Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leading Without Confrontation

BOND: Where does that come from? There're other people who having the same set of circumstances you did, would've said, "I'm going to be a leader by making the spectacular speech. I'm going to be a leader by, you know, pointing my fingers at people. I'm going to be a leader by calling other people's names." Where does that difference in you come from?

CLYBURN: I've often asked myself that question, and I look back. It had to be around my breakfast table. It had to be in my home. My mother and father -- there [was] a big difference -- my dad was almost nineteen years older than my mother. My mother was his second wife, his first wife having died. I didn't know his first wife, but even to this day my dad's first wife's family and I are very close; my mother was close to his first wife's family. There was always this atmosphere maintained that I thought was conducive to getting things done, conducive to getting along with people. There was never -- I've never -- I've heard tones of disagreement between my mother and my father. I never heard what one would call an argument. I would see my dad stop talking. And I think, and this may be strange, I think that a tremendous impact on me came from my father-in-law. Emily and I have been married now for forty-three years. When I first started just visiting and having dinner with her parents, her mother's very verbose and very opinionated. Her dad was always very quiet, but steely, and he would listen and then finally he would say, "Ah, Mattie, be quiet -- " and he would just walk away. And Mattie would be quiet, so I learned from that. I used to watch him all the time. We called him P.J., and I learned from him that, really, if you let people say what they've got to say, listen. And there's a way to get them to do what you want done, or to get done what you want to do without insulting them and without being too harsh. And so I get angry sometimes, but I try hard to control it.

BOND: I read about a comparison you made between yourself and Maxine Waters. You said "When I need to be, I can be articulate; when I need to, I can be get on your case," so you can do the other thing.


BOND: You can operate in that other way.


BOND: But yet you chose, and choose today, to operate in this non-confrontational, conciliatory way and you think that came from family?

CLYBURN: That came from family. Maxine and I play off each other very well. She comes to me and says, "Look, Clyburn, you need to do this," and she'll tell me why and this is basically that. And I sometimes go to her and say, "Hey, you need to do this," so it's kind of interesting. I owe her a lot.

When I first came up here -- and I became chair of our annual Legislative Conference in my fourth year up here -- and Maxine appointed me -- and the day she appointed me, she said to me, she says, "You like to run things, don't you?" I said, "Yes. This is my first elective office. I've been running something all my life." She says, "Well, I'm going to put you in charge of our annual Legislative Conference," and I did that for two years. And so when I got elected chair of the Caucus, it was because of the way I managed that, and the way I, you know, people had problems -- you can imagine having that annual legislative conference, you know, people have got problems, "Do you know where my table is?" and all this kind of stuff and you take care of all of that. And I got elected chair of the Caucus unanimously and it was because everybody felt that I solved their problems. I was a problem solver. I mean, I could've easily said to people "That's where your table is," and that's it, or "That's what I'm doing, and that's it." No. I've always tried to address it and tried to do it in such a way that even if I'm going to say no, or not do what they want done, at least they don't go away mad.