Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Brown Changed the World

BOND: How does that work? What does the Briggs case, Reverend DeLaine, Levi Pearson, the fact that the Court spoke, what has this come to mean for you?

CLYBURN: Well, it tells me a whole lot about the recalcitrance that's built into our system. You had '54 decision and here we are fifty years later and still that decision is still trying to be fulfilled. It's still not done. You've got just common ordinary people who did such an extraordinary uncommon thing, when you think about Harry and Eliza Briggs, you think about Miss [Annie] Gibson and, of course, all the others who were involved in that. It gives you a sense of what can be done when just ordinary people decide that "I'm going to set out to change things." I don't believe for one moment that they understood the enormity of what they were doing.

If you recall, the thing started out for just a school bus, "Just give us a school bus," and when they couldn't get the school bus, they went out and bought it themselves, and then they said, "Well, you know, help us maintain this bus, give us some gas for the bus." They wouldn't do that either, and so all of that grew into this mammoth decision that's changed the world, I mean, and it has. Now, a lot of people say they changed the nation. This decision, Brown v. Board of Education, changed the world because it gave life and meaning to life for so many people who've had impacts on the world over the years. No matter what they might say, the Colin Powells of the world would not be who they are today but for those little uncommon people in Clarendon, South Carolina, not to think of all the thirty-nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others, all these legislators all over this country, Brown was the decision that started all this and Brown started with the Briggs folks down in Clarendon County, South Carolina.

BOND: Now, I want to go back to the ordinary people, the common people. Did this send some kind of signal to you about what you might do? As a kid –

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BOND: – you're a kid –

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BOND: – and you took -- what did you take from this?

CLYBURN: Well, when I got to South Carolina State, I was a bit, I don't know, anxious. I wish I could say I was real studious. I was more activist more than a student. I was a pretty good student, but you know, you can't get this stuff by osmosis and so you've got to really get to the books. I didn't do a whole lot of that. I did a whole lot of activist things, so when the sit-ins started, when those kids up at Greensboro did what they did back in 1960, there was a little group of us who used to sit around playing Bid Whist and what we called Dirty Hearts and talking about all these great things that's happening around us. I mean some of us had come right out of the area where Brown all started. We seized upon that and I don't remember how we got there or whose car we took --because I don't there was but two cars on our campus when I was a student –

But we went up to Shaw when that little meeting was called up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Shaw University, and followed up with a meeting down in Atlanta down at Morehouse College in October. I'll never forget that weekend, 13th, 14th, and 15th of October of 1960, and it just -- it was the thing that told me that I had to do this. I mean, the Briggs family, those prayers that my father used to send up there at every breakfast, it told me that I had a role to play in all of this.

My parents had a little thing that they kept on the front door about voter registration. People coming to our house, I mean, they got a real good lecture on why it was important to vote. My father lectured many Sunday mornings to the congregation about voting and activism, and all of this was just ingrained in me.