Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Selected by Others to Take a Stand

CLYBURN: When I first met Matthew Perry, who was also a tremendous amount of influence on me, Matthew Perry -- and, of course, I guess this goes to who and what I am. The first bill I introduced when I came to the Congress was to name the new post office that was being planned for Columbia in honor of Matthew J. Perry. Now, Matthew was the attorney that represented us in the sit-ins and when I met him -- though I had seen him before -- he selected me and I guess this goes back to the heart of something you asked earlier. Matthew told us that there were like three hundred kids arrested that day and we had to go to trial. Now, what was happening at the time was that every time a student got arrested, their hometown newspapers back home would print their names on the front pages, these little weekly newspapers. Now, that was a signal to the factory or mill owner that this parent is to be fired, and so their parents were losing their jobs.

So Matthew Perry and I. DeQuincey Newman came to me and says "Somebody's going to have to take a stand, and Clyburn, your father's a minister, your mother's a beautician. Your daddy isn't preaching to any white people; your mother's not fixing any white people's hair. You are going to take the stand." Now, that made me a leader. It had nothing to do with me, and so I tell that story often. I tell people, you know, all this stuff about how great you are. Circumstances dictate a whole lot.

BOND: But Perry and Newman had to know from this group of three hundred people that you stood out some way and not just because your father's a minister, your mother's a beautician. Somehow or another they knew you. You stood out to them. What was it made you stand out?

CLYBURN: Well, I. DeQuincey Newman knew me very well. I mean, he knew me from a child and I was out there giving speeches and stuff, before we ever got arrested. I mean, you know, I was leading. In fact, once again the circumstances. There were seven of us that organized the sit-ins and, of course, I would always lead one group. I had a real good relationship, still maintain a good relationship with Deacon Jones. We were classmates at South Carolina State. And I got a lot of my real energy and confidence because Deacon Jones always marched in my group, so -- but once again, that was his doing. He said, "Look, I'm going with your group." He always, you know, recognized me as some kind of a leader, but I don't know how to explain this except that I really -- this was during my student days -- I really never saw myself as a student leader on the campus.

BOND: Nonetheless, other people were thinking of you in that way, though.


BOND: Matthew Perry, I. DeQuincey Newman, in some ways Deacon Jones, and the students who pick you to lead one of these demonstrations, now --

CLYBURN: Chuck McDew. Chuck McDew was that campus with me, Charles McDew. Lloyd Williams. Lloyd Williams told me in later years, he said to me, he said, "You know, you were the guy. You was always the bridge between us and them." He said, "We could give the fiery speeches and we could do all that marching," he said, "but you're the one that always kind of brought it all together. You kind of built the bridge. You negotiated. You're the one that made it happen," and I guess I was -- I read something that he said. It was right after I got elected to Congress and somebody said something to him, and he told -- so I went to him and asked him about -- he told me, he said how they used to talk about this all the time, that I was the guy that was always needed. They really got a little upset when I went to jail because they always wanted me to go do the negotiating.