June Dobbs Butts Interview

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FRANKLIN ABBOTT: Okay. This is January 29, 2016, I’m Franklin Abbott, and I’m seated with June Dobbs Butts, at her home in Buckhead, and we’re going to talk about her life with her --

JUNE BUTTS: Thank you.

ABBOTT: -- so, the first thing I wanted to ask is, to sort of begin at the beginning, or begin before the beginning, which is, your parents. Could you talk a little bit about your mother and her family, just give us a little vignette of who she was?

BUTTS: Thank you, that’s a nice start. Because my mom reminisced a lot, in front of an open fireplace, all sounds so cozy, and it was. And she loved to talk about her relatives in Mississippi, little town called Friars Point, and I’ve never been there. But I have met a few people, in fairly recent years, 1:00who have been to Friars Point, and it still exists. My mom grew up the middle child of people who had been freed during slavery, and she came right after slavery. I think she was born about 14 years after slavery. I can re-- no, it was more than that. But my dad was born 17 years after slavery. So my mother was born 21 years after slavery was abolished after the war. And she reminisced about her childhood, and she had a very warm home. Her dad was the local barber for whites, and he did close his shop, once a week, and cut the hair of black men, and -- I mean, he didn’t close his shop all day, he closed around five 2:00o’clock instead of late night -- and he would cut hair up until midnight. And so, as I said, she’s the middle child of a secure family. Her father was very much respected by white and black in Mississippi, and in those days that meant your salvation, your protection. And she finished in academy, which was unusual in those days. And she wanted to teach, she was eligible to teach. And he used to say, “No, she shouldn’t go out in the country and teach, she’ll get lost.” When I heard the story -- and then people would laugh, and -- I used to think, “She has no sense of direction.” He meant she would get lost, I didn’t know. What he meant was the white men would not let her alone and she’d have no protection. So she’d get lost. So they wanted her to go with her older sister -- who was married, and living in Atlanta, and was having babies every year -- go and be an au pair girl. And so she gave up her dreams 3:00of being a teacher after high school, and went to, came to Atlanta, where she met my dad, they got married, and they lived with her sister for four years. And so she started having babies, and that was her career. My dad worked three jobs for her to be able to stay home, and after the second child, they moved in the same ghetto -- because everybody had to live in segregated community -- they bought a house. And they moved in there with their two babies, and they went on to have six girls. My dad was always sad they never had a chi-- a son. And so I heard all these stories, all these stories, and then later I heard, after I was born, that when I arrived, of course my dad was very disappointed, another girl, “Aahh, another girl.” And his mother was very disappointed, but my 4:00mother seemed very happy, and that was great. But -- and I was told that they didn’t name me for about four months. [laughter] And my oldest sister was away in grad school, she had a scholarship, she went up to Vermont, she was studying French, and she sent back a telegram and said, “Why not name her June?” And that seemed like such a brilliant solution, so. I liked my name and I felt at home, I wished I’d had brothers. You know, tell you the truth, I wanted to be an only child. I used to tell my cousin, who was my dear friend, who was an only child, “I wish I were just like you, I wish I was an only child.” And then my parents could really focus on me. That would be great. I had to wear hand-me-down dresses and all, so. Also, I began to grow very big 5:00and very tall, I became the tallest in my family. My father acted like it was good, it was wisdom on my part. “She grew tall.” But my mother hated it because then she had to buy me new things, I couldn’t wear the hand-me-downs. Anyway, much more of my childhood?

ABBOTT: Well, let’s go back and talk a little bit about your dad and where he came from.

BUTTS: Yeah, my dad grew up Kennesaw Mountain. And, interesting. His mother was a very -- I knew her, that was the only grandparent I knew. She was a very forceful person. Very intelligent, very stormy. He paid her rent, but he didn’t want her to live with us. She had her own house with her third husband. And people in her church adored her, she was Mother Banks. What else. My mother, I remember once, in an argument, told my father, whatever it was she 6:00was fussing w-- she didn’t fuss with him, usually. Like, when I was growing up they would go behind closed doors, and she’d tell him whatever she wanted to retort, but this was an argument in front of everybody, and she said something like, “You’ll keep on, you’ll never be free of that,” or whatever. I don’t know how she put it. But what she meant was, he was like his mother. And this willful ire-- disregard for whatever. They were both very strong-willed, he and his mom, and. I figured it was because she was born a slave. His mother was very light-skinned, and she was very obsessed with skin color. My mother was not as light-skinned, but she was light, and color was a big thing when I was growing up, people would always refer to your color, and 7:00then your height, or your age, or something like that. “She’s that light-skinned girl with the,” you know, whatever. “Reddish hair,” you know, so. I knew I didn’t look like my mother, that bothered me, I might have been four years old at this point. And I used to say, “I know you’re my daddy, but” -- I a-- remember saying it once. “I know you’re my daddy, but I’m not too sure you’re really my mother.” I was so afraid, but I had to get it out. And so then my dad said, “Well, why would you say that?” I said, “Because I look like just like you, I know you’re my daddy, but I’m not too sure she’s really my mother.” Then he laughed, and he said, “Isn’t that cute? It’s always the mother who knows, the father may not be too sure.” And then I was more puzzled than ever. How come she wouldn’t, not know, and -- I mean, how come he said she knows, but he may not be too sure. Anyway.

