Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Mentors: Uncle Leon and Uncle James

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.