Project aims to preserve
lessons taught by civil rights figures
has been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling
in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas outlawed racial
segregation in public schools and helped to usher in an era of
social transformation. In the years that followed, many leaders
emerged from the black community -- locally, regionally and nationally
-- to reshape American society.
new oral history project, co-sponsored by the University's Institute
for Public History and the Darden
School, is reaching back to examine the nature of that civil
rights leadership. "Explorations in Black Leadership"
will bring key civil rights figures to the Grounds over the new
few years, where they will participate in public forums and two-hour
videotaped interviews conducted by history professor Julian Bond,
who is himself a long-time civil rights leader and is currently
the national chair of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People.
The first visits of the series, featuring noted Virginia civil
rights lawyers Oliver Hill and Henry Marsh, will take place Sept.
13 and 14, and will include a public forum Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
in the Law School's Caplin Auditorium. The session, during which
Bond, law professor Michael Klarman and audience members will
ask questions, is free and open to the public.
for future visits are Elaine Jones, president and director of
the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (Nov. 1); civil rights
lawyer Julius Chambers, chancellor of North Carolina Central University
(Nov. 8-9); and Mary Futrell, dean of the Graduate School of Education
and Human Development at George Washington University and former
president of both the Virginia Education Association and National
Education Association (Nov. 29-30).
organizers are lining up additional guests, and the effort could
go on for several years, said history professor Phyllis Leffler,
director of the Institute for Public History.
Bond, who served for many years in the Georgia state legislature,
said "Explorations in Black Leadership"is unique in
"I am not aware of any similar project whose reach is as
broad," he said. "There are projects with a more narrow
focus, but none I know of with this reach.
"This project represents an attempt to examine the lives
and achievements of a wide variety of black leadership -- in education,
civil rights, business -- and to try to determine from in-depth
study the forces which shaped them. It promises to give us invaluable
resources that will be useful for generations yet to come."
According to Leffler, the project has two key objectives.
most obvious aspect is to preserve the history of the era, expanding
the historic record.
Hill, now 93, won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. "We
think he has a fascinating story to tell," Leffler said.
"He got involved, and took the risks necessary that a black
man had to take to enter the bar in Virginia.
have to understand the impact these people have had in American
preserving history, though, is the inquiry into the nature of
leadership itself. "A lot of people wonder what has happened
to our leaders, black and non-black, in America," Leffler
The study will seek answers to many questions. What have been
the criteria that allowed some African Americans to rise to the
top of their professions? What qualities have contributed to their
success? How do people become leaders, and what constitutes effective
Beyond sociological and political considerations, those questions
also are of increasing importance in the business world of shifting
Darden School dean Edward A. Snyder made the decision to co-sponsor
the program "in a microsecond," he said. "Darden's
mission is developing people who create, transform and lead successful
organizations. To do that effectively, you have to understand
the power of compelling ideas, the endurance of strong convictions
and the high price of courage.
of the principals in this series, by personifying these ideals,
advances the Darden mission."
archives and tapes of the series will be useful to scholars, businesses,
communities and public schools, and could form the basis for new
courses at the University, Leffler said. One possibility is a
book project or even a documentary film tied to the 50th anniversary
of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 2004.