Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

BOND: Dr. Butts, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.

BUTTS: Thank you.

BOND: We very much appreciate your coming. I want to start with some questions about Brown v. Board. You were five years old when this decision was handed down, but do you have any memories of it or it being talked about it?

BUTTS: Yes, I have memories of the Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas. In 1954, I was five, but I remember reading about it. The interesting thing is that I could read and read well at that age. I lived for a while with my grandmother in a small town in southwest Georgia called Fitzgerald and I remember attending school in a one-room house — this is literally the truth — with a potbellied stove in the middle and a pan of water on the top. It was a bunch of us, maybe fifteen, sixteen, twenty, in this little room and a woman whose name I cannot remember taught us how to read and how to count, spell, all of that, and so when the decision came down, I don’t know if it was Jet Magazine or if it was Ebony. It was something that I read that talked about this Supreme Court decision.

Moreover, there was a picture of I think it was the Rev. Brown and his daughter and I remember that vividly, but what rivets it to me is that in conversations, either when my parents would come to visit with my father’s mother or later when I returned to New York in our living room, when my aunts and uncles and friends of the family would come over, there would be these animated discussions about that case, about integration. Then there would be someone on the side who would say it’s not integration. You heard Adam [Clayton Powell, Jr.] say it’s desegregation, and so as I grew older, and particularly, as we approached the fiftieth year celebration, I could recall all of that and it is very meaningful to me because I think that was the first — that was before Dr. King became vivid for me — that was the first civil rights talk that I can remember hearing about.

BOND: Do you remember what people thought about it? Did they think it was something that was going to make instant change? What were their discussions about?

BUTTS: Well, if I remember the discussions in that small town in Georgia, it was not about instant change. It was about hope for change because we were still going to a segregated school. After I finished in that little house, that room, I went to the Monitor High School for the 1st grade. That was a school where they still believed in corporal punishment. If you were late, you had to get past the principal who had a switch, but it was segregated, and there was no immediate change, but there was hope that soon it would change and, of course, it did. Monitor High School is no longer there and many of the places across the South became integrated and the old “colored” or Negro high schools closed, but there was hope for change and it was meaningful.

Now, in New York, I had a couple of uncles, one in particular who was very militant and kind of nationalistic. He was a union organizer. He talked a lot about Clark — [Dr.] Kenneth Clark. I was thinking of John Henry for a moment. Kenneth Clark and how Thurgood argued the case and how we were going to move forward and how we were going to break down the barriers of segregation, particularly in education. Now, that became meaningful for me because when I left the 6th grade, something happened in New York called open enrollment. That means that I could take a bus from my community of Corona, East Elmhurst in Queens, and go across town to Forest Hills to a Russell Sage Junior High School which was predominantly white and that was an unfolding for me of Brown v. Board of Ed, and I could make the connection and that was not only happening for me. It was happening for African American students around the New York City. In fact, I remember reading in some papers in New York around that time that some students were going to Canarsie. They were in Brooklyn. They were going to Canarsie, Brooklyn, and they were met with racial epithets and almost riots and that wasn’t the Deep South. That was New York City. So, it stirred up a lot of hope and it made people even more — people of African descent and people of good will, more aggressive in either integrating or as Adam would put it, desegregating the schools.

BOND: Now, so, fifty-plus year later, what do you think it means today?

BUTTS: Well, we know, particularly in urban areas, and I can speak about New York, that the schools are just as segregated as they may have been forty or fifty years ago, and that has a lot to do with the discontinuation of the kind of open enrollment and people getting on buses to travel across town as well as economic and social status because if you happen to live in Harlem, where I have the privilege of serving the Abyssinian Church, it is predominantly an African American poor community and therefore you won’t find much integration and you don’t find whites busing their children even though we have developed through our Abyssinian Development Corporation some excellent schools, so segregation in public education is still a reality and I’m sure it’s not only in New York and where busing has been discontinued, it is just going back to the way it was.

On top of that, the old paradigm of saying, well, if that’s where you’re going to go, we’re going to put our children in private schools, religiously-based schools, so that they won’t have to deal with this notion of integration, which hurts the nation because you can’t imagine what it did for me. Now, I was already fine. That one-room house that we learned in, Monitor High School, I could read. I could handle numbers. I was proud of who I am. I was proud of who I was and I am proud of who I am.

When I went to the segregated school in Queens, you know, I had a great time, good teachers, you know, but when I went over to the junior high school in Forest Hills, I met some wonderful people there in terms of my fellow students. I remember some of them now. One came to the church the other Sunday, Nicky, to visit. He’s a dentist and we got along just fine, but I discovered something and that was they were no brighter than I was. They were no smarter. Matter of fact, I could read and count, but what happened was I also, as I looked back, recognized that what I was receiving in terms of resources, training to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test, field trips, it was a lot more than I would have received had I remained in a segregated situation. They were no brighter, brought no more skills. They just had greater opportunity and more resources, and so, as a result, it built my confidence to let me know I can compete with anybody, that there is no such thing as racial superiority — you know, white people are no smarter than black people. Black people are no smarter than white people, but there was this matter of the equitable distribution of resources so that whatever natural or innate ability I had could be enhanced and there was a huge difference between P.S. 92 and Russell Sage Junior High School.

BOND: You mentioned your grandmother in Georgia and I want to ask about her and other people besides your parents. Who are the people who influenced your life early on?

BUTTS: Early on?

BOND: Early on, when you were a young guy?

BUTTS: My Scoutmaster, Wesley — Charles Wesley Shipman. He would round us up and put us in the back of his old station wagon and take us to the Harlem YMCA to swim. He would take us to the Ten Mile River, TMR Scout Camp. He’s the guy who taught us how to pitch tents and tie knots and encouraged us to go on to become an Eagle Scout. I never made Eagle. I got to Life. My Scoutmaster, Charles Wesley Shipman.

BOND: You know, you may not be surprised at how many people sit where you sat, sit now, and said the Scouts, and I was a Scout growing up, but it didn’t have that much of an influence on me, but it’s remarkable to me how many people were affected in some way by the Scouts and girls by Girl Scouts.

