Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

A Constant Vision, A Changing Style

BOND: Now, back to your vision, over time, over the space of your life, let's say, has this vision changed in any way?

CLYBURN: I don't think so.

BOND: Or has -- it's remained constant?

CLYBURN: I think it's remained very constant. I don't think the vision has changed at all. Style did change. I was not always -- even when people saw in me -- there were times when I was younger when I was a little bit of a bull in a china closet, so to speak, but I changed. My style changed.

BOND: Why did you change?

CLYBURN: Because I started to internalize those things that -- the older I get the more I remember those fundamentals that my parents tried to teach me. I remember a lot of things. I'll give you -- well, I. DeQuincey Newman is one guy I mentioned earlier who had a tremendous impact on me. I remember one time I. DeQuincey and I were in jail together. I didn't know we were in jail together. It was during the demonstration that led to the landmark case called Edwards against South Carolina. That's the landmark breach of the peace case that's now being taught in almost every law school in the country.

On the day that we got arrested, I had decided not to go to jail anymore. I thought I'd had enough of jail, but we went to the planning thing. We all gathered at Zion Baptist Church there in Columbia, and when I got there that day, some students were there from Mather Academy where I had graduated. And they came over and wanted me and my college roommate, who also went to Mather, Clarence Missouri -- we called [him] "Duke" -- to lead their group and so I. DeQuincey Newman came over to me and says, now, "Clarence," he says, "These people over here, students over here from Mather, they want you to lead their group." Once again, this leadership thing that I, at that time, was never paying much attention to.

So I went over to him and I says, "Now, look, I don't mind marching with you, but we aren't going to jail today. I've got to get back to school. We're in Columbia; I'm going back to Orangeburg." I said, "We aren't going to jail. We all agreed we're not going to jail." So we get down there and get on the statehouse grounds, and on that day Chief [J.P.] Strom came up to us and said, "You can't go any further," so I turned around to the kids and said, "Okay, we've got to go back." The kids went "Oh, no, no, no, no! We aren't going to turn back."

Well, to make a long story short, we ended up in jail. That night one of the kids came over to me and says, "I thought somebody was going to come to bail us out." I said, "Yeah, somebody will." I says, "Reverend Newman is out there trying to raise the bail money. We'll be out of here shortly," so the kid walked away. A little bit later he came back. He says, "Clyburn, who did you say was going to bail us out?" I said, "Reverend Newman." He says, "Is that the little man with the goatee?" I said, "Yes." He says, "He way over in that corner over there." It was three days later before we got out of jail. I learned that day that we all have roles to play. Some people can give good speeches; some people can do good organizing. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a great orator, but I don't think he could've organized the March on Washington. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin did that. That was their role. They didn't give the speeches that day; King gave the speeches. A lot of other people did. John Lewis gave a speech, but that was their role. And so I've learned that we all have roles to play.

At South Carolina State I was in the Henderson-Davis Players. I love theater, even to this day. I don't like to tell people that, but I love theater, and I think it was Shakespeare. Is it As You Like It?: "All the world's a stage, and we're the men and women. We all have different -- we have our entrances and our exits and in one's life he plays many roles." I really believe that. I really believe this world is a stage. I have a role to play and you've got a role to play, and to be successful, we have to respect each other's roles. It's the same thing no matter where you are. If you're playing football, the guard can't be doing what the tackle's supposed to be doing. The blocking back is not necessarily the running back, and we all have to play our roles and if we play our roles well, then we can win. I think we lose when we have all these confusions in our roles, when everybody tries to play the other person's role and so that's what I try to do in the Congress, no matter where I am. Let me know what role it is that you want me to play. I'll tell you whether or not I think I can play that role. If I can't, I will tell you I can't play that role, and this is why. And if I think I can, I'll tell you I think I can and this is why, and I really believe we can be successful if we do it that way.