Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Give Everyone a Stake in Your Vision

BOND: Do you think your position in life today, your former chairmanship of The Crisis, your election to the Congress and the jobs you held--are these based in some part on your ability to convince others that your vision, your philosophy, is the way to go, perhaps not every single time, but at least sometime. Does this rest in your ability to say, "Here's the way to do it. Here's what I think we ought to do"?

CLYBURN: Yeah, but I do it a little bit differently from that. I try to convince people that if we do this, this way, it will not detract from anything that you're doing, or it will in no way threaten anything that you want to do. I never try to get people to do it my way because my way is the right way. I just stay away from that as often as I possibly can. My whole thing is, "This is a way to do it. I'm not saying it's the right way. This is the way that I'm comfortable with. This is the way I think we could make it work, and it will not in any way detract from what you're doing." Let me give you an example. When I introduced and got passed the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor legislation. Now, there are a lot of people say, "Gullah Geechee, what is that?" I mean, but it passed unanimously and you'd be surprised at how many people got on board with that. When I went over to [Congressman] Henry Brown who is a very conservative Republican from Charleston -- we represent Charleston together -- I says, "Henry, here's this bill that I'm introducing. I need your name on it." I says, "Now, here's why -- " and I went through all of this stuff. Well, Henry Brown's mother grew up right across the road from my wife's mother, and when I finished the conversation, I looked at him and I says, "You're a Gullah, you know -- "

BOND: Did he take that, he believe that?

CLYBURN: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. He talks about like [Ernest] Fritz Hollings talks. He's Gullah. But he identified with it. He immediately -- and so his name went on it and the bill passed in the House unanimously. So that's what I try to do is to try to let people know "There's something in this for you." That's why we kind of try not to, you know, lay claim to what's right and what's wrong. We just try to lay claim to what's a good way to do it, and what you can benefit from it. I did the same thing with the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor. I put Lindsey Graham -- he was in the House at the time -- I put his name on the bill. I said, "Look, you know, this thing will come in at Walhalla. That's where you live. You live in Walhalla." I said, "We create this, we'll have a heritage corridor following the old Hamburg railroad to run from Walhalla all the way down to Charleston. Well, it's going to start up here in your district. It's going to end down here in mine," I said, "but most of this is your congressional district." He put his name on it and it became a law. Once again, no limit to what one can accomplish if you don't get hung up on who gets the credit, so Lindsey Graham gives me credit for it when I'm around. I don't know what he does when I'm not around.

BOND: I'm sure he does it both times.

CLYBURN: [laughs]

BOND: Could you say that's your philosophy, giving others credit, not hogging credit?

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BOND: Your general approach to life?

CLYBURN: Absolutely, absolutely.

BOND: And apparently it has proven successful?

CLYBURN: Well, okay, in fact, I work on doing that. Because I really feel sincerely that as many people that can feel a part of it, as many people that can feel a benefit from it, the better off you are. I think that you run the risk of failing miserably when you go it alone. I just think that you have to bring as many people into the process as you possibly can because that strengthens the effort, and it insulates the effort, because if you've got people involved in it, then -- remember, that they'll guard against it failing because they will have failed, too -- and so you want people to help you make the thing successful.

BOND: Make sure they have a stake in it.

CLYBURN: They have a stake in it.