BUTTS: I was a Boy Scout. Now, Charles Wesley Shipman was one. There was another named Bessie Jackson. She was a 4th grade teacher in the segregated school, P.S. 92. Bessie Jackson was never my teacher but she would see me and she was one of maybe two black teachers in this segregated school, mostly all black students. The rest of the teachers were white, but Bessie Jackson would see me and she’d say, “Boy, you need to be in my class.” I never got it. Ms. Jackson, you know, she’d run me around and I was an active child and she’d catch me in the hallway and she’d say, “Boy, you need to be— Butts, come here. You need to be in my class.” I never got it and I never did go to her class. She was very influential because she was from the community. She lived there. She went to — I think she was a member of Corona Congregational Church. I was a member of First Baptist. We would see Miss Jackson at different functions and I never will forget, when I was a freshman at Morehouse College and we went to Archer Hall and when we got into Archer Hall, the Glee Club stood up to sing and they sang “Lift Every Voice” and I cried like a baby and I said, "Miss Jackson, I finally made it to your class." I mean, it just rushed in on me. I could see her face. I preached her eulogy, so Miss Bessie Jackson, Charles Wesley Shipman.

There was another gentleman and he leaves a vivid impression on me because I’m a minister. His name was Parker. I never knew Mr. Parker’s first name, but we used to go to his house because his son was in the Scouts with us and Miss Costa used to bring us all in and Mr. Parker was there and he would be very provocative and the thing that I will never forget, we were sitting there watching Muhammad Ali fight and all of us young kids, we were all in the Scouts together, you know, “Float, Muhammad. Hit him.” And Mr. Parker, when the fight was over, he’d gather us around and he’d say interesting things. Now, as a clergyman, this is why this rushes back on me. He said, “Look,” and we looked and there was a picture of the crucifixion, of Jesus hanging on the cross in the living room. He said, “Do you see those letters over there?” I said, “Yes.” “What are they?” I said, “I, N, R, I.” He said, “Do you know what that means?” And I started shaking and he was right in your face. I said, “No, no, Mr. Parker.” He says, “I’m going to teach your something about who you are.” He says, “That means I Negro Rule Israel.” I was a seminary student before I found out that wasn’t true.

BUTTS: So, my Uncle Leon who was the union organizer. He came by our house one night or we went to his. He said, “Come down in the basement. I’ve got something for you to hear.” Now, what is this? And he put on this forty-five record and the record was singing or saying, “White man heaven is black man hell.” He said “Do you know who that is?” I said, “No.” He says, “That’s Louis X,” and of course, that’s Minister Farrakhan today. And so he was influential because he had that energy.

BUTTS: Now, those were in my young years. Now, other than family, you know, those were some of the key people. I imagine I could think of some more, but between Bessie Jackson, Charles Wesley Shipman, my pastor, Reverend William E. Gardner, who was a Morehouse graduate and an Army captain. He was a stern, firm, authoritarian figure, but he loved me and I remember being at Morehouse and I was not necessarily a clergyperson at that time, and he came back and he had heard about my exploits down at Morehouse. He kept track, and I went in his office. He said, “Butts, you’re a fool.” And I said, “Doctor, Reverend Gardner.” He said, “Straighten up.” He said, “You’ve got your Religion Merit Badge here and you’re down there running the street and acting crazy,” and part of that was because of partying activities and the other was because of social activism.

I’d gotten very involved with the election of Horace Tate, well, with the campaigning of Horace Tate. I’d gone down to Orangeburg after the massacre and had been very involved with people ready in defense of Ebony pride. He’d heard that I’d been involved in some of the raucous activities after the assassination of Dr. King, so he was not necessarily pleased with those kinds of things. He was in that Mays-ian tradition, you know, and Dr. [Benjamin] Mays, however, was encouraging. Dr. Mays said some of these things you need not do. He said, “But one of the things I’d like for you to do is get in a car and travel to the churches in the white community on a Sunday morning and see if they’re still segregated.” And so a friend of mine named Julius Stevens and I got in his car and we rode around we visited the churches and we had to report to him that they are or were at that time still segregated and for that, he put me in his book and I’ll be eternally grateful, Dr. Mays, wherever you are.

Dr. Benjamin — well, in my college years and then I could go on and talk about others.

BOND: Let me go back to the Scouts. As I said, many people have mentioned the Scouts. What was it about the Scouts? What did the Scouts do for you?

BUTTS: The Boy Scouts of America in terms of Troop 224 in Queens, Charles Wesley Shipman Scoutmaster, provided an opportunity for us to get out of an urban environment, first of all, and do camping, to learn skills that we thought were just amazing. You know, when you learn how to tie these different knots and when you travel to the Coast Guard Academy and learn what they do on the ships and how the knots are used to secure the ship and the sails and things of that nature, and it developed your character—“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” I’m glad I got that right for the camera, but it made you proud, and the uniform, you know, we used to march before we started finding out what Columbus really did, in the Columbus Day Parade, and we’d strut with our spats on and the people on the sidelines would applaud us, so it built your character.

But it was Shippy, the Scoutmaster, who loved us. I mean, who would pick us up and our parents trusted him and that made the difference, so it was a combination of the kind of militaristic, paramilitary nature of the Scouts, the uniform, the regiment, learning the skills and being proud that you could pitch a tent, or that you knew how to keep yourself warm in the snow or that you could shop in a supermarket or that you could take the food that you’d buy in the supermarket into the woods, build your own oven, and cook your own food and it tasted pretty good.

BOND: Now, the other people that you mentioned, the teacher whose class you did not attend—

BUTTS: Bessie Jackson.

BOND: What did they — what was the influence on you?

BUTTS: Oh, Bessie Jackson was like an aunt, a grandmother, a mother. She was in the community. You could see her. She was part and yet she was the one who was in the school teaching you. She never taught me directly, but indirectly she was teaching me. It’s almost undefinable. Oh, and she demanded of you your best. If she saw you doing something you weren’t supposed to do — “Stand up. Straighten up” — and because she looked like your aunt or your grandmother or your mother, and she wasn’t afraid of you. I said, “Stand up.” I said, “Get up. Shut up. Sit down,” and she knew your mother so that was the other side of it, so it was that sense in which she was really an educator -- educare -- to pull out of you the best that’s in you, to lead you out of bad behavior into good behavior. She was wonderful.

Mr. Parker, on the other hand, was just — he frightened you, you know, and “gahhh” and you wanted to — but you didn’t know what to say, but he made you think.

BUTTS: Of course.

BOND: And Uncle Leon who introduced you to Louis Farrakhan --

BUTTS: Uncle Leon, I mean, again, that was the provocative thing. He didn’t frighten you, but he was excited. He would say about that record, he’s say, “Come, I want you to hear.” I’d say, “Where is it?” He’d say, “It’s from the east.” “It’s from the east? What’re you talking about, Uncle Leon?” “It’s from the east.” You know, it was my father and Uncle Leon and some others who made me sit down and listen. He said, “Wait, the news is coming. You hear that name?” “What is it?” “Patrice Lumumba. Listen — [Joseph] Kasa-Vubu, Mobutu [Sese Seko], [Kwame] Nkrumah.” “What’s going on?” “It’s liberation.”

