Select Video Clip...
Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
BOND: Congressman Clyburn, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.
CLYBURN: Well, thanks for having me.
BOND: We appreciate your being here. I want to begin with a few questions about Brown v. Board. You were just shy of fourteen years old when the decision came down. How'd you hear about it and what did you think at the time it was going to mean?
CLYBURN: Well, I remember I was on Bartlett Street on my way home from then-Lincoln High School. I lived out what we called West Liberty and I remember we were doing double sessions at the time. Somebody'd run to the door yelling that the Supreme Court had made its decision. The backdrop to all of that was my father was a minister and I recalled almost every morning at breakfast him praying for Reverend [Joseph] DeLaine and all the petitioners over there, and so we got really sort of connected to it. So when that decision came down, we thought that this was it. Come September we'd no longer have double sessions; we'd no longer have ragged hand-me-down books or workbooks that were already filled in. We would be going to school in an integrated fashion and getting the same type of education everybody else was getting. Well, naivete I guess.
BOND: I guess, but I'm guessing that because Reverend Joseph DeLaine was such a known figure in black South Carolina, and the Clarendon County case was a well-known thing that it may have been more immediate to you than many of the other people we've interviewed in this series.
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely.
BOND: Because it was personal to you.
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. I was only twenty-two miles away. Sumter, where I grew up, was just twenty-two miles from Summerton where all this was taking place and, of course, my father being a minister and my mother who was a beautician, they were all independent of the system, so to speak, and very active. In fact, I was elected president of the NAACP Youth Council when I was only twelve years old and all of that was connected with Brown because this was like 1952 when I got elected Youth Council president and, of course, you know, the whole Briggs-DeLaine efforts were a backdrop to all of that.
BOND: And you said a second ago that you thought that by the fall you'd be throwing away those secondhand books and be in a brand new school?
BOND: What did it turn out to mean?
CLYBURN: Well, you know, when I think about that period between May 17, 1954, and the 1970 when we final got the edict from the Justice Department that we were going to integrate schools in South Carolina, it's really almost a blur as it relates to education, because the focus got turned almost immediately to public accommodation. By the time I got to South Carolina State, we were then involved in other more direct action kinds of things, leaving it up to the NAACP and the courts to figure out when and where integration would take place.
BOND: Now, in 2003, you wrote, "In South Carolina today the state accepts it should provide a public education but not necessarily an adequate education," and you listed the great disparities between state spending on black and white schools, so that was a year ago, and I'm guessing that's still the case in South Carolina.
CLYBURN: It is still the case, and the court case, trying to justify the inequities in the expenditures is still taking place. Oddly enough, in Clarendon County is where the setting for all of this is taking place. Now, the big issue is over rural versus urban. These are rural school districts that are petitioning for equitable funding. The problem, of course, is that in many – most of those rural school districts they are majority black and, in some instances, all-black, because it's in these areas where white kids left the schools and went to private academies, and so what you've got here, though – it's a rural versus urban setting. It has racial adversities to it.
BOND: Now, aside from the actual way it turned out, what did it mean to you over these years? What did Brown -- what did the Court speaking in this way, what did it mean to you?
CLYBURN: Well, I'm almost emotional about Brown because not only did it define a lot of my breakfasts growing up, but it also helped to mold the way I approach things in political life. That's why I was just beside myself when I got the opportunity to get the Congressional Gold Medal for the principals in Briggs because I happened to know the history of Brown, and I spent a lot of time with my friends trying to make sure they get it right. Most people don't get it right, because the case, as you know, if it had been listed chronologically it would have been Briggs because Briggs was the first one filed in South Carolina, and but for a little quirk it would have been Pearson, because Levi Pearson two years earlier filed the first lawsuit.
And so I've just been really studying this stuff all my life, and so when I got the opportunity to get the Congressional Gold Medal for Levi Pearson and for Harry and Eliza Briggs and Reverend J. DeLaine, I jumped at the opportunity because whatever it is that I am, I think that this effort in Summerton, South Carolina, still drives my emotions more than anything else that I know.
BOND: How does that work? What does the Briggs case, Reverend DeLaine, Levi Pearson, the fact that the Court spoke, what has this come to mean for you?
CLYBURN: Well, it tells me a whole lot about the recalcitrance that's built into our system. You had '54 decision and here we are fifty years later and still that decision is still trying to be fulfilled. It's still not done. You've got just common ordinary people who did such an extraordinary uncommon thing, when you think about Harry and Eliza Briggs, you think about Miss [Annie] Gibson and, of course, all the others who were involved in that. It gives you a sense of what can be done when just ordinary people decide that "I'm going to set out to change things." I don't believe for one moment that they understood the enormity of what they were doing.
If you recall, the thing started out for just a school bus, "Just give us a school bus," and when they couldn't get the school bus, they went out and bought it themselves, and then they said, "Well, you know, help us maintain this bus, give us some gas for the bus." They wouldn't do that either, and so all of that grew into this mammoth decision that's changed the world, I mean, and it has. Now, a lot of people say they changed the nation. This decision, Brown v. Board of Education, changed the world because it gave life and meaning to life for so many people who've had impacts on the world over the years. No matter what they might say, the Colin Powells of the world would not be who they are today but for those little uncommon people in Clarendon, South Carolina, not to think of all the thirty-nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others, all these legislators all over this country, Brown was the decision that started all this and Brown started with the Briggs folks down in Clarendon County, South Carolina.
BOND: Now, I want to go back to the ordinary people, the common people. Did this send some kind of signal to you about what you might do? As a kid –
BOND: – you're a kid –
BOND: – and you took -- what did you take from this?
CLYBURN: Well, when I got to South Carolina State, I was a bit, I don't know, anxious. I wish I could say I was real studious. I was more activist more than a student. I was a pretty good student, but you know, you can't get this stuff by osmosis and so you've got to really get to the books. I didn't do a whole lot of that. I did a whole lot of activist things, so when the sit-ins started, when those kids up at Greensboro did what they did back in 1960, there was a little group of us who used to sit around playing Bid Whist and what we called Dirty Hearts and talking about all these great things that's happening around us. I mean some of us had come right out of the area where Brown all started. We seized upon that and I don't remember how we got there or whose car we took --because I don't there was but two cars on our campus when I was a student –
But we went up to Shaw when that little meeting was called up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Shaw University, and followed up with a meeting down in Atlanta down at Morehouse College in October. I'll never forget that weekend, 13th, 14th, and 15th of October of 1960, and it just -- it was the thing that told me that I had to do this. I mean, the Briggs family, those prayers that my father used to send up there at every breakfast, it told me that I had a role to play in all of this.
My parents had a little thing that they kept on the front door about voter registration. People coming to our house, I mean, they got a real good lecture on why it was important to vote. My father lectured many Sunday mornings to the congregation about voting and activism, and all of this was just ingrained in me.
BOND: So this is a world in which you’re growing up and quite obviously, your parents had a tremendous influence on you, both mother and father.
