Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Leadership Positions

BOND: Let me take you back to something you said earlier on. You got elected head of the Youth Council in South Carolina at age twelve.

CLYBURN: At age twelve, the NAACP.

BOND: So obviously then you thought of yourself and others thought of you, at this young age, as a leader, as a leadership figure.


BOND: What had you done to make people believe that about you?

CLYBURN: I don't know. I tell people who talk about all these faith-based initiatives that I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for them because I'm sixty-four years old. When I was four years old, my mother had a kindergarten in our church. When I was about third or fourth grade, I started piano lessons, I started the clarinet, the saxophone, and I was telling a group in the church the other day. People are now playing saxophones and stuff in churches and they think that's something new. I said I was playing the saxophone in church when I was a kid. And I was taught public speaking and that kind of stuff and when you grow up in a parsonage, I guess you see people react to your father's sermons and you mimic some of that and so in school, I mean, when I was in fifth and sixth grade, we would have a little -- I would run for stuff and I'd campaign for stuff. I just was one of those people who was sort of well rounded and people sort of gravitated to.

I don't remember -- I remember we were in the basement of Emmanuel, the United Methodist Church when I got elected president. I don't know why they elected me, I just – and I don't know why I accepted. I don't know if I knew what to do. It was just that we were organizing, doing things to support what was going on, the activism going on there. I remember Reverend Quarles was the pastor of the church at that time, they were very active in NAACP. If you recall, what was going on over in Summerton, basically it was the principals, the NAACP people in Sumter that are supporting it. I mean, you had Reverend [Joseph] DeLaine who is there organizing folks, but the support was coming from S.J. McDonald and his brother Edmund. A lot of the names are – these names I don't recall, but all these people were supporting this and so these are the people I interacted with every day and then there was Nooker McCain who was always for direct action. Nooker never set courses too well with the NAACP because he didn't want to wait on the courts and Nooker always said -- he was big with CORE because it was direct action. And so all of these people I was around all the time, and they just made it look as if I was some kind of a leader, I guess.

BOND: Was it a case of your seeing what they were doing and saying to yourself "I can do that"?

CLYBURN: Yeah, absolutely. It was exactly what it was.

BOND: What made you think you could do that? A lot of people don't think they can do that.

CLYBURN: I don't know. I guess my dad always would tell me--I mean, these things were just ingrained in us. My dad, his whole thing--A couple of things: "Sunday is nothing new under the sun," he would tell me all the time, "nothing new under the sun." "Nobody's any better than you are and you aren't any better anybody." Just little things that just fill my head with stuff that was very positive, but I just think I just grew up with it.

And when people say they run for office, or they ran because they got mad about something or something. That never happened to me. This whole thing was just evolutionary with me. I mean, I never woke up one morning mad about something and decided to run for office. No. It just as evolutionary as anything I've ever done.