Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Now We Must Cross a Sea: Remarks on Transformational Leadership and the Civil Rights Movement

Academic journal article Boston University Law Review

Now We Must Cross a Sea: Remarks on Transformational Leadership and the Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Years ago when I was a graduate student at Boston University, the social historian and senior editor of Ebony magazine, Lerone Bennett, spoke at the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast here in Boston. He told a wonderful story that went something like this:

Once upon a time long ago in a land far away, there lived a brave captain and a courageous crew of women and men who were in search of a new land. Standing on the shores of that land far away and in that time long ago, this brave captain said to his courageous crew,

The new land which we seek is far beyond the horizon, as our fathers and mothers spoke of it. It is the land which was promised to us, a land of freedom and harmony among peoples of the earth; and in order to reach this land we must cross an ocean and a sea. The journey, he said, will be long and difficult and many who start with us will not make it to the shores of the new land. The waters that we must sail are treacherous, storms rage there, the winds are mighty and chilling, fierce bandits and pirates also sail these hazardous waters, and I want you to know that I might not reach this land with you. But if anything should happen to me on the way, you must continue the journey for surely the land awaits us as our forebears promised, a land of freedom and harmony among peoples of the earth.

So it was that from these shores in this land far away and in this time long ago that this brave captain and his courageous crew of women and men set sail for the new land, the land which was promised by their mothers and fathers. And true to the captain's words, the journey was long and difficult, the waters were treacherous, the storms raged, the winds were mighty and chilling; fierce bandits and pirates assailed their small vessel, and many lives were lost in the dark and cold abyss beneath them. But a small remnant did make it to the shores of the new land. The captain, though wounded in the battle and broken from the long days and even longer nights of the voyage, did make it to the shores with his crew. The small remnant of courageous men and women who had endured the terrible onslaught of the ocean, and the devastating nightmare of battles on the water, shouted in celebration because they had finally made it to the land which they sought, the land which their forebears had promised. But as he lay dying, the captain, with bated breath hardly above a whisper, said to them, "This is not a time for celebration; this is not a time to rest, for the journey does not end here. We have only crossed the ocean, now you must cross a sea."

INTRODUCTION

When I was asked to offer reflections on transformational leadership and the civil rights movement, the November 4th midterm elections had not occurred and so I had a slightly different idea in mind about crossing the sea. But now, the sea before us is very red and I think, even more perilous-and unfortunately there will not be a miraculous demonstration of divine intervention like the one in the recent cinematic version of Exodus-no plagues, no parting of the waters, no miracles except the commitment of brave women and men who will dare to dig in for the long journey ahead. And have no doubt about it, my friends, it will be long and hazardous; and faint souls should not apply.

Commitment is a complex, though simple word. When I try to help students simplify the language of commitment I draw a simple graphic: two buttocks seated on a horizontal line. True commitment means putting some flesh on the line. Transformational leadership in the modern civil rights movement was about a commitment to a vision of democratic living where equality and freedom were not set at odds with one another but sought balance in public policy and law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born of this vision and wrought by courageous women and men who were willing to put their bodies on the line. In leadership studies we call this embodied leadership; in theology we call it incarnation-bodies on the line. …

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