Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Mentors: Scoutmasters and Teachers

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.