And they talked about it, they argued about it -- “What is the Negro going to do?” You know, we were Negroes. “What is the Negro going to do?” Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. -- these were the central topics of discussion in the house and all of these men and women to me — I mean, you found out later like INRI, it seemed like they knew what they were talking about, that they were fully informed.

Then I had one of my uncles — James was a Mason and he would talk, as much of the Masonic stuff as he could. The funny thing about it was he was a Mason and he wrote the number and they arrested him because the number was illegal then and they put him in jail and he went before the judge and he said, “When I got before the judge, I gave him the sign,” and the judge let him go and so they arrested him again. He got before the judge — “I gave him the sign,” and they let him go, and so they arrested him a third time and he went before the judge. He said, “I gave him the sign,” I said, “Well, where he is, pop?” “He said, ‘Lock him up.’” He said, “You can’t abuse that stuff," but it was a sense of pride and a sense that they cared. They cared about you and I think that’s what impressed me.

BOND: And that in turn made you care more about yourself?

BUTTS: Of course.

BUTTS: I had another big influence. Now, I’m getting a little older.

BOND: That's okay.

BUTTS: Booker Sumner Garnett has a daughter. Booker’s passed now, Mr. Garnett, but his daughter Avril was my girlfriend in high school. She was a cheerleader, beautiful, beautiful. Jet black, just gorgeous, but I'd go to visit her but I couldn’t really see her until her father finished with me. Now, he was a nationalist, Richard B. Moore, Marcus Garvey, and he was the one who said to me, “Do you know who you are?” I said, “Well, I’m Calvin Butts.” “No, do you know who you are?” I said, “Well — " Then we went on. I said, “I’m a Negro.” He said, “Negro?” He looked at the map. He said, “Where’s Negro Land? Point to it.” I said, “Well, it’s not — " He said, “Because you’re not a Negro. There’s no such thing.” And then we would go on and then so after about an hour and a half with him I could see his daughter for fifteen minutes, but he was very powerful. As a matter of fact, my high school essay — “I’m Not a Negro, I’m an African American.”

These things continue to come at me, along with reading about Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., hearing and reading about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, hearing as a young boy speak Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays.

BOND: You said earlier on that you could read at age 5. How’d that happen? It had to be your parents --

BUTTS: Well, it was my parents. My mother was a student at Savannah State. Both of them valued education. Now, my father did not go to college, but it was my grandmother who sent me to that little schoolhouse and I don’t know the woman’s name and she’s looking over the balconies of glory, forgive me, but she taught us how to spell, how to read, and how to write, and how to use numbers in that one-room house, and we didn’t know any better but to learn and were frightened out of our minds if we didn’t learn because when we got home, if we didn’t do what we were supposed to do, they’d go get a switch.

BOND: Tell us more about your parents.

BUTTS: My parents are wonderful people. They’re still alive. They’ve been married 61 years. They’re the salt of the earth, light of the world kind of folk. Deeply faithful. Father’s a deacon in the church, mother’s a deaconess. Hard workers and great providers. My father is my greatest inspiration, along with my mother. I watched him work every day of his life. We never were hungry and cold. We lived in the Lillian Wald Projects, government housing, and they worked hard, saved enough money to buy their first home. I saw them work with their hands to put that home in order and we had a wonderful family life and then I saw them continue to save, be frugal, while encouraging me to go to school. My mother sat with me and did homework. I never will forget when the new math came out. She looked at it. She said, “Son, I don’t know what this is but I’ll tell you what I know and then you figure it out,” and what she told me was good enough.

And they bought another home. My father always believed in investment property, so he had enough sense to build a home, a two-family home, and one took care of the other, and never said an unkind word about anybody that I know of. Never said — never heard a racial epithet come from his mouth. Now, I did hear them say something once when they were watching the Ku Klux Klan on television. I did hear them discuss the murder of Emmett Till. They were outraged but they never said, “Hate white people,” you know, they just said this is terrible, this is horrible what happens, and would take me to task when they would hear me say something that was a little derogatory of anybody else. He’s a wonderful — that’s got to be my greatest blessing that I had good parents. I have good parents, and today, you know, if my father — he does not know — he knows that I’ve left town, but he does not know that I’m sitting with you. If he knows — when he finds out that I was with Julian Bond, that’s going to just — I mean, you know, you’re one of the heroes. Your name is a household name. People know who you are.

I remember once I was at WNET-13 in New York. I was very young in ministry and I had the occasion of meeting Lena Horne and being in close contact with her and I put my arm around her to take a picture and they gave me the picture. They sent it to me in the mail and I showed it to my father and all. He said, “Oh, my God, look at this,” because Lena Horne was, you know —

BOND: Oh, yes.

BUTTS: My mother was the one who encouraged me to go to Morehouse. I wanted to go to Trinity in Hartford. I have an honorary degree from there now, but in those days when I was graduating, we went to the high school college fair and I talked to the guy from Trinity and he said, “Well," he said, "your grades are good enough." He said, "We’ll let you in, but we can’t give you a full scholarship, a partial scholarship.” Well, that wouldn’t do. I couldn’t afford it. He said, “Well, I tell you what, you know, maybe you go to another school and if you get straight A's, we’ll let you in with a full scholarship.” I was distraught, because I’d seen the pictures of Trinity and the beautiful campus. So, I went home and my mother saw I was distraught. She said, “Well, he said if you go to another school,” she said, “Why don’t you consider going to Morehouse?” And I said, “What?” She said, “Yeah, Dr. Mays is there.” I said, “Doctor — ?" She said, “You remember, I would take you to the National Beauty Culturist Luncheon and he would be their speaker.” Now, these were all the black beauticians, and I said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Do you remember?” I said, “I remember him like he was standing right here,” and I did. I remember him telling a story about two men in a race. I remember his little pithy sayings, I just — so, she said, “Why don’t you go there?”

My father chimed in. He said, “Yeah, it’s in Georgia. Your mother and I are from Georgia,” so I applied and I was accepted and I went. I got straight As both semesters of my freshman year, a 4.0. So my mother said, “Are you ready to go to Trinity?” I said, “No, no, I don’t want to go.” I’d met guys from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, but I met guys from Tennessee and Mississippi and Alabama and right there in Georgia and the Atlanta experience at that time was just marvelous for me, and Dr. Mays retired the year I went, but he was still around and this last story about him, though there’re many more, I was at Citizens Trust Bank down on — it was Hunter Street then on Martin Luther King Drive, and I was opening an account and the young person, the person behind the counter was a bit slow and I’m a New Yorker, you know, come on, what’s going on, and I let my impatience show. I didn’t see Dr. Mays down at the other end, and he looked down and heard my voice. He said, “Mr. Butts.” I looked up and I saw it was Dr. Mays and I quieted right down, but what shocked me was he knew my name. He remembered me, and his presence, his brilliance, his patience, had a profound impact on me. Dr. Mays was — he was the closest thing to God that I could imagine and everybody else around me. I’ll never get over the influence he’s had on my life. Now, he’s major.