CLYBURN: Oh, yeah. I had some interesting parents. My dad --I was telling a group recently, he never told us that you had to read the Bible. He just told us that every morning at breakfast when I returned thanks -- you'd do a Bible verse- and it was obvious how we had to get those Bible verses. You couldn't say the same one. "Jesus wept," didn't count. And so every evening we discussed current events. We had an afternoon paper in Sumter when I was growing up. It's now a morning paper, but the Sumter Daily was an afternoon paper at the time, and every evening we would talk about current events. And so reading the newspaper and reading the Bible, were things that you did.
And then a lot of times people ask me: "You've got a sort of an interesting approach to politics, where did you get it?" The thing that stands out in my mind more than anything else when I think about how I got to where I am, was an incident that happened to my dad. I guess I was in my early teens. My father was president of his church's presbytery and a disagreement cropped in the church's hierarchy at one point and his leadership was being challenged by a minister whose name I won't recall at the moment, but at the election I kind of sneaked in the back of the church -- and I'm sitting in the back of the church watching this election -- and the vote was a tie vote. And so someone got up and made the motion that since the vote was a tie vote, that we should carry all the officers over for another year and give this time, to give us time to come back next year and have an election.
And my dad raised his hand and said, "No, if you consult with the bylaws, you will know that the president votes in case of a tie, and I did not vote and this being a tie vote, I'm now ready to cast my vote," And he politely cast his vote for the other guy. And that was just devastating to me.
So that day we were driving back to Sumter from Darlington where all this took place, and I asked him, how could he do that? And he told me, he said, "Son, when things are this divided, nobody can lead." He says, "We'll have an election next year. Everything's going to be okay." The next year he was elected president and he held it until he decided to give it up. That was very, very educational to me, that if you were to consult -- sports metaphor is everything -- that was just fundamental to leadership. If you give them a chance to lead and then you gather up the pieces later, so I learned a whole lot from that, and I think about that almost daily, that little gesture on my dad's part and I think it's the most defining moment in my life politically.
BOND: What about teachers in school? Any notable influences there?
CLYBURN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Agnes Hildebrand Wilson, you remember Bishop Hildebrand, his sister taught me at Lincoln High School. Just a tremendous influence. I remember my third grade teacher Mrs. Brockton; my fifth grade teacher is Mrs. Johnson. They all took tremendous interest in me for some reason and then I had a teacher -- I went to Mather. I graduated from Mather Academy and there was a teacher there, Edna Lukins, who had a tremendous influence on me. She was white, and taught me Bible. And one day she asked all of us to talk about what we wanted to do when we grew up, and I told her what I wanted to do, and it was all government and politics. And I told her I was going to go north, which is what everybody was doing in those days.
BOND: Because you couldn't do it in South Carolina?
CLYBURN: I didn't think I could do it in South Carolina. So that day after class, she asked me to remain for a moment and she came over to me. She says, "Look, you're going to college, but if you leave South Carolina, the gap's only going to get wider. Those of you who are privileged to go to college, you need to stay here and help things, improve things." That – that was tremendous. And, of course, I stayed on course. I went North for one week, but I never got over that, and so my wife and I got married in New Jersey on June 24th and July 1st we moved back to South Carolina, seven days later.
BOND: And been there every since?
CLYBURN: Ever since.
BOND: Now, what about other influences -- family, mother, father, teacher, other figures in the community who – ?
CLYBURN: My mother was just as influential in her own way. She is very independent, who had talked her father into letting her go away to high school. She grew up on a little farm in Lee County and nobody in her family had gone to high school and I don't know how she did this, but her father agreed to let her go to Camden, to Mather Academy, where she moved in with the Dibbles. You know that family?
BOND: Sure. Right.
CLYBURN: They were very prominent in Camden, and she sort of kept house, cleaned house and stuff, and they in turn paid her way to Mather Academy. And so my mom went on to college and then she took her degree and put it up on the wall in her beauty shop. And her thing was she wanted a college education, but she wanted independence that she could not get. Back then, the only thing she could do is teach school, and so she kept her beauty shop and by the time she died, my mother had seventeen operators in that beauty shop.
BOND: And from this, what lessons did you learn from her life?
CLYBURN: Well, I guess the most defining moment came -- there were two big moments with my mother. One came just after my now forty-two-year-old daughter was born. My mother came to visit us. We were living in Charleston at the time and she, after dinner, excused herself and told my wife that she would like for her to excuse the two of us. She needed to talk to me, and we went back into the empty bedroom of the apartment that I was living at the time and she said to me, she said, "Now look, you're married now and you're starting to raise a family. You need to get your family out of this apartment, buy a house, and make a home for them." And I said to her, I said, "Well, Mom, I'm going to do that just as soon as I see my way clear," and she looked at me and she said, "Son, let me tell you something. If you wait until you can see your way clear before you attempt anything, you will never get anything done."
I guess I've been in debt owing mortgages ever since, but that was a very, very defining moment for me and every now and then I think about how I want to do something, and I think about that. You can't wait until you see it through. If it's in your gut, launch it. Things'll work out.
BOND: What about other figures in the community, not family, not teachers, others who may have inspired you in some way or the other?
CLYBURN: [James T.] Nooker McCain. I think you remember Nooker.
CLYBURN: J.T. McCain. He was my baseball coach, J.T. My father loved J.T.
J.T. was a principal who had defied the authorities and refused to accept those hand-me-down books at the school that he was principal and was fired and went out and went to work for CORE, but when he was still a principal, he was a great baseball player and loved baseball, and I was a pretty good baseball player. I had been taught baseball by my dad, but my dad thought baseball was just avocational. Wasn't anything you did in an organized way, but J.T. Nooker McCain, wanted me on his baseball team and so he went to my dad and talked my dad into allowing me to come out of those gardens that he had us all working in, to play second base on his baseball team.
My dad would always do what J.T. McCain wanted done and so – and J.T. sort of mentored me. I can't explain exactly what he meant. It was just his act of defiance and the fact that he never, never allowed anything to intimidate him. I just admired him, so he had a tremendous influence.
I think the one other defining moment for me came when I first met Martin Luther King, Jr. I met him that weekend down there at Morehouse and, if you recall, it was a weekend that many of us challenged Martin for preaching going to jail, but having not gone to jail, and that weekend we stayed up all night with him. It was when the two of us met. It was when I met John Lewis, but formally, I think we may have seen each other earlier. Marion Barry. We were all there --
BOND: Diane --
CLYBURN: Yeah, Diane Nash, all these people. That night sitting up with Martin Luther King, Jr., almost all night, I think it was like four o'clock in the morning. And, if you recall, it was after that weekend that we went down, I guess it was Albany in Georgia.
BOND: And then went to Rich's [Department Store] and got arrested.
CLYBURN: Got arrested. And all of that led to later on the phone call to Mrs. King from John F. Kennedy which changed the course of events because few people realize it now, but going into that weekend which was like three weeks before the election, Richard Nixon was getting the vast majority of the black vote. Archibald Carey was running all over the country doing it for him and Archibald had a tremendous influence on me as well, and I was on my campus campaigning for--
I wasn't old enough to vote at the time, but we were having these mock debates and I was Richard Nixon in all the debates. My friends always tease me, says,"Man, you won every one of those debates," but I lost the election. Because every time folks went to the polls, you know, these mock elections, Kennedy was winning. That was a tremendous lesson to me, too, of how politics works. Because sometimes you think, "Just because I've got the best argument, I've got the best platform, I've got to win." It doesn't work that way.
