Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Rev. Sam Proctor and Other Role Models

BOND: And I wonder if the example of [Dr. Samuel] Proctor having been a university president must’ve been some signal to you that you can do this, too, this long association you had with him. Could that have led you to believe that you could do this, too?

BUTTS: Yes. But it was not only that I was led to believe it. He said I could do it, but he didn’t say I could be a college president. What he said was — he had a speaking engagement. The place will remain anonymous and he couldn’t do it. Something came up, a personal matter. He said, “Butts, I’m asking them to take you.” I said, “Doc — " This was a very prominent place. I said, “I can’t go there.” He said, “Look, you can go.” He said, “You got more sense than all of them put together." And I went. I was shaking, but it worked out and he said, “You know, you can do anything you want to do,” and that had already been instilled in me a little by Morehouse and then I used to watch him.

He was invited to go to a historically black college. He showed me the letter and they’d put down on the bottom, “We’ll pay you an honorarium.” I think it was a thousand dollars. Then he showed me another letter from a very prominent university and they were going to pay him an honorarium of — in excess of ten thousand, much in excess. He said, “I’m going here.” I said, “But, Doc — " He said, “Look. These students need me more.” I said, “But a thousand — they can do better than that.” He said, “No, they can’t.” He said, “Butts, remember, I was a black college president,” and he said, “The reason they can’t is because other prominent figures who will go unnamed have demanded of them forty and thirty and twenty thousand dollars and they paid it,” and he said, “and they didn’t get much.” Now, they want somebody who will try to give them a little bit more and he said I’ve got to go. I saw him do that so much. He had open heart surgery and I saw him jump on and off planes, so, “What— what’re you doing?” And he said, “Butts, I gotta go.” And he said, “You do, too.” He said, “You do, too.”

And so, you know, when they asked me if I could be a — when they asked me if I could take over the presidency of the college, “Sure.” The other thing — he tricked me. He said, “Do you know many hours a week a minister works?” and I said, “No.” He said, “80.” And just like the man told me about INRI, I believed it. I’ve been working 80 hours. My wife drives me crazy. She said, “You gotta slow down. The church members—how can you do this?” I said, “Well, Doc was a full professor. He did it. Adam [Clayton Powell] was in Congress. He did it.” Dean [Lawrence N.] Jones told me when I entered seminary that the minister in the black church in the twenty-first century has to be bi-vocational, has to have dual competency. These were the terms. He said, “You owe it to the people.” I don’t know any better, I guess. It’s what I’ve seen. It’s what I’ve been taught and I know it’s what we need.