Dr. Lawrence Neal Jones who was Dean at Union Seminary and then he became Dean of the Howard Divinity School. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor. These are the men in my later years in terms of forming my ministry and what I went on to do in terms of becoming a college president. Between Dr. Mays, Dr. Proctor and Dean Jones, in terms of academia and the college experience, etc., their influence was just overwhelming.

BOND: Let me lead up to how you became a minister. You talked a moment ago about how you’d been called in by Dr. [Benjamin] Mays and you said that you weren’t in your ministerial period then. How did you come into your — how did you decide this is the way you wanted to go?

BUTTS: I had a very good time at Morehouse College in any number of ways and I changed majors quite frequently. I was psychology, economics, history, and then I realized that I loved them all. What could capture all of them? Philosophy. So I settled in on philosophy with a minor in religion with the expressed goal of teaching philosophy at the undergraduate level. That was going to be my career, but the religion courses taught by Melvin Watson and by Jackson and others and then I remember Lucius Tobin had left by then, but it was Sam Williams in philosophy who was that cross between philosophy and religion, and during my sojourn in these courses, men would come from seminaries to recruit. Henry Mitchell came from Colgate Rochester. Kelly Miller Smith from Vanderbilt and then a student who had graduated a year before me, Bill Sanders, came from Union Seminary and they started talking about seminary.

Well, I was walking across the campus and I was in an altered state of consciousness so I don’t quite remember what, but Bill said, “Hey, Butts. You want to go to seminary?” I said, “You telling me to come to the cemetery? What are you talking about?” He said, “No, come here, come here.” And he brought me into my fraternity house and we sat down and he laid it out. I said I never thought about that, but one thing I had discovered is that every major advance of people of African descent was led by a clergyperson or had the strong overpowering influence of the church and I was certainly one who was strong on social and political justice. What better base to work from? So I said, “I’ll think about it.”

Well, there was a practical side. Henry Mitchell offered me money to come to visit Colgate. He hasn’t forgiven me yet. Lawrence Jones and Union, they said, “Well, we’ll pay your way.” Kelly Miller Smith said, “We’ll take care of you if you come by here,” so I figured I could go to Rochester, come back through New York City, and stop off in Tennessee, you know, and it was all paid for, so I had a little vacation. I decided to go to Union. I still wasn’t sure about this deep religious call, but the doors were certainly opening. I got to New York City. I saw Dean Jones and he said, “What’re you doing?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m going to class.” He said, “You need a job.” He said, “There’s a new minister over at the Abyssinian Church. Adam Powell died in April,” he said, “and they called a man named Sam Proctor.” He said, “Go see him. He’s looking for someone with no experience at all.”

So I walked over and I met Dr. Proctor. He looked at me. He said, “Where’d you go to college?” I said, “Morehouse,” and he said, “You look humble enough.” He said, “Show up Sunday morning.” I showed up Sunday morning. He said, “Show up next Sunday.” I showed up next Sunday. He saw me. He said, “There’s this fellow out there from Morehouse. What’s your name?” I said, “Calvin Butts.” He said, “Come sit up here in the pulpit.” And I’ve been there ever since. I started out as a gofer, became the Youth Minister, stayed Youth Minister for a couple of years, then Assistant Minister. Then I became the Executive Minister. Dr. Proctor was part-time. He was full Professor of Education at Rutgers. He had been President of two colleges — A&T and Virginia Union, and he said, “You run the church,” and he said, “You become the executive head and I’ll stay the spiritual head,” and I stayed with him for seventeen years. When he retired, the church called me to be the pastor and I’ve been the pastor now — I’m in my twentieth year.

BOND: And I wonder if the example of [Dr. Samuel] Proctor having been a university president must’ve been some signal to you that you can do this, too, this long association you had with him. Could that have led you to believe that you could do this, too?

BUTTS: Yes. But it was not only that I was led to believe it. He said I could do it, but he didn’t say I could be a college president. What he said was — he had a speaking engagement. The place will remain anonymous and he couldn’t do it. Something came up, a personal matter. He said, “Butts, I’m asking them to take you.” I said, “Doc — " This was a very prominent place. I said, “I can’t go there.” He said, “Look, you can go.” He said, “You got more sense than all of them put together." And I went. I was shaking, but it worked out and he said, “You know, you can do anything you want to do,” and that had already been instilled in me a little by Morehouse and then I used to watch him.

He was invited to go to a historically black college. He showed me the letter and they’d put down on the bottom, “We’ll pay you an honorarium.” I think it was a thousand dollars. Then he showed me another letter from a very prominent university and they were going to pay him an honorarium of — in excess of ten thousand, much in excess. He said, “I’m going here.” I said, “But, Doc — " He said, “Look. These students need me more.” I said, “But a thousand — they can do better than that.” He said, “No, they can’t.” He said, “Butts, remember, I was a black college president,” and he said, “The reason they can’t is because other prominent figures who will go unnamed have demanded of them forty and thirty and twenty thousand dollars and they paid it,” and he said, “and they didn’t get much.” Now, they want somebody who will try to give them a little bit more and he said I’ve got to go. I saw him do that so much. He had open heart surgery and I saw him jump on and off planes, so, “What— what’re you doing?” And he said, “Butts, I gotta go.” And he said, “You do, too.” He said, “You do, too.”

And so, you know, when they asked me if I could be a — when they asked me if I could take over the presidency of the college, “Sure.” The other thing — he tricked me. He said, “Do you know many hours a week a minister works?” and I said, “No.” He said, “80.” And just like the man told me about INRI, I believed it. I’ve been working 80 hours. My wife drives me crazy. She said, “You gotta slow down. The church members—how can you do this?” I said, “Well, Doc was a full professor. He did it. Adam [Clayton Powell] was in Congress. He did it.” Dean [Lawrence N.] Jones told me when I entered seminary that the minister in the black church in the twenty-first century has to be bi-vocational, has to have dual competency. These were the terms. He said, “You owe it to the people.” I don’t know any better, I guess. It’s what I’ve seen. It’s what I’ve been taught and I know it’s what we need.