I mean, the emotionalism that gets you involved in politics is something else again, so I think that weekend on Morehouse's campus, that all-night session, almost all-night session, with Martin Luther King and when Archibald Carey was trying to get Nixon, and if you recall, Henry Cabot Lodge, his running mate, in that election, saw it and got taken to the woodshed for saying things positive about civil rights, you may recall. Nixon -- I guess I should've seen it then. I didn't see it until after his landslide of '72, with Watergate, exactly what it was about his personality, but Nixon had a pretty good platform to run on. He just had something else quirky in his personality.
BOND: Now, I don't want to get too far ahead of the story, but I notice that you spoke movingly about both Maynard Jackson when he passed and Governor John West when he passed. What about these two men?
CLYBURN: Maynard, it's kind of interesting. Maynard – when I ran for office in 1970, I don't know why, but we wanted to have this dinner to raise some money. I was getting ready to run for the House of Representatives, and we were thinking about a big name. Maynard, at the time, I think, was maybe vice mayor of Atlanta and we issued him an invitation and asked him would he come speak, and he came. Came to Charleston. The old Fort Sumter Hotel. We had this big thing down there. My mother and father all came. It was four or five hundred people and no black person had ever done anything like this in Charleston before, and the next morning Maynard needed to go to Columbia, and so I drove him to Columbia.
I had a little '69 Mustang without air conditioning. We got in that car and, you know, Maynard that day filled up the whole passenger side of the seat and his voice just resonated through that car and we had a conversation that day, some of which I have never talked about and will only write about, but here's this guy who was bigger than life almost. His voice, it was just -- and he -- I don't know, it was a great experience for me. I don't know what I would've thought of him had I never taken that ride with him, but I just got emotionally attached to Maynard. I always was. And so when he died, it was like a little bit of me died, because he spoke that night just about things in general. He didn't know me. Got to know me a little bit in that automobile ride which was an hour and a half, two hours, and we stayed in touch over the years. Even when he was no longer mayor and out in the business world, we stayed in touch, and it was a loss for me when he died.
BOND: What about –
CLYBURN: John West.
BOND: Yeah, Governor West.
CLYBURN: John West was interesting. You never know why things happen, and I never knew -- I ran for the House in 1970; West was running for governor. I met him in 1969. I'll always remember the day I met him. It was August 16th, 1969. That's the day my second daughter was born. John West accepted my invitation to come and speak at the groundbreaking for a self-help housing program that I was doing in Charleston County and when he got there, he told me after the program, he said, "Explain to me what you're doing here," and so I explained to him exactly what the concept of the program was and what we were doing. This was out in Allen - Adam's Run, South Carolina. Young's Allen - outside of Charleston. He said to me, he said, "I really like this idea." He said, "I'm going to run for governor next year. If I get elected, I want you to consider coming and working for me." Well, that next year he ran, and then I ran for the South Carolina House. Won the primary. Nobody expected me to win. I ran a very populist kind of campaign. There was a former school teacher there that the students really liked and they all got him up running my campaign.
The morning after the primary -- all of this gets to how my wife gets into some of this -- the morning after I had just won, we had this great victory, I went into my bathroom the next morning and there on my sink was a little note from my wife and the note read, “When you win, brag gently and when you lose, weep softly,” so that note had a tremendous impact on me. By the time I left the house that day, I had toned down a little bit, but that fall in the general election, I was announced the winner around ten o'clock in the evening. About 3:30 in the morning, my doorbell rang and it was a reporter saying, "You better get down to the courthouse, something's gone wrong." So I get down to the courthouse and Emily went with me and we found that they said rather than being a 500-vote winner, I was a 500-vote loser.
BOND: How'd that happen?
CLYBURN: Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows exactly what happened. They told me that somebody forgot to carry a one in doing some additions or something. I don't remember what it was. Nobody would really explain what really happened, but that next morning when I went into my bathroom I wept softly. But that next afternoon I went up to New York to chill out with a friend, and the next morning his phone rang and it was John West on the phone. And so he came to me and says the man says, "John West is on the phone," but he was almost trembling. He couldn't believe that, so I went to the phone and John West told me that he wanted to talk to me and asked would I stop through Columbia on my way back to Charleston, and so I flew back into Columbia a couple of days later and we met. He told me he wanted me to come work for him and I declined. I told him "I don't think I could do that." I thought that my politics was a little more activist than he would be willing to tolerate. He looked at me and he said to me, and I'll never forget this, he says, "Jim Clyburn," he says, "If I were black with as much on the ball that you have, I'd be much more militant than you are."
BOND: Oh, really?
CLYBURN: I was a little bit embarrassed by that, but I got my second lesson – big lesson – in politics that day. When I stepped out of his door, his press person told me "You've got a phone call." I said "A phone call? Who knows that I'm here?" I figured nobody knew I was there but Emily and she would be waiting on me to call her, but then I thought maybe she was calling. I went and picked up the phone and it was a newspaper reporter who said, "Well, are you going to do it?" Well, great lesson in politics. While I'm saying no to the governor, this guy gets up -- Phil Gross who's a great friend of mine now. He goes out, calls the reporter, and gave me a real lesson in politics and he said to me, he said, "Well, you cannot say no to the governor." Well, that was the headline the next day. I was going to work for the governor. And he was asked about that. I'll never forget, because a lot of people saw me as being a little more militant than they thought South Carolina would tolerate and a reporter, I think his name was Hugh Gibson, I'll never forget, asked John West about his appointment of me and John West's reply was "We do not leave our wounded on the battlefield." I was the only Democrat that had lost in Charleston that year.
BOND: And so you maintained the relationship with West until he died?
CLYBURN: Oh, Lord, yeah, absolutely. Very close relationship. We visited often, on the phone, in person. Emily and I spend Christmas on Hilton Head every year and John West moved down there after the governorship and so during the Christmas holidays we would visit with him and Lois, but during the year we'd be on the phone all the time, we'd have lunch together occasionally. Any time I needed shoring up, I would get a little note from him or phone call from him.
I never forget, when I got ready to run for Congress we had lunch and he told me he thought that [I] really ought to do it. And just before making the announcement, my youngest brother had some public difficulties that called into question, in my mind. John West called me early the next morning and started talking to me about the race, and I said to him, I said, "Well, Governor, I'm not too sure I'm going to do this now." I says, "The headlines, I've been there. I'm not too sure I need to do this." He said to me, he said, "You know" -- he always called me Jim Clyburn as if it were one word -- he said, you know, "Jim Clyburn," he says, "life would be so simple if we did not have siblings and children." He says, "When're you going announce?" And the rest is history.
BOND: Let me take you back to something you said earlier on. You got elected head of the Youth Council in South Carolina at age twelve.
CLYBURN: At age twelve, the NAACP.
BOND: So obviously then you thought of yourself and others thought of you, at this young age, as a leader, as a leadership figure.
BOND: What had you done to make people believe that about you?
