Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Mentors: Boy Scouts of America

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.