Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Community Organizing

BOND: We are not only assuming that you’re a leader, we are saying that you’re a leader, and having said that you’re a leader, is your leadership ability or your leadership legitimacy, does it come from your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or does it come in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?

BUTTS: I’m going to say, and I’m very uncomfortable saying this, but I’m going to go with you in your question —

BOND: Okay.

BUTTS: — it’s both. I believe that one of the great movements of our time in the realization of the dream of Dr. King’s and I argue this as often as I get an opportunity, is community development. Now, that’s a movement that seeks to go into communities, urban and rural, and redevelop deteriorated towns, villages, hamlets, by building schools, housing, creating health opportunities. I believe deeply in this. I believe Dr. King gave us a blueprint and I believe we take the skills that we have and build on that, actually implement, and that helps us to realize the vision, the dream.

And then I believe that there are times when you will have an appreciation for something that people may not see and it is your task to persuade them. Now, I’ll give you a very local illustration. Homelessness is a recent term, in the last thirty, forty years. We said we ought to build housing to accommodate homeless families. The congregation at that time, no, you know, NIMBY, not-in-my-backyard, not-in-our-backyard, so you had to persuade the people that this is the right thing to do. Well, then you use your whatever skills and talents of persuasion you may have to lead people in that direction. Now, if that’s leadership, then that’s what we do.

BOND: That’s leadership.

BUTTS: And you take advantage of everything and, see, no one is a leader unto him or herself. See, God doesn’t give you everything. If you can talk, you may not be able to organize, you know what I mean? Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tremendous figure, but Wyatt Walker was a great organizer.

BOND: You know, Bayard Rustin said Dr. King couldn’t organize vampires to go to a bloodbath.

BUTTS: Amen. So, you know, I could never just — it would be presumptuous of me to assume — there’re so many people who are part of it. The Development Corporation wouldn’t be what it was or what it is without Karen [A.] Phillips.

BOND: Indeed so, and these other people play tremendous roles, as they did in King’s organization and it is true that King didn’t possess the standard qualities we think of as an organizer, like your Uncle Leon who’s a union organizer. He had traits that I bet you Martin Luther King didn’t have.

BUTTS: Yeah.