BOND: A few minutes ago you were talking about your activities at Morehouse and going to Orangeburg for the massacre and being involved in Horace Tate’s Senate campaign, these kinds of activities, and you’re playing a leadership role in these activities. Now, when did you begin to think of yourself and maybe not consciously saying I am a leader but at some point, you’ve got to say, when I do things, people follow me. Do you remember when this happened to you?


BOND: It had to happen to you at some point.

BUTTS: I don’t — I heard a fellow jump up in a meeting once and he says, “I am a leader.” I was so turned off by it I didn’t know what to do. I never really paid much attention —

BOND: Well, I don’t mean to say that you would say this in an egocentric way or pat yourself on the back in some way, but I would guess there’s some point in your life at which you said when I say let’s take this approach, other people say, yes, that’s a good approach, let’s follow what Butts has to say. There’s got to be at some point, even in your younger life in school activities and college activities, when you rise to the top.

BUTTS: The only time I heard something like that was one of my — a girlfriend of mine many years ago said — she invited all of her friends to come to her house because there was a big party going on, and all of her girlfriends, and she said — she invited me, so I went by the house and they were all there and one of them said, “Where’re you going, Calvin?” I said, “Well, I’m going to so-and-so’s party,” and she said, “Whoa.” She asked her mom, she said, “Mommy, can we go?” She saw me. She says, “Yeah, yeah, you can go.” So we walked down. I said, “Well, if you were all going to the party, why did you divert me over here? I could’ve gone straight to the party.” She said, “Because if you come and my mother saw you and she knew you were going to the party, she would let all of us go.”

BOND: I see. Is that your first recognition that people would follow you?

BUTTS: I don’t know. It was funny to me. I guess I never paid that much attention to it. It is that you do what you think is right and you try to convince other people, but you can’t lead where you won’t follow. And I have a stronger leader, you know. I guess, and I say this with all seriousness — I’m led by the Holy Spirit and it’ll get you in trouble and it might cost you your life as we know, from some others who are much more — who were real leaders, but I’ve never taken time to calculate that. I’ve just never thought about it.

BOND: But what about leadership roles in high school? You had some.

BUTTS: I was president. In high school, I was president of the senior class.

BOND: Isn’t that a leadership position?

BUTTS: Yeah, it is. It is. It is.

BOND: And they didn’t just give it to you. You had to get it.

BUTTS: Well, I had to get it. One of the students passed me in the hallway and said, “Calvin, why don’t you run for senior class president?” I said, “Oh, come on.” I said, “Okay.” I didn’t campaign but I won.

BOND: Well, why’d you get it? Was it some magic that you won?

BUTTS: No. I just — no. I usually — when I say I’m going to do something or I give my word, I try to keep it, and I guess most of the students understood that and you know, I had excelled as a student, except for chemistry, and I was — I guess I had a certain level of popularity and it’s not bad being in the top spot either. You get some privileges. I’ll tell you a funny story. There was a local television dance show, kind of like Dick Clark but it was local, you know, American Bandstand-type show and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles were going to be on it, so they were looking for high school students to come on and be on the floor dancing like Soul Train. So we had a dance-off and I was part of the dance-off and I said, “No, the president should dance, too.” But I lost, but because I was the president, I still got to go, so, you know, those privileges.

BOND: Let me talk about leadership philosophy. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style? What is the interaction between these three — vision, philosophy and style — in your life and in the leadership roles you’ve had?

BUTTS: Philosophy is how you understand life, your point of view. For me, I guess the most prominent, if you want to call it a philosophy, is defined by my faith. Vision is where you see that lifestyle leading you, where you see that philosophy leading you, where’re you going, what’s out in front of you, and if you are in a position of some influence and authority, what do you want to accomplish, so as a Christian I would like to see the valleys exalted and the mountains made low and all of God’s children stand on an equal plane. As a Christian, I want to see poor people, you know, empowered to the point of view that no one is hungry and that people have good health care, where education is a right. That’s the vision based on my point of view as a Christian.

And my style — it’s how I accomplish or move toward that vision. Now, my style has changed. At once, my style was very confrontational, very in-your-face. At once, physical altercation was not impossible for me. My style has, as I’ve matured and grown older and understood more about life and people and travelled, it has become more negotiable. My style is to embrace every person I meet as a potential brother or sister. Shake their hand. Speak to them. Treat them like human beings, you know. They’re no different than you are. They’re no better than you are. They’re no worse than you are. My style is to keep people smiling as much as I can because all of us have so much trouble, so many challenges, that if you can bring a moment of lightness and joy into somebody’s life, that you try to do that, so my style may moderate depending on the circumstance, but I do have a decided philosophy that’s guided by my faith as a Christian.

I do have a vision of what I would like to see and some of my vision has been realized in Harlem through our Abyssinian Development Corporation of building better housing. We’ve built schools. We’ve built commercial developments. That’s part of realization of the vision and the style at which I approach it — depending, I mean, I have been confrontational. I’ve led demonstrations against people who are the producers of this gangster, negative rap, painted over billboards, you know. I’ve almost had physical altercations with police over brutality issues, but I’ve also negotiated with corporate executives, tried to win them to understand my vision of building and creating. I’ve met with presidents.

BOND: And you described a moment ago about how your style had changed. What about your vision? Has your vision changed?

BUTTS: Yes. My vision is now beyond the parochialism of a particular neighborhood and city, and it’s even beyond the confines of the United States of America. It’s a broader world vision that has been brought about by the opportunities to travel, and it is a particular vision that is focused primarily on people of African descent. Du Bois has a very powerful influence in terms of reading him and the Pan-Africanist point of view is very important to me and I think people of African descent need to be united and understand our common struggle.

[We] recently celebrated the bicentennial of Abyssinian Baptist Church. We took a trip to Ethiopia, took one hundred and sixty-five people there and while there, of course, looking at the religious artifacts, reconnecting with our history, it dawned on me that we as a church and our influence, not only our philosophy, if you will, but our vision, needs to see beyond just what we’re doing in terms of at home. Charity starts at home, but now we’ve got to reach out and try to unite as much of the world, particularly the African world as we can. Now, how that’s fine tuned is being determined now. I mean, that trip to Ethiopia had profound impact on me, but I’d been to East Africa before and Kenya and I’d been to Egypt and other places. Been to Ghana, many places, but how to do that and just to show you how the Holy Spirit works, our youth minister came into the office the other day to sit down and he crossed his legs and he sort of talked and he said, “You know, Reverend, our church is large enough and strong enough that we need to have an NGO that seeks to do development in Africa.” I said, “Well, don’t they exist?” He said, “Yeah, Catholic Charities does it and, you know, the United Methodist Church does a very good job, but we need to do it.” He said, “I don’t know of a black church that does this this way,” and I looked at him. He’s a Morehouse grad and his heritage is Jamaican, West Indies, and I said, “Well, Lord, have you provided an answer? Here’s this young energetic man with a vision.” I said, “Well, don’t you want to be a pastor?” He said, “Well, I’m twenty-some-odd years old." He said, "I’ve got time.” That touched me deeply and it made me go back and think that once again God has provided a key to unlock or a way to the vision.