CLYBURN: I don't know. I tell people who talk about all these faith-based initiatives that I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for them because I'm sixty-four years old. When I was four years old, my mother had a kindergarten in our church. When I was about third or fourth grade, I started piano lessons, I started the clarinet, the saxophone, and I was telling a group in the church the other day. People are now playing saxophones and stuff in churches and they think that's something new. I said I was playing the saxophone in church when I was a kid. And I was taught public speaking and that kind of stuff and when you grow up in a parsonage, I guess you see people react to your father's sermons and you mimic some of that and so in school, I mean, when I was in fifth and sixth grade, we would have a little -- I would run for stuff and I'd campaign for stuff. I just was one of those people who was sort of well rounded and people sort of gravitated to.
I don't remember -- I remember we were in the basement of Emmanuel, the United Methodist Church when I got elected president. I don't know why they elected me, I just – and I don't know why I accepted. I don't know if I knew what to do. It was just that we were organizing, doing things to support what was going on, the activism going on there. I remember Reverend Quarles was the pastor of the church at that time, they were very active in NAACP. If you recall, what was going on over in Summerton, basically it was the principals, the NAACP people in Sumter that are supporting it. I mean, you had Reverend [Joseph] DeLaine who is there organizing folks, but the support was coming from S.J. McDonald and his brother Edmund. A lot of the names are – these names I don't recall, but all these people were supporting this and so these are the people I interacted with every day and then there was Nooker McCain who was always for direct action. Nooker never set courses too well with the NAACP because he didn't want to wait on the courts and Nooker always said -- he was big with CORE because it was direct action. And so all of these people I was around all the time, and they just made it look as if I was some kind of a leader, I guess.
BOND: Was it a case of your seeing what they were doing and saying to yourself "I can do that"?
CLYBURN: Yeah, absolutely. It was exactly what it was.
BOND: What made you think you could do that? A lot of people don't think they can do that.
CLYBURN: I don't know. I guess my dad always would tell me--I mean, these things were just ingrained in us. My dad, his whole thing--A couple of things: "Sunday is nothing new under the sun," he would tell me all the time, "nothing new under the sun." "Nobody's any better than you are and you aren't any better anybody." Just little things that just fill my head with stuff that was very positive, but I just think I just grew up with it.
And when people say they run for office, or they ran because they got mad about something or something. That never happened to me. This whole thing was just evolutionary with me. I mean, I never woke up one morning mad about something and decided to run for office. No. It just as evolutionary as anything I've ever done.
CLYBURN: Now, when I was eight years old is when Harry Truman ran. If I've got a political mentor, it's Harry Truman. I study Harry Truman to this day. I keep [David] McCullough's book on Truman right by my bedside. I got two copies, one I keep down in South Carolina and one I keep up here and every now and then when I'm at a loss as to how to deal with something, I say to myself "What would Truman do?"
CLYBURN: Oh, yeah, yeah, and I'll go and try to find a chapter in that book that might help me work through what it is politically I'm trying to do and it's been -- it's had a tremendous, I think positive, impact.
BOND: Why Harry Truman, though?
CLYBURN: Well, because Harry Truman ran for the presidency against all odds. Here's Thomas Dewey, a wealthy scion from New York, a big crime buster that everybody knew was going to be president one day. Here's Harry Truman from the little state of Missouri, who has just an ordinary background, who had a disability with his eyes, who sort of had a little bit, I think, of a complex. You know, the "S" in his name. He just put it there. When I go to high schools and I tell kids about this, I usually use Truman because so many kids think of the presidentcy as being something far beyond them and I talk to them about Truman and a lot of them can identify -- here's a guy who thought that in order to be important you needed to have a middle name, so he puts this S there and so I tell them, "Now, any time you write Harry S Truman, now you remember, don't a period behind that S because it doesn't stand for anything. It stands alone." These little things, I just -- just sort of endeared me to Truman.
Then, that newspaper headline. Here's a guy that nobody gives a chance, even a newspaper says he's got no chance and they even go to print the headline, but when all the votes were counted, Harry Truman was president and very unpopular. Never really caught on, but when people began to look back on what he did, Truman, to me, if you start ranking the presidents, I think this guy ranks in the top three even today. If you look at all that was going around, how this nation fit into the scheme of things, I think Harry Truman ranks in the top three, to me. He might be -- given George Washington, if you take him out of the equation, he might be one of the two.
BOND: I'm surprised. I admire Truman for many, many things. I don't know if you read the book Plain Speaking by Merle Miller, which I read years and years ago and I just thought, "Gee, what a wonderful guy who is a plain speaker -- "
BOND: " -- and can make the most complicated thing seem so simple."
CLYBURN: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that's part of why he was not this big giant while he was serving and when you look back on it, that was the genius of the guy, I think.
BOND: Now, there has to come a point in your life where you say, and you may not say it in these words, but at least you think, "I am a leader." Did that happen?
BOND: When did it happen?
CLYBURN: It had nothing to do with politics. It had nothing to do with school. It happened in a bowling alley. I used to teach bowling. I've always been sort of -- aside from baseball, I've always been sort of in the individual sports: golf and bowling. Bowling was a big big passion and pastime for me when I was living in Charleston. So after teaching I would go over to the bowling alley and I would teach kids on Saturday mornings and I had a lot of adult bowling classes. This was back in the '60s. Well, it was in this bowling alley that people started coming to me asking questions and people would start seeking advice, and I think it was in that setting that I first started to realize that I had some real leadership qualities.
BOND: In a way, I find that odd, only because earlier on, when you're 12, before that, when you're winning these school elections, we have a definition of leadership as 'a leader is able to make things happen,' but a larger definition is you get elected to an office. You're a leader.
BOND: And I'm wondering why that earlier -- why those earlier achievements didn't make you think that?
CLYBURN: It never did. It never did. To me, as I said, I didn't know if I knew what I was supposed to do. I mean, I always knew how to carry a motion. My father made us learn Robert's Rules of Order very early, so I had this little book and I knew how to do things like that. But I never thought of myself as any kind of a real leader. It really was in that bowling alley interacting with just ordinary people.
BOND: How did people know -- I'm sure the people that you're teaching know you're there, but how did people not connect it with bowling? How'd they know to come there to find you?
CLYBURN: Well, because it was new in the black community. This was when bowling alleys were not integrated and people were from all walks of life would come to that bowling alley, and so there I was. I was the only black guy who really knew how to bowl and so I got -- I was somewhat of an oddity to them, and I don't know. I've just had some -- I never really had any real bowling lessons. I taught myself to bowl, but I was a darn good bowler.
BOND: I know this is a little off the point, but how did you learn how to bowl in a world in which there are no integrated bowling alleys? Were there black bowling alleys?
CLYBURN: No, no. I used to go north to work in the summers and I'll never forget, I was up in Baltimore and trying to find a job, couldn't find a job. And it was hot one day and so I went into this bowling alley, and up there, they had this thing called duck pins.
BOND: Yes, a big Baltimore game.
