Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Breakfast Lessons & Political Parents

BOND: So this is a world in which you’re growing up and quite obviously, your parents had a tremendous influence on you, both mother and father.

CLYBURN: Oh, yeah. I had some interesting parents. My dad --I was telling a group recently, he never told us that you had to read the Bible. He just told us that every morning at breakfast when I returned thanks -- you'd do a Bible verse- and it was obvious how we had to get those Bible verses. You couldn't say the same one. "Jesus wept," didn't count. And so every evening we discussed current events. We had an afternoon paper in Sumter when I was growing up. It's now a morning paper, but the Sumter Daily was an afternoon paper at the time, and every evening we would talk about current events. And so reading the newspaper and reading the Bible, were things that you did.

And then a lot of times people ask me: "You've got a sort of an interesting approach to politics, where did you get it?" The thing that stands out in my mind more than anything else when I think about how I got to where I am, was an incident that happened to my dad. I guess I was in my early teens. My father was president of his church's presbytery and a disagreement cropped in the church's hierarchy at one point and his leadership was being challenged by a minister whose name I won't recall at the moment, but at the election I kind of sneaked in the back of the church -- and I'm sitting in the back of the church watching this election -- and the vote was a tie vote. And so someone got up and made the motion that since the vote was a tie vote, that we should carry all the officers over for another year and give this time, to give us time to come back next year and have an election.

And my dad raised his hand and said, "No, if you consult with the bylaws, you will know that the president votes in case of a tie, and I did not vote and this being a tie vote, I'm now ready to cast my vote," And he politely cast his vote for the other guy. And that was just devastating to me.

So that day we were driving back to Sumter from Darlington where all this took place, and I asked him, how could he do that? And he told me, he said, "Son, when things are this divided, nobody can lead." He says, "We'll have an election next year. Everything's going to be okay." The next year he was elected president and he held it until he decided to give it up. That was very, very educational to me, that if you were to consult -- sports metaphor is everything -- that was just fundamental to leadership. If you give them a chance to lead and then you gather up the pieces later, so I learned a whole lot from that, and I think about that almost daily, that little gesture on my dad's part and I think it's the most defining moment in my life politically.

BOND: Really?