Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Secular and Religious Service

BOND: One other question about the dual roles that you have undertaken as you’re leader of a secular state university and a Baptist ministry and you touched on this earlier, but how do you divide yourself in ways that work? Do you feel any conflicts of interest in what you say in each of these positions and how you lead?

BUTTS: I don’t find any conflicts of interest in what I say in each of these positions or even how I lead. Now, the style may differ, you know, in some place, and for instance, I know that when I’m in the church, I am more relaxed and I can speak more extemporaneously. When I’m at the college, you know, I’ve got a script and I stick pretty closely to it, though I do stick to manuscripts in the church sometime when I’m preaching, but no, there’s no conflict because I see them both as emanating from the same call. This is to serve this present age and it has been given to my hand to be a president of a college and the pastor of a church and I have to carry them out with the same character, the same commitment, the same vision and philosophy, maybe with a little variation on style here or there. No.

I’m tired most of the time, and I do pay sometimes for comments I may make in one place or another but that’s part of the responsibility of leadership, if you will. I mean, when it rains, the head gets wet first. You’re human. You make mistakes and if you don’t want any grief, don’t assume a role of leadership. If you don’t want to lead sometimes or have to go in a corner and feel bad because you really made a mistake, don’t be a leader, and if you’re not willing to pick up your cross daily, then you might as well just say, well, you know, this leadership stuff is not for me because a real leader with integrity is going to have some very serious challenges. However, I believe and I have discovered that the Lord will see you through it. I have no concern.

When Dr. King said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you but we as a people will get to the Promised Land,” and I’ve watched that over and over and over again, but I heard the tremble in his voice. I looked at his face. He knew and the older I get and the more I see what has evolved with leadership responsibility in some positions, you just understand. It is something that when you get to that point, if you’ve got any integrity at all, that’s why we salute his holiday today. There’re very few like him. Very few will ever be like him, but those of us who just aspire, just reach out a little bit, you know, who aspire, aspiration is an index of — how does that go? Admiration is an index of aspiration and aspiration is the prophecy of attainment.

BOND: Well said. Thank you for being with us.

BUTTS: Thank you for having me. It’s been my honor.

BOND: We very much appreciate [it] and appreciate your leadership.

BUTTS: Thank you so much.

BOND: Thank you.