CLYBURN: Yeah, yeah, so I was sitting back there watching these people out there and I said, "You know, I think I could do that," so I went out there and I think it was about fifteen cents or something. I went out there and I started bowling. Well, I did not realize it at that time and somebody was watching me. Well, I thought bowling was two balls a frame. Well, in duck pins, it is three, and I was just bowling two balls a frame and scoring pretty well and a guy came up to me. He said, "You know, why are you only doing two balls?" He said "That's in ten pins; in duck pins, you get a third ball," and he says "You've got some real good scores for only be doing two balls a frame," and so the next day I went to this ten pin place and applied for a job. Didn't get the job, but I got the bowling ball and started bowling and then I got a book and learned the steps, and I just taught myself. And so when I got -- this was when I'm still in college, so when I went to Charleston to teach school and they opened this bowling alley, I went by there and applied for a job, and the guy said we need somebody to organize leagues and all that kind of stuff. And so they hired me and I started organizing the leagues and I started -- I'm out there bowling and nobody else there they knew who could bowl, so they said, well, you're going to be our teacher so they sent me away to school.
CLYBURN: Yes. I went down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to AMF, the school to learn how to teach bowling, so that's how it happened.
BOND: When you're in this bowling alley running these classes, organizing these leagues, and people began to come to you to ask you things, what are they asking you?
CLYBURN: Well, they all knew I was a school teacher. And I was teaching history in a public school that was just about four or five blocks from this bowling alley, so a lot of the parents of these students and their aunts and their uncles and just friends would be coming to the bowling alley. And of course they would introduce themselves as being, you know, Mary Jane's mother or somebody's aunt, and I taught history different from the way most people.
I taught history based upon what was happening in the news. If I pick up the newspaper in the morning -- for instance, I was teaching in 1962 during the Cuban crisis. Well, to me, you can't talk about the Fertile Crescent when all this stuff was going on down in Cuba, so when I got to school that morning, we had to turn to Chapter 22 because it was the chapter on Cuba. I don't remember exactly what chapter it was, but it was somewhere, and that's the way I would teach. Well, the students were just enamored with all of this, and so I would be teaching from the history book to the newspapers, or from the newspapers back to the history book, and they would be talking to their parents about all of this.
And so here I was in that bowling alley almost every afternoon with the parents of the same people, of the kids that I'm teaching during the day and so they would start raising the issues with me, the sit-ins -- they were not really sit-ins -- they were really demonstrations at that time. If you recall, the March on Washington took place. I was teaching at the time and people wanted to know about that. We had real caustic confrontations taking place in Charleston at the time. I remember the police chief was attacked and everybody ran to the bowling alley. And people knew from my discussions that I had been a part of SNCC, and SNCC at that time was very popular, especially with the students on Charleston's east side and it was just--they would ask me about current events and about things that were happening, and how to do certain things or not. And it was just current events kind of stuff.
BOND: So, you became known as an interpreter of current events?
BOND: In effect, an interpreter of the day's news?
CLYBURN: Absolutely, absolutely.
BOND: So, what would they ask? What would a typical question be, or I guess none are typical?
CLYBURN: Well, there were just, you know -- this was when people were first starting to run for office. I mean, black people were first starting to run for office. We didn't elect our first black to City Council there in Charleston or to any office -- it was City Council, in this instance -- until 1969. I think '68 was County Council down in Beaufort, but all of the voter registrations taking place and all of the March on Washington had just taken place, and, you know, I had been involved in the sit-ins. And there were just questions about the challenges taking place to the system.
And the way I was teaching school, a lot of people thought I was going to get fired because I was teaching about all those things and how those things relate to what they were doing, or what the kids were doing. The thing that really got me was when Sister Mary Anthony ran a little neighborhood house right across the street from the school. It was Catholic Charities-sponsored. One day she showed up at my door at the close of the school day. I didn't teach but three years. She asked me would I stop by her place across the street, because she wanted to talk to me about something. And she explained to me that the kids who came to the neighborhood house, she would overhear them talking, and she noticed that a lot of these kids were big class cutters, but they would never cut my class. And so she wanted to really get to know me, because here were kids who would not show up for school until it was time to come to my class and then when my class was over, they'd just leave the school grounds.
And so we got to know each other real well and I started hanging around the neighborhood house helping the kids with whatever they wanted to do. And it was just talking to them about life and talking to them about difficulties. I would tell them, "Look, I know what it's like to sleep three in a bed." Because a lot of these kids just didn't think of their school teachers as having had their same experiences and though my parents were under those standards back in 1950s may have been considered to be middle class, in the overall scheme of things, we were not wealthy by any means. I mean, we were poor. I mean, we didn't -- we had independence. We were insulated from the system. A lot of the stuff was just happenstance.
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.
BOND: But looking back at that time, then, there has to be a time when you say to yourself "I'm a leader," and you said it was at this time. What did being a leader -- what did that mean? If you say "I am a leader," what did that mean you were? Why were you different from Chuck -- not Chuck McDew, but why are you different from the other people?
CLYBURN: I always saw leadership as problem solving and I still do. I always said that if the distance between me and the other guy is five steps, I'm going to always be willing to take three of them. I always believe that you have to make something happen.
Now, a lot of people see leadership as making noise. They see leadership as giving a good speech. To me, leadership is getting from point A to point B to point C, and, what it takes to do that is what I'm always trying to figure out. To me, I don't put out press releases about legislation that I introduce. Sometimes it gets done, and I'll tell my press secretary, "Let's just wait until we get this done." Well, that's just the way I am. I think that we're here not to make headlines, but to make headway. And so what I try to do is solve a problem. When someone calls me, I want to solve the problem.
When I ran the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission -- I ran that agency for almost eighteen years -- I remember one time the first time we got an over a half a million dollar settlement. It was $640,000 settlement we got for a guy. It was a claim against an insurance company. To this day, I never had the press conference about it. Now, a lot of people thought that that was just crazy. I was criticized by some of my good friends in the civil rights community because their position was that these press conferences help deter others from doing the same thing. Well, I always thought that it poisoned the atmosphere, and it would prevent me from getting the next settlement. And so my whole thing was to keep a climate in existence that allowed me to negotiate these settlements, because to me, if John Doe comes to me with a problem, John Doe wants the problem solved. If he's lost his job, he wants his job back, if he's lost it unfairly. Of course, sometimes he wants it back even sometimes when he didn't do -- he wants his job back. He wants his back pay. He wants his benefits restored.
Now, the question is "What kind of climate can you maintain that will allow you to do what needs to be done for John Doe?" I always believed that if an employer felt that the problem would be on the front page of the newspapers, it would make that employer less apt to negotiate the settlement. And so the employers in South Carolina always felt if they found themselves in my office that they were going to get a fair shake and they always felt that I would not wash their faces in it. And that's the way I am even to this day. I try very hard here in the Congress to sit down with people and to get, when I see a problem, to get the problem solved. And to me, that's what my leadership skills are to be used for.
BOND: Where does that come from? There're other people who having the same set of circumstances you did, would've said, "I'm going to be a leader by making the spectacular speech. I'm going to be a leader by, you know, pointing my fingers at people. I'm going to be a leader by calling other people's names." Where does that difference in you come from?
