and then I said to my father, just before he became ill. I said, "You know, Daddy -- " I was away from home at this time -- I said, "You know, the farm is suffering. I think there're going to be a lot of losses over this tobacco and cigarettes." I said, "I remember you used to tell us that you all can crop and grow this tobacco but you better not be caught smoking it because it'll kill you." And I said, "I got tell you something. I think these lawsuits, I think it's going to impact tobacco. I don't think tobacco is going to be what it once was and I don't know if it's going to be able to pay for Kent and Bruce and everybody else's education. I think we need to try something else." And my father eventually said, "The farm is not going to sustain you boys like I thought it would." He said, "I think Armstrong might be right," and we were -- I saw the trends. That's why he said it.

BOND: I should've had you predicting trends for me.

WILLIAMS: No, no. You know what, I don't know about trends, but I just understood. I would read and I would share it with my parents, but they allowed us to share because our parents didn't treat us like children. They treated us with respect as adults and my parents would listen. Now, some parents would not listen to a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old, but my parents were different. My father actually believed that I knew what I was talking about.