Over the past 14 years, civil rights icon and University of Virginia history professor Julian Bond, now emeritus, and U.Va. history professor Phyllis Leffler recorded 51 video interviews with African-American leaders exploring their experiences and the lessons they learned.
Their goal: Discover and catalog formative experiences of black leaders and core characteristics of black leadership that can inform and inspire the next generation.
The project culminated this month with the publication of “Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond,” published by Palgrave Macmillan, and an accompanying website, blackleadership.virginia.edu/, that includes the full video interviews with all 51 leaders.
“Black leaders’ stories are narratives of hardship, determination and success situated in local communities and national culture,” Bond writes in the book’s foreword. “The lessons shared in this book acknowledge the burdens of race but also celebrate the ability of individuals to overcome adversity. This is ultimately an exploration of African-American leadership in America through the eyes and words of the leaders themselves.”
Leffler added, “Today, with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement upon us, and issues involving African-American justice and progress at the heart of national discussion, there remains an urgent need for leadership – not only among African-Americans, but also among all Americans. Black leaders have so much to teach us.”
Among those interviewed during the 14-year project were civil rights leaders Oliver Hill, Dorothy Height and Robert Moses; political leaders L. Douglas Wilder, James Clyburn and Barbara Lee; educators Geoffrey Canada, Johnnetta Cole and Mary Futrell; accomplished entrepreneurs Earl Graves and Vernon Jordan; poet Nikki Giovanni and choreographer Bill T. Jones; and rising young black leaders Armstrong Williams and Katoni Hall.
Interviewees were asked to reflect on the importance of black leadership in the struggle for civil rights, on the experiences and the relationships that shaped their lives and philosophies, and about historical milestones in race relations. They also were asked about how best to foster effective future leaders.
Find more information about the project here.
About the Authors
Phyllis Leffler is the director of the Institute for Public History and a professor at the University of Virginia’s Corcoran Department of History. She is the co-author of “Public and Academic History: A Philosophy and Paradigm” (1991) and “Public History Readings” (1990) and has published award-winning articles in The Public Historian and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. She is the co-director of the Explorations in Black Leadership project at U.Va.
Julian Bond is a prominent African-American activist, politician and teacher who served, from 1998 to 2010, as the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People and is the co-director of the Explorations in Black Leadership project at U.Va. He held a faculty position in the U.Va. history department for 20 years before retiring in 2012. He was also the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and served a combined 20 terms in both houses of the Georgia legislature. Among his books are “Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table: A Documentary History of the Civil Rights Movement” (1995), and he co-edited “Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem, 100 Years, 100 Voices” (2000).