I mean, I've got — my assistant pastor is a woman. My minister for Christian education is a woman and these two women are dynamic and strong preachers, and they are intelligent beyond — I mean, they’re just great. One of the sons of our ministry is now the pastor of Ebenezer in Atlanta, Raphael Warnock. Another one took Bill Gray’s place in Philadelphia. Another one leads the Covenant Churches, is the chairman of their board in America. These young men and women are just dynamic and the Lord gives them to me. I mean, they get up and they preach and the congregation is just in a frenzy and I just sort of shrug my shoulders and say I can’t get rid of them. They just keep coming and so, yes, I have a broader vision and the Lord is revealing how to realize that vision.

BOND: Some people categorize the making of leaders in three ways: first, great people cause great events. Next, movements make leaders. A third, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the times. Does one of these fit you?

BUTTS: If people see me in a leadership role —

BOND: And they do.

BUTTS: It is only because of the confluence — how did you say that?

BOND: The confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time.

BUTTS: That, or the one prior to that.

BOND: Movements make leaders.

BUTTS: Or movement makes leaders. So, I just — you know, it’s almost like I am in no way comparing myself to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it’s almost like Dr. King. Dr. King went to Montgomery. I’m not sure that he knew he was going to walk into what he walked into.

BOND: I’m sure he didn’t.

BUTTS: Yeah, and he was just ready for the moment. He was young. Well, a little bit of inexperience and untouched by the local politics. He rose to the occasion. It’s what Dr. Mays, Dr. Gloucester, it’s what they prepared us to do, so there is a person who will never get an opportunity to meet you, who will not sit before this camera who is in a small town, you know, and is as much of a leader as anybody else we’ve ever known because they’re prepared. They are handling the situation where they are. That’s all I’m doing. The confluence — I think that was the word you used, of those events.

BOND: Yes. Right.

BUTTS: I just happened to arrive back home in 1972. Powell had just died. Dr. Proctor, who was a molder of young men and women, was there, you know. We were fraternity brothers. The people just — I was young and so they embraced me as their little boy. I had a family. They loved that and I threw myself into work. I was broke. I didn’t know what else to do but work and I was deeply committed as a result of all around me to the elevation and forward progress of African people, and so if there is some notion that I’m an leader, it is only because I have assumed the responsibility that has been given to me.

BOND: We are not only assuming that you’re a leader, we are saying that you’re a leader, and having said that you’re a leader, is your leadership ability or your leadership legitimacy, does it come from your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or does it come in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?

BUTTS: I’m going to say, and I’m very uncomfortable saying this, but I’m going to go with you in your question —

BOND: Okay.

BUTTS: — it’s both. I believe that one of the great movements of our time in the realization of the dream of Dr. King’s and I argue this as often as I get an opportunity, is community development. Now, that’s a movement that seeks to go into communities, urban and rural, and redevelop deteriorated towns, villages, hamlets, by building schools, housing, creating health opportunities. I believe deeply in this. I believe Dr. King gave us a blueprint and I believe we take the skills that we have and build on that, actually implement, and that helps us to realize the vision, the dream.

And then I believe that there are times when you will have an appreciation for something that people may not see and it is your task to persuade them. Now, I’ll give you a very local illustration. Homelessness is a recent term, in the last thirty, forty years. We said we ought to build housing to accommodate homeless families. The congregation at that time, no, you know, NIMBY, not-in-my-backyard, not-in-our-backyard, so you had to persuade the people that this is the right thing to do. Well, then you use your whatever skills and talents of persuasion you may have to lead people in that direction. Now, if that’s leadership, then that’s what we do.

BOND: That’s leadership.

BUTTS: And you take advantage of everything and, see, no one is a leader unto him or herself. See, God doesn’t give you everything. If you can talk, you may not be able to organize, you know what I mean? Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tremendous figure, but Wyatt Walker was a great organizer.

BOND: You know, Bayard Rustin said Dr. King couldn’t organize vampires to go to a bloodbath.

BUTTS: Amen. So, you know, I could never just — it would be presumptuous of me to assume — there’re so many people who are part of it. The Development Corporation wouldn’t be what it was or what it is without Karen [A.] Phillips.

BOND: Indeed so, and these other people play tremendous roles, as they did in King’s organization and it is true that King didn’t possess the standard qualities we think of as an organizer, like your Uncle Leon who’s a union organizer. He had traits that I bet you Martin Luther King didn’t have.

BUTTS: Yeah.

BOND: But at the same thing, King had this enormous gift of oratory and persuasion and that enabled him to make up for what he lacked in these other areas and I’m guessing that you possess those skills plus others as well, which is why you’re a leader.

BUTTS: Well, I think it’s best for all of us to allow others to say whether we are leaders or not.

BOND: Indeed it is.

BUTTS: Because it becomes dangerous when you begin to see yourself in that position because sometimes you begin to understand leadership as a privilege of making people do what they know it is best not for them to do and very often, especially in today’s world, I’ve seen men and women appoint themselves as leaders and take people in the wrong direction and it has been devastating. They’ve exploited people. Every person who is a leader I think you won’t find and a true leader will always admit to mistakes, big ones, will always admit to vulnerability and sin, and to the degree that a person appoints him or herself as a leader and rises above those things, you’ve got to be careful.

BOND: Indeed.

BUTTS: Very careful.

BOND: A little while ago you were quoted as saying that you’re not called to be popular, but that your calling is to be faithful to the struggle. Does that characterize your role as the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church as well as your role as a college president? Are the issues, the struggle — is the struggle the same in the same large sense that both these roles are when you’re building a development corporation, does that require — is that a different struggle or does it require the same characters from you?

BUTTS: I have said that I’m not called to be popular. I’m not called to be successful and I’m not even called — but I am called to be faithful.

BOND: Faithful, that's right.

BUTTS: And that faithfulness is seen in my calling to whatever task my hands have been assigned and I don’t separate the pastorate from the college presidency, except, you know, in those practical senses. The Apostle Paul says, hey, you guys are getting ready to arrest me, I’m a Roman citizen, I appeal to Caesar. I’m not, you know, I'm not trying to impose my faith on the college, but I hope that my position as a minister and my own moral position as a human being has some influence.