CLYBURN: I've often asked myself that question, and I look back. It had to be around my breakfast table. It had to be in my home. My mother and father -- there [was] a big difference -- my dad was almost nineteen years older than my mother. My mother was his second wife, his first wife having died. I didn't know his first wife, but even to this day my dad's first wife's family and I are very close; my mother was close to his first wife's family. There was always this atmosphere maintained that I thought was conducive to getting things done, conducive to getting along with people. There was never -- I've never -- I've heard tones of disagreement between my mother and my father. I never heard what one would call an argument. I would see my dad stop talking. And I think, and this may be strange, I think that a tremendous impact on me came from my father-in-law. Emily and I have been married now for forty-three years. When I first started just visiting and having dinner with her parents, her mother's very verbose and very opinionated. Her dad was always very quiet, but steely, and he would listen and then finally he would say, "Ah, Mattie, be quiet -- " and he would just walk away. And Mattie would be quiet, so I learned from that. I used to watch him all the time. We called him P.J., and I learned from him that, really, if you let people say what they've got to say, listen. And there's a way to get them to do what you want done, or to get done what you want to do without insulting them and without being too harsh. And so I get angry sometimes, but I try hard to control it.
BOND: I read about a comparison you made between yourself and Maxine Waters. You said "When I need to be, I can be articulate; when I need to, I can be get on your case," so you can do the other thing.
BOND: You can operate in that other way.
BOND: But yet you chose, and choose today, to operate in this non-confrontational, conciliatory way and you think that came from family?
CLYBURN: That came from family. Maxine and I play off each other very well. She comes to me and says, "Look, Clyburn, you need to do this," and she'll tell me why and this is basically that. And I sometimes go to her and say, "Hey, you need to do this," so it's kind of interesting. I owe her a lot.
When I first came up here -- and I became chair of our annual Legislative Conference in my fourth year up here -- and Maxine appointed me -- and the day she appointed me, she said to me, she says, "You like to run things, don't you?" I said, "Yes. This is my first elective office. I've been running something all my life." She says, "Well, I'm going to put you in charge of our annual Legislative Conference," and I did that for two years. And so when I got elected chair of the Caucus, it was because of the way I managed that, and the way I, you know, people had problems -- you can imagine having that annual legislative conference, you know, people have got problems, "Do you know where my table is?" and all this kind of stuff and you take care of all of that. And I got elected chair of the Caucus unanimously and it was because everybody felt that I solved their problems. I was a problem solver. I mean, I could've easily said to people "That's where your table is," and that's it, or "That's what I'm doing, and that's it." No. I've always tried to address it and tried to do it in such a way that even if I'm going to say no, or not do what they want done, at least they don't go away mad.
BOND: This leads to another question, a key question in this interview. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style? How do these interact for you: vision, philosophy and style?
CLYBURN: Well, my philosophy I think is like anybody's. It may be developed out of experiences. I think I told you what my philosophy is when I said that when the difference between and the other person is five steps. My philosophy is I ought to be willing to take three. Now, as somebody you know very well or knew very well -- when I read his autobiography I got this from it. I don't remember anything else about the rest of the autobiography but this, he says, "There's no limit to what one can accomplish if you don't get hung up on who gets the credit." That's a philosophy of mine.
I don't mind spreading the credit around. I don't care who gets the credit. Let's get it done. That's my philosophy.
Now, vision, to me, is somethng totally different. You can have the greatest philosophy in the world and not be able to see things, and not be able to see the big picture, so to speak. I try to really sit back and see the big picture. And I try very hard to gather -- even when I think I know what is -- I start looking for something. That's why I don't read -- my wife told me I should, but I don't read fiction. I read biographies and that sort of stuff. I shouldn't say I don't read fiction. I did read [Dan] Brown's -- of course, a lot of people think there wasn't a whole lot of fiction in Brown's book, not Demons and Angels, the other one. I'm blocking on that --
But if you look at style, I really believe that style is, in politics, sometimes is just as, if not more, important than the substance, because if people don't like your style, you'll never get a chance to show them what substance there may be to you. People get turned off with style, so I think style is very very important. It's the way you do things, not just what you're willing to do. Not just what you see to do, but it's the way that you do it, the way that you say it, how you really accommodate. That's style. I try to be very accommodating when I deal with people. Now, I can walk away and not accommodate at all, but I won't insult you when I do it. I just walk away.
BOND: Now, back to your vision, over time, over the space of your life, let's say, has this vision changed in any way?
CLYBURN: I don't think so.
BOND: Or has -- it's remained constant?
CLYBURN: I think it's remained very constant. I don't think the vision has changed at all. Style did change. I was not always -- even when people saw in me -- there were times when I was younger when I was a little bit of a bull in a china closet, so to speak, but I changed. My style changed.
BOND: Why did you change?
CLYBURN: Because I started to internalize those things that -- the older I get the more I remember those fundamentals that my parents tried to teach me. I remember a lot of things. I'll give you -- well, I. DeQuincey Newman is one guy I mentioned earlier who had a tremendous impact on me. I remember one time I. DeQuincey and I were in jail together. I didn't know we were in jail together. It was during the demonstration that led to the landmark case called Edwards against South Carolina. That's the landmark breach of the peace case that's now being taught in almost every law school in the country.
On the day that we got arrested, I had decided not to go to jail anymore. I thought I'd had enough of jail, but we went to the planning thing. We all gathered at Zion Baptist Church there in Columbia, and when I got there that day, some students were there from Mather Academy where I had graduated. And they came over and wanted me and my college roommate, who also went to Mather, Clarence Missouri -- we called [him] "Duke" -- to lead their group and so I. DeQuincey Newman came over to me and says, now, "Clarence," he says, "These people over here, students over here from Mather, they want you to lead their group." Once again, this leadership thing that I, at that time, was never paying much attention to.
So I went over to him and I says, "Now, look, I don't mind marching with you, but we aren't going to jail today. I've got to get back to school. We're in Columbia; I'm going back to Orangeburg." I said, "We aren't going to jail. We all agreed we're not going to jail." So we get down there and get on the statehouse grounds, and on that day Chief [J.P.] Strom came up to us and said, "You can't go any further," so I turned around to the kids and said, "Okay, we've got to go back." The kids went "Oh, no, no, no, no! We aren't going to turn back."
Well, to make a long story short, we ended up in jail. That night one of the kids came over to me and says, "I thought somebody was going to come to bail us out." I said, "Yeah, somebody will." I says, "Reverend Newman is out there trying to raise the bail money. We'll be out of here shortly," so the kid walked away. A little bit later he came back. He says, "Clyburn, who did you say was going to bail us out?" I said, "Reverend Newman." He says, "Is that the little man with the goatee?" I said, "Yes." He says, "He way over in that corner over there." It was three days later before we got out of jail. I learned that day that we all have roles to play. Some people can give good speeches; some people can do good organizing. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a great orator, but I don't think he could've organized the March on Washington. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin did that. That was their role. They didn't give the speeches that day; King gave the speeches. A lot of other people did. John Lewis gave a speech, but that was their role. And so I've learned that we all have roles to play.
