Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

A Baseball Coach v. MLK Jr.

BOND: What about other figures in the community, not family, not teachers, others who may have inspired you in some way or the other?

CLYBURN: [James T.] Nooker McCain. I think you remember Nooker.

BOND: Sure.

CLYBURN: J.T. McCain. He was my baseball coach, J.T. My father loved J.T.

J.T. was a principal who had defied the authorities and refused to accept those hand-me-down books at the school that he was principal and was fired and went out and went to work for CORE, but when he was still a principal, he was a great baseball player and loved baseball, and I was a pretty good baseball player. I had been taught baseball by my dad, but my dad thought baseball was just avocational. Wasn't anything you did in an organized way, but J.T. Nooker McCain, wanted me on his baseball team and so he went to my dad and talked my dad into allowing me to come out of those gardens that he had us all working in, to play second base on his baseball team.

My dad would always do what J.T. McCain wanted done and so – and J.T. sort of mentored me. I can't explain exactly what he meant. It was just his act of defiance and the fact that he never, never allowed anything to intimidate him. I just admired him, so he had a tremendous influence.

I think the one other defining moment for me came when I first met Martin Luther King, Jr. I met him that weekend down there at Morehouse and, if you recall, it was a weekend that many of us challenged Martin for preaching going to jail, but having not gone to jail, and that weekend we stayed up all night with him. It was when the two of us met. It was when I met John Lewis, but formally, I think we may have seen each other earlier. Marion Barry. We were all there --

BOND: Diane --

CLYBURN: Yeah, Diane Nash, all these people. That night sitting up with Martin Luther King, Jr., almost all night, I think it was like four o'clock in the morning. And, if you recall, it was after that weekend that we went down, I guess it was Albany in Georgia.

BOND: And then went to Rich's [Department Store] and got arrested.

CLYBURN: Got arrested. And all of that led to later on the phone call to Mrs. King from John F. Kennedy which changed the course of events because few people realize it now, but going into that weekend which was like three weeks before the election, Richard Nixon was getting the vast majority of the black vote. Archibald Carey was running all over the country doing it for him and Archibald had a tremendous influence on me as well, and I was on my campus campaigning for--

I wasn't old enough to vote at the time, but we were having these mock debates and I was Richard Nixon in all the debates. My friends always tease me, says,"Man, you won every one of those debates," but I lost the election. Because every time folks went to the polls, you know, these mock elections, Kennedy was winning. That was a tremendous lesson to me, too, of how politics works. Because sometimes you think, "Just because I've got the best argument, I've got the best platform, I've got to win." It doesn't work that way.

I mean, the emotionalism that gets you involved in politics is something else again, so I think that weekend on Morehouse's campus, that all-night session, almost all-night session, with Martin Luther King and when Archibald Carey was trying to get Nixon, and if you recall, Henry Cabot Lodge, his running mate, in that election, saw it and got taken to the woodshed for saying things positive about civil rights, you may recall. Nixon -- I guess I should've seen it then. I didn't see it until after his landslide of '72, with Watergate, exactly what it was about his personality, but Nixon had a pretty good platform to run on. He just had something else quirky in his personality.