Both the college presidency and the pastorate are callings and the struggle for me is to be — is to provide — all right — here we go — the kind of leadership that helps people to move forward, so if I’m building the development — if I’m working on building housing for working families, that empowers the working family. That provides them with some of the life, some of the pursuit of happiness, and on here, if I am trying to get Julian Bond to become a faculty member at the State University of New York because I think that he imparts wisdom and experience and intellectual acuity to the students, it’s the same thing. I’m helping those young men and women grow by exposing them to the best.

If I’m building dormitories, particularly at a public college, I’m empowering poor people who can’t afford to pay $20,000 a semester for tuition, and if I were asked to be the president of a school that was very expensive, I might have second thoughts, because one of the interesting and compelling things about the public university is that it is accessible, that the people I’m called to serve can get there, so $40,000 a year as opposed to $17,000 a year. So, I’m called to be faithful to that.

Now, my name may never go in lights, but we’ve built five new dormitories. We’ve brought graduate programs, you know, we got State University on Long Island and you may not get a whole lot of accolades for it, but, so — I’m called to be faithful to that task, but I’m also called to be faithful to a larger struggle and that is the struggle of African people. I’m not against anybody else, but there’s a collective unconscious that continues to speak to me. Now, it is informed by Dr. Mays. Dr. Proctor. “Boy, do your best. Do your best. Make us proud. Run the race with dignity. You’re going to run into racism. You’re going to stumble and fall. You’ve got your own moral failures to deal with, but hold up the banner. Don’t let us down.”

My mother and father are still living. I can’t let them down, and that’s what informs me. That drives me. I’m not supposed to, you know, sit down, servant. I can’t sit down. I hear those, you know, sometimes I feel discouraged. Dr. King — “I think my words are in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.” That’s who I am. I can’t help it. I don’t know what it is. I can’t help it and I’m embarrassed when I make a mistake, when I say something that’s out of line, but I try to correct it and get back on track.

BOND: This is a great segue to the next subject and it’s about race consciousness and you mentioned and have mentioned throughout this interview people of African descent and what responsibility you feel to them and responsibilities you feel they must undertake. How does race consciousness affect the work that you do?

BUTTS: Pretty profoundly. I have been called to, to use a line from Jesus and paraphrase, I have been called to the lost sheep of the house of African people or black people, African Americans, however you want to categorize them. I came up out of the womb. Now, I’m familiar and I love everybody, but I’ve got to serve these, my people, and if I’m in leadership, it’s because they put me there. They said there’s something about you that’s worthwhile, you know. You’re intelligent. You can read. You can write. You can think. You can lead, so whether they put me there as a result of being pastor of Abyssinian, chairman of a hospital in Harlem, chairman of the Development Corporation, I chair so many boards I don’t know whether I’m coming or going sometimes, but I’m there because the people put me there and they keep me there.

Now, I always refer to my history. Everything that has been done, particularly in America, to advance the cause of people of African descent has always helped all Americans. It has always. Martin King and the civil rights movement, that benefited all of America. Adam Powell’s legislation, that benefited all of America, and so while I worked with people across racial lines and while I try to improve the relationship between the races every opportunity I get, I am still dedicated to making sure that people of African descent, not only in America but across the world, are treated with great dignity and respect and not exploited. That’s — I mean, I can’t run from that. I look in the mirror and I can’t run from that.

BOND: Do you think there’s such a thing as a race-transcending leader? People, for example, have said that about Barack Obama, but I don’t think he’s finding that to be true.

BUTTS: No. I do think that there’s such a thing as a race transcending leader but I think that that comes as a result of that person’s dedication to the cause, even of African people. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a race-transcending leader, but his service was to black people. It’s clear. And then as he began to speak and think and grow, he could not help but connect with the consciousness of all men and women.

BOND: And you described a moment ago the number of boards and the organizations you’re connected with, and both in your church role and your presidential role. I wonder if you have a different leadership style when you deal with groups that are all black, or black and white, or all white. Are you different?

BUTTS: I think the style— Earlier, we talked about style. I think so. I think so. I may not say anything differently or I may say it differently but it may not be different. Sure, I mean, I can think of some stories that I would tell in an all-black audience that would probably just fall to the ground in an all-white audience and some in an all-white audience that an all-black audience would say what is that boy talking about. So, I think so, yeah.

BOND: In a book called Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen and he writes about a danger in continually thinking in terms of race or gender: “Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we’re going to continue to harm this country.” Is there a danger of divisiveness when we focus on black leadership?

BUTTS: No, I think the reality is what it is. I mean, if you are an African American, you’re providing leadership in the African American community, one could rightly say that you are a black leader. Now, you can transcend race, as I said before, in your leadership in the African American community. For example, a person who ascends to become president of the United States, a John F. Kennedy, he wasn’t a leader in the black community. He was a leader in a predominantly white community. They just didn’t characterize it that way. Then when he becomes president, he becomes president of all the people. You know, Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, the state Senate, and the United States Senate primarily by — well, the United States Senate, but the state Senate by black people, you know, but then when you get to that lofty position, you become responsible for all people, so I don’t —

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a leader in the Jewish community. Now, they didn’t call him a Jewish leader. It just so happened that race in America defines us as black leaders, but there’re Jewish leaders, there’re Catholic leaders. I mean, Cardinal [Edward] Egan in New York, he’s a leader of the Catholic community. You say he’s a Catholic leader, but he’s responsible for the whole archdiocese and everybody under him. I think it’s the same thing with black people so, yeah, I speak to black people.

Jesus Himself said, “I have come to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Jesus was defined by a narrow strip of land, parochial focus, but He’s the savior of the world, from my perspective, and so therefore was He a Jewish leader? Of course He was, but then His gospel embraces everybody, so you can call me a black leader if you want, but there’re a lot of white people who listen to what we have to say.

BOND: Do you think that black leaders have an obligation to help other African Americans or is there a point where that obligation can end and a black leader can pursue his or her own professional opportunities?

BUTTS: I can’t answer it. We have an obligation to serve African people, continually always. There is no point at which I can walk away and say and divorce myself, rather, from who I am as a black man. There is no point that I can do that. In my service to African people, I may rise to the point where all people begin to hear what I say and say, ahhh, you know, that doctor can heal everybody. That preacher can preach to everybody. I know he’s a black man but he’s speaking to me, just like I can go to hear a white preacher and say, yeah, that’s right, amen, brother. But his congregation is predominantly white. It just so happens in a racist America we get labeled that way, but I’m not ashamed of that, you know.

