Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Mentors: Church and University

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.