At South Carolina State I was in the Henderson-Davis Players. I love theater, even to this day. I don't like to tell people that, but I love theater, and I think it was Shakespeare. Is it As You Like It?: "All the world's a stage, and we're the men and women. We all have different -- we have our entrances and our exits and in one's life he plays many roles." I really believe that. I really believe this world is a stage. I have a role to play and you've got a role to play, and to be successful, we have to respect each other's roles. It's the same thing no matter where you are. If you're playing football, the guard can't be doing what the tackle's supposed to be doing. The blocking back is not necessarily the running back, and we all have to play our roles and if we play our roles well, then we can win. I think we lose when we have all these confusions in our roles, when everybody tries to play the other person's role and so that's what I try to do in the Congress, no matter where I am. Let me know what role it is that you want me to play. I'll tell you whether or not I think I can play that role. If I can't, I will tell you I can't play that role, and this is why. And if I think I can, I'll tell you I think I can and this is why, and I really believe we can be successful if we do it that way.
BOND: That leads naturally to a question about how leaders become leaders. Now, people say it happens one of three ways: either great people cause great events, or movements make leaders, or the coming together of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for those events for the times. Which one of these fits you?
CLYBURN: I think the movement. I think that's probably…
BOND: The movement created the opportunity for you to show leadership?
CLYBURN: Right. I think that's it.
BOND: Of course, in a way you were showing leadership just even before that, when you were running in the high school, grade school, getting elected to office.
CLYBURN: But I'm not too sure that I would've ever done that, but for what was going on over there in Summerton. I don't know if I would've ever done that if I had not internalized a lot of what was going on in my household, listening to what my parents…
BOND: So, in fact, you were part of the movement even though you weren't part of the movement?
CLYBURN: That's exactly right.
BOND: Let me go back to vision. What is your vision? What is your vision? How does this guide what you do?
CLYBURN: Well, I would have to say that my vision of leadership is what I have to do. Probably it's grounded in a little memorandum that I read when I was in the governor's office. It was not meant for my eyes. Remember, I went into the governor's office in 1970. Well, the election was 1970; we took office in January of '71, but somewhere in that year of 1971, I came across a memorandum. If you recall, the southern states were beginning to try and make themselves attractive for industry to relocate, from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt kind of a movement. And they were all trying to work out how you do this with these tax breaks and everything else. Well, one of the consultants that had been hired by officials in South Carolina had written a memorandum that I came across by accident, and the memorandum was advising the leadership of the state in their search of industry to steer prospects away from certain counties. There were about ten to thirteen counties on that list. Of the counties on that list, when I got elected, I think ten of them were in my district. There's something common about those counties. Those were the majority black counties in South Carolina. The theory laid out in the memorandum is that black people are joiners and one of the attractions is this is a right-to-work state and in order to keep the unions out, steer the industry to these other counties, away from these counties.
Now, I have never ever forgotten about that memorandum. It was only two years ago when I started talking about it, because my role, I believe, is to rectify that. Now, no matter what it is that I do, it's all focused on trying to rectify what happened over so much time to those counties. Most of them are in my district. Williamsburg County I have; any given month the unemployment is 17 percent. Marion County, 17, 18 percent. I'm talking about three and four times the national average you'll find in these counties. Water and sewage, roads and bridges; none of that's there.
Now, a lot of people may see their roles as being policy. I see my role as trying to make the policy work for everybody and so if there is a vision, a big picture out there, it is to make the quality of life in these areas -- most of which are in my congressional district, a lot of them aren't -- as good for the people who live there as it is for everybody else and so sometimes it's creating a water agency and I'm not talking about a little community water project. The water project I'm working on now is the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency is a $150 million water project that will cover six counties. It is too big for a lot of those elected officials to even think about, but we're already $35 million into the project. We're getting ready to break ground on it. Now, to me, when that happens, it is going to kick start an improvement in the lives of people there that they just -- a lot of them can't see now. And so it takes some doing because this is a bit much. They're used to looking at a 200-customer water project and I'm trying to get them to look what could be a 50,000-customer water project. So, it's a problem, but that's the kind of stuff that I'm doing and that's just one of the instances.
BOND: In this particular interest, you have a vision that's radically different from the vision of these small local officials.
CLYBURN: Absolutely, absolutely.
BOND: It's not because they're bad people and you're a good person, it's just different.
CLYBURN: It's just different.
BOND: Now, in the Congress, with these 435 people, there've got to be people whose vision is radically different from yours?
BOND: And just opposed to yours.
BOND: Can you respect someone --
BOND: -- who's just diametrically opposed to what you're doing who sincerely believes that you're wrong, he or she's right, your ideas are nuts, their ideas are great. How do you approach that person?
CLYBURN: The same way I approach everybody else. This may sound strange to a lot of people, but I chair a steering committee that's trying to build an International African-American museum in Charleston, but I'm helping Congressman Henry Brown with his Hunley museum. He wants to do a museum around the Hunley [a Confederate submarine]. I don't have a problem with that. Our history is what it is. I don't believe that we can in any way prosper by denying that our history's what it is. What we have to do, I think, is overcome it, do what we can to rectify it. You can't change it. I mean, that's what it is. You can't change it. So how do we make it work for us? And so going forward, we can, and so I'm that way.
I play golf with a lot of members of Congress whose vote I cancel out every day, but when we're on the golf course we'll find a way to accommodate each other and that's what I do. I don't have to really agree with you. I tell people all the time, my wife and I cancel each other out at the polls a lot. We don't necessarily see politics the same way.
BOND: Do you think your position in life today, your former chairmanship of The Crisis, your election to the Congress and the jobs you held--are these based in some part on your ability to convince others that your vision, your philosophy, is the way to go, perhaps not every single time, but at least sometime. Does this rest in your ability to say, "Here's the way to do it. Here's what I think we ought to do"?
CLYBURN: Yeah, but I do it a little bit differently from that. I try to convince people that if we do this, this way, it will not detract from anything that you're doing, or it will in no way threaten anything that you want to do. I never try to get people to do it my way because my way is the right way. I just stay away from that as often as I possibly can. My whole thing is, "This is a way to do it. I'm not saying it's the right way. This is the way that I'm comfortable with. This is the way I think we could make it work, and it will not in any way detract from what you're doing." Let me give you an example. When I introduced and got passed the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor legislation. Now, there are a lot of people say, "Gullah Geechee, what is that?" I mean, but it passed unanimously and you'd be surprised at how many people got on board with that. When I went over to [Congressman] Henry Brown who is a very conservative Republican from Charleston -- we represent Charleston together -- I says, "Henry, here's this bill that I'm introducing. I need your name on it." I says, "Now, here's why -- " and I went through all of this stuff. Well, Henry Brown's mother grew up right across the road from my wife's mother, and when I finished the conversation, I looked at him and I says, "You're a Gullah, you know -- "
BOND: Did he take that, he believe that?