And in terms of the church, we’re not the black church because we want to be. We’re the black church because we’ve had to be. Nobody else would take us, so in a real sense, yeah, I’m committed to us and I really look askance at those men and women who say at some point they have no more of an obligation to black people. You’ve lost your mind. And any black person who has said that has cut him or herself off from their base and a cut flower, while it may look good, will not last.

BOND: In his book Race Matters, Cornel West writes, “The crisis of leadership is a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle.” Do you see a crisis of leadership in black America today? Is it represented by the kind of people you just spoke about who cut themselves off? And if there is, what contributes to this crisis?

BUTTS: I see that there’s a crisis of leadership in America and one of the major contributors is a lack of integrity. Men and women are not really committed to the struggle for justice and liberation and freedom for all people, black or white. For black people, it is particularly severe in the sense that we have wedded ourselves to the world. You can’t serve God and man, and either you will hate one or love the other, and too many of us have been lured by the siren song of materialism and therefore we have committed ourselves to the same kind of philosophy as those who enslaved us and we’ve left the masses saying that we have arrived. However, the crisis is superficial. Media has brought to the top a lot of charlatans, a lot of weak, atrophied people, but just below the surface there still exists those men and women who are committed to the struggle for civil and human rights. They are school teachers, coaches, leaders of local NAACP branches. They are clergypersons. They are social workers, and they’re out there and they continue to organize, speak the truth, and out of that — I don’t know when — there’s going to emerge that clear voice who, not for political expediency, will continue to be identified with the base.

Some of us for political expediency will say, well, you know, they’ll take the base for granted. You’re going to be there. Some of us for political expediency — well, I can’t identify with you right now because, you know, I got a bigger prize to gain. It’s not going to work because integrity demands that you will stick to the issues, represent what you believe, even at personal cost, and for me, the examples, if I just give you two, the ultimate example was Jesus — they nailed Him to a cross, and in our own experience, was Dr. King. He died broke, shot down on a Memphis balcony, but he never forgot his base.

BOND: What kind of leaders does contemporary society demand? How will future problems demand different leadership styles?

BUTTS: Well, different leadership styles, future problems will demand different leadership styles. One is because, in order to keep up with today, you’ve got to be technologically savvy and, you know, my style of leadership is often slow because I still write with a pen and pencil, and I’m just learning to use the text thing and as the campaign of Obama has shown us, in order to connect with the masses of young people, you’ve got to be technologically savvy so I think that’s one thing, and media. You know, how do you negotiate media? And there’s so much of it and it’s often difficult to communicate truth through a vehicle or medium of deception and so you’ve got to always be thinking about these kinds of things, you know. I guess the radio had its same challenges and television and now digital technology, XM or Satellite. And quite frankly, whoever can master that style and yet maintain a sense of integrity will begin to emerge as the leadership of the future.

BOND: Well, as a society, how can we foster, how can we create leaders of the future? Or perhaps the question is: can we create them?

BUTTS: I don’t think you can create them, but what you can do is instill in them the qualities of leadership, hopefully, and the only way I can answer that question is by telling you what happened to me. If there is a sense that I am in some ways defined as a leader, it is because I was influenced, maybe directly, but certainly indirectly by leaders. See, my father was a leader. He didn’t lead anything but his family. Bessie Jackson, Charles Wesley Shipman, Dr. Mays, Lawrence Neal Jones, Samuel Proctor, Gardner Calvin Taylor, and the exposure to this and the dedication to the race — maybe I’m a race man — was what helped to produce — it had to be the same for Dr. King. I’m in no way comparing myself to Dr. King.

BOND: I understand.

BUTTS: But, I mean, he used to sit around in his father’s living room and meet all of these great preachers and leaders who crossed paths in Atlanta. He went to Morehouse — Dr. Mays. So if we want to, because we never know whom God will select to rise up out of the group to become the preeminent, but if we want to, we have to work on developing character. Martin King said, “We should be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.” Now, what is character? It’s the avoidance of luxury. It is developing the capacity to endure, to hang in there. It is nurturing the love for beauty, not just the superficial name but the deep qualities of the human soul, and it is having a concern for courtesy.

Thank you, Mr. Bond. You know, it’s been wonderful to be with you and I’ve appreciated the attendance of all of these wonderful technicians. You’d be surprised — when that character is exuded and followed by the second point of education which is to increase our knowledge, why, anybody could be a leader.

BOND: One other question about the dual roles that you have undertaken as you’re leader of a secular state university and a Baptist ministry and you touched on this earlier, but how do you divide yourself in ways that work? Do you feel any conflicts of interest in what you say in each of these positions and how you lead?

BUTTS: I don’t find any conflicts of interest in what I say in each of these positions or even how I lead. Now, the style may differ, you know, in some place, and for instance, I know that when I’m in the church, I am more relaxed and I can speak more extemporaneously. When I’m at the college, you know, I’ve got a script and I stick pretty closely to it, though I do stick to manuscripts in the church sometime when I’m preaching, but no, there’s no conflict because I see them both as emanating from the same call. This is to serve this present age and it has been given to my hand to be a president of a college and the pastor of a church and I have to carry them out with the same character, the same commitment, the same vision and philosophy, maybe with a little variation on style here or there. No.

I’m tired most of the time, and I do pay sometimes for comments I may make in one place or another but that’s part of the responsibility of leadership, if you will. I mean, when it rains, the head gets wet first. You’re human. You make mistakes and if you don’t want any grief, don’t assume a role of leadership. If you don’t want to lead sometimes or have to go in a corner and feel bad because you really made a mistake, don’t be a leader, and if you’re not willing to pick up your cross daily, then you might as well just say, well, you know, this leadership stuff is not for me because a real leader with integrity is going to have some very serious challenges. However, I believe and I have discovered that the Lord will see you through it. I have no concern.

When Dr. King said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you but we as a people will get to the Promised Land,” and I’ve watched that over and over and over again, but I heard the tremble in his voice. I looked at his face. He knew and the older I get and the more I see what has evolved with leadership responsibility in some positions, you just understand. It is something that when you get to that point, if you’ve got any integrity at all, that’s why we salute his holiday today. There’re very few like him. Very few will ever be like him, but those of us who just aspire, just reach out a little bit, you know, who aspire, aspiration is an index of — how does that go? Admiration is an index of aspiration and aspiration is the prophecy of attainment.

BOND: Well said. Thank you for being with us.

BUTTS: Thank you for having me. It’s been my honor.

BOND: We very much appreciate [it] and appreciate your leadership.

BUTTS: Thank you so much.

BOND: Thank you.