Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

On Morality and Self-Improvement

BOND: Okay. I think I know the answer to this question and you answered it in part in many of the things you've said. Do you have a general philosophy that guides your life and if so, and I'm sure you do, how has it sustained you through challenges or bad times? How does that philosophy sustain you?


WILLIAMS: You know, when I was in college I had an experience where I should've drowned and I was at the Edisto River in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and I'll never forget, I was under the water for twenty-eight minutes and I was going to the bottom of the water, of the river. I could feel the scratches and the bruises and something just whispered -- I can hear it as if I hear it now and I can feel the same thing I felt then -- "Just raise your hand." And I just raised my hand just like a thumb and I was at the bottom and the next thing I knew I was on the banks of the river and the lifeguard said the only thing that saved me when he saw my fingertips and he just grabbed the hand and pulled me out of the water, so I've always believed that from that moment on that my life and my choices -- it's an instinct that I have. It's a feeling that I have.


You know, if no one had ever told -- if the Torah or the Bible or the Quran never existed, in my heart, I know right from wrong, even in the choices I've made and sometimes like St. Augustine says in his Confessions, "Lord, make me good but not just yet." We as men don't always want to be good, but go work on somebody else and come back to me. Even in that, I always can never use the fact that I did not know, even with No Child Left Behind. If I had thought about that long enough, with my writing about it in my column, I would've known that it was wrong and that if it were ever found, that it would come back to bite me. And it's in those moments when I'm in the middle of a storm and in the middle of a controversy, when I want to blame somebody else, that that spirit comes back to me and says, "But wait a minute." And only then when I can look at my own self and the jihad that I spoke of can I learn and grow and be a better person.


The reason why people don't grow is because they find somebody else to blame for what is happening to them. I always go within myself and search myself to find out what was really the root cause of this and that's why I always become a better person.


BOND: I find it interesting that you said that even without the existence of these three great religions you mentioned that you would have these same feelings and I get the impression from what you've said earlier that these feelings come from your parents who were devoutly religious people.






WILLIAMS: It comes from the God force in all of us.

BOND: Okay.

WILLIAMS: No. It's much deeper than my parents.


BOND: But you must've heard it from your parents?


WILLIAMS: You know, as a child it's hard to remember what you've heard from your parents. Something can be embedded in you that is there. I believe that the truth has a biological advantage. It doesn't need the artifice of man to breath. It lives and breathes freely on its own. I believe a child sucking at his mother's breast can pass truth along to that child. I think the same way truth is passed along to us by our Creator and I think if you try to keep the conscience pure, try to keep the conscience good and try to do good, in that cleansed conscience, you can always find the truth that you've searched for. I don't think people have to search for it to find it.