CLYBURN: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. He talks about like [Ernest] Fritz Hollings talks. He's Gullah. But he identified with it. He immediately -- and so his name went on it and the bill passed in the House unanimously. So that's what I try to do is to try to let people know "There's something in this for you." That's why we kind of try not to, you know, lay claim to what's right and what's wrong. We just try to lay claim to what's a good way to do it, and what you can benefit from it. I did the same thing with the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor. I put Lindsey Graham -- he was in the House at the time -- I put his name on the bill. I said, "Look, you know, this thing will come in at Walhalla. That's where you live. You live in Walhalla." I said, "We create this, we'll have a heritage corridor following the old Hamburg railroad to run from Walhalla all the way down to Charleston. Well, it's going to start up here in your district. It's going to end down here in mine," I said, "but most of this is your congressional district." He put his name on it and it became a law. Once again, no limit to what one can accomplish if you don't get hung up on who gets the credit, so Lindsey Graham gives me credit for it when I'm around. I don't know what he does when I'm not around.
BOND: I'm sure he does it both times.
BOND: Could you say that's your philosophy, giving others credit, not hogging credit?
BOND: Your general approach to life?
CLYBURN: Absolutely, absolutely.
BOND: And apparently it has proven successful?
CLYBURN: Well, okay, in fact, I work on doing that. Because I really feel sincerely that as many people that can feel a part of it, as many people that can feel a benefit from it, the better off you are. I think that you run the risk of failing miserably when you go it alone. I just think that you have to bring as many people into the process as you possibly can because that strengthens the effort, and it insulates the effort, because if you've got people involved in it, then -- remember, that they'll guard against it failing because they will have failed, too -- and so you want people to help you make the thing successful.
BOND: Make sure they have a stake in it.
CLYBURN: They have a stake in it.
BOND: Here's a question, Congressman. You and I are the same age. We're not going to be here a whole lot longer. What do we have to do to make sure there're other leadership figures coming up? How do you grow leaders? Is it possible to create leaders or how can you create the circumstances under which leaders flourish, new leaders flourish?
CLYBURN: Well, sure, it's possible to create circumstances possibly I think to train people in leadership. I really believe that the future requires that we spend a little more time focusing on the training of leadership. Now, no matter what abilities you may have, what skills you may have, what may be in your DNA, it's like anything else. I mean, the energy that goes into a hydrogen bomb cannot be effective unless it's harnessed, and so I think that the future of our country requires that we spend much more time on training leaders for the future than we have in the past. If you look at you and me, we were shaped by a movement. We didn't create that movement. Somebody created it for us. If you go back to James Farmer and the '40s and A. Philip Randolph, I mean, those guys were doing things before we came along. And then we showed up in the '60s, circumstances developed and we were able to take advantage of that with leadership skills that had been honed somewhere without much formal kind of structure. I think in the future there's got to be formal structure. I think we have to…We live in a world much more complicated than the world was for us, and therefore, when you see things changing every day, I think that a structured leadership kind of training must take place in the future.
BOND: Let me read you something from Cornel West when he talks about the crisis of leadership. He says, "It's a symptom" -- and he says there is a crisis -- "It's 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," and in a way, that's a reference to the movement you and I came out of. Do you think there's this kind of crisis of leadership today?
CLYBURN: Yeah, absolutely.
BOND: In addition to these formal structures you talked about a moment ago, what can be done to overcome this crisis?
CLYBURN: Well, I think that once again, people have to see a stake in it. Look, voting, something as simple as voting, has dropped off dramatically in the black community. And the reason I think is because we have not been successful in recent years in getting black voters to see the direct relationship between their voting and what happens in their lives. That disconnect is there. Some kind of a way we've got to reconnect that.
Now, when none of us were in legislatures, and few of us in the Congress, people saw it. They saw us elect three black people, then fifteen and then thirty. They saw that. Now, what has happened is they says,"Okay, you've still got a vote." And they says, "Well, what's going to change for me? What is going to change?" And I don't think people see the change taking place and so we've got to really -- and the only way you're going to do that is to get people in a structured situation to understand it.
When I create the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency -- we're going to spend a $150 million. And unless I can show people that your life is going to improve as a result of this -- and this is why you have so many communities that resist it, because they don't see the relationship. Health-wise, there are people who do not really understand that part of this problem you've got with your health comes from that well water that you're drinking, and we've got to get that out of your system. They don't see that.
Most people cannot see that the lack of jobs in this area is a result of no infrastructure. And so that is a long disconnect, so we've got to have structured situations that will allow people to be taught and to understand the relationship. And people who are going to lead these movements have got to understand the relationship. I run across some pretty educated people today who do not understand those relationships because they have not functioned in that way.
With us, it was simple. I mean, nobody's got the right to vote, so you go from having a hundred registered voters to ten thousand registered voters and then you go from having no elected officials to the sheriff being black, the mayor being black, and everybody else. Now, that is great and you can see it. Now, "How will that change my life? How will that bring me a job? How will that improve conditions?" That is why we've got to have structure in this going forward, because every time I turn on my TV -- not TV -- my computer, if I go two months, I find that I need an upgrade to do something. The world is changing that fast. And so the kinds of movements that created you and me, these are evolutionary things, so the world is changing that fast. There's got to be structure for leaders to be able to change with it.
BOND: You must be reading my mind because the world is changing so fast. You could say that the leaders of today are leaders for their time, but tomorrow will be a different time. What different kind of leadership is required for a different kind of time?
CLYBURN: Well, I think fundamentally it's got to be the same. The approach has got to be different. The training's got to be different.
BOND: Different how?
CLYBURN: It's got to be different in that, you know, I thought computers were a passing fad. That's what I thought. And so it's got to be different, but fundamentally the things that lead people to be leaders I think is just something in you that when circumstances develop, it comes out, but are you prepared to do it? And so the training has got to be not just in philosophy. You've got to understand the world around us. You've got to understand technology. My grandchildren understand technology much better than I do, but the question is do they, will they, have the core values that need to be there for them to make the technology work?
BOND: How are you going to give them the values?
CLYBURN: Oh, it's got to be home and community. I think we've lost a sense of community which we've got to get back and when I says home and community, I don't mean just inside the house. I got so much out of my church, so much out of the people I grew up around. That should never leave us. That's where the core values come from. This other stuff, you know, that's why we see what is happening with the Enrons and everything else of the world is because people have figured out how to make the system work and how to make money, but somewhere along the line they lost those underpinnings, those core values that made us be respectful of others. I don't understand how anybody can… It's just foreign to me how you can sleep at night knowing that you just made a decision that will deny the pensions that all of your employees had been looking forward to. How do you take that away from four or five thousand people and enjoy yourself is beyond me. Somewhere along the line, I mean, when I was growing up, we were taught totally differently.
BOND: One last question. Looking back over your life, what is the greatest contribution you've made as a leader?
CLYBURN: Well, I think that if I were to just look at one thing, it would be difficult, so I would have to generalize. I think it's been learning to live that second great commandment, doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you. That's my biggest contribution because that goes -- in every, all my talks, no matter where it is, political banquet or whatever, it's all grounded basically in the tenth chapter of St. Luke and the story of the Good Samaritan because there're so many parts of that story that has meaning for me. It teaches me fundamentally that -- what being a good neighbor is. It's not about church membership. It's not about ethnicity and it's all about sometimes getting down off your high horse and administering to the needs where you find them. That, to me, has been my biggest contribution. I try hard every day not to get too far from that.
BOND: Congressman Clyburn, thanks for being with us.
CLYBURN: Thank you for having me.