ABBOTT: So your parents met here in Atlanta?


BUTTS: Yes. They met in Atlanta, oh, that was something he enjoyed talking about because he didn’t shave very often, but he would go to the barber shop to discuss politics and stuff with the men, and one day he saw my mother and her sister walking by, and he said he was being shaved at that point, he had on the lather and all, he hopped up from the chair, and he went to the window, and he said, “Good God, who is that? I’ve got to find out who is that girl.” And someone said, “Well, I don’t know the, I don’t know the younger one, but the older one is Ed [Wright?]’s wife. So he found out who Ed Wright was, he was a tailor, and went to their church, made himself known, met them, next thing you knew, he and my mom were married. [laughter] Yeah. And he was very proud of that.

ABBOTT: Okay. He moved quickly.

BUTTS: Yeah. And I always thought, you know, “I want someone to track me down like, just like that.” See me, and find me.


ABBOTT: Yes. Well, it was a lovely fantasy.

BUTTS: Yeah, it fit the day.

ABBOTT: So they had five girls before you came along --

BUTTS: The sixth.

ABBOTT: -- you were the sixth.

BUTTS: Yeah, exactly. Mm-hmm.

ABBOTT: And they were living in their own home at that time?

BUTTS: Yes, they never moved. They opened up the house, took up the attic, opened it up, build two stories, and he used to say he wanted the grandchildren to get to know him as well as his daughters. And, but he didn’t want anybody to live with them, he just wanted them to visit. Yeah.

ABBOTT: So where in Atlanta was the house?

BUTTS: It’s now called Old Fourth Ward, that’s what they called it when they moved in, Old Fourth Ward. We were on a street called Houston Street, which has now been renamed in memory of him. Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor, is the son of my oldest sister, was the son, and he named that street John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, after my dad was dead. He never lived to see Maynard 10:00become even vice mayor, but he was terribly concerned about his education. You know, that’s the, well, I knew that boys were important when he was born, when Maynard was born, because my oldest sister lived in Texas, and we made a pilgrimage of three different cars, going out to Texas to see this baby. But three girls had been born already. I had a niece, Julie, and I had two nieces by my oldest sister, and my dad would say, “Oh, what a sweet baby,” and leave the room, you know, bored kind of thing. But when Maynard came, we going make a trip out to Dallas, Texas. My mother went out there to be with her for the birth, and, later, Daddy came with these two other cars of all relatives. We all had gifts to take to the baby. I was 10 years old, and Daddy’s gift was a pocket watch. Twenty-one-jewel Hamilton watch. I was jealous. And I 11:00said, “Why are you giving a baby a watch?” And, I mean, “It’s a pocket watch, he’s in diapers. Why are you doing this, Dad?” And so he said, “Well, because time is important, and he must know that.” No one ever told me time was important, I’m looking at my Mickey Mouse watch, I felt like a fool, and I said, “Well, I guess girls are not that important.” And it was an awful feeling, because I didn’t want to feel that way. But I didn’t have much confirmation otherwise. So I guess I had a lot of resentment, growing up, I ca-- first thing I said was, I had a wonderful home, and they were loving, and all that’s true. And right behind those bright colors are all the myriad other ways of describing color that define me right now. But I felt like, 12:00“Good God,” you know? “I wish I were an only child.”

ABBOTT: So with five older sisters, there was some competition, certainly competition for your parents’ attention?

BUTTS: Oh, yes. Got it.

ABBOTT: And you were the littlest one, you know? So that was, I’m sure, a challenge.

BUTTS: And I knew I was smart, that was the thing. No one taught me to read. It was like I didn’t have the key to go out and unlock the mysteries of life, but my oldest sister I don’t remember, except when she was married, when she came back from Europe and was teaching here in Atlanta, and she and her husband were living out at the Atlanta University dormitory, which -- I can’t understand why they lived there in the dormitory, they weren’t associated with Atlanta University, except her husband had been faculty, you might say, at 13:00Morehouse, he had been alumni secretary, that’s not quite faculty. But somehow they had lived there in the Atlanta University dorm, and my sister, Mattiwilda, the next one to me, and I spent the weekend with her, that was a, ooh, big event, that whole weekend. I remember seeing some of my teachers, because I had started school at five, and -- but no one taught me to read for the longest, I think I might have been second grade when I learned to read. That was like a whole new world. But Irene, my oldest sister’s husband, had given me a book, that was my first book. I remember it, I slept with it under my pillow. I memorized it. And I’d say, “Turn the page,” and people would kind of say, “You don’t have to say, ‘Turn the page.’” I remember Mattiwilda telling me, “You don’t have to say, ‘Turn the page,’” I said, “But that’s how I know it.” Because when people would read it and they’d turn the page, that got indelibly fixed. The end of the 14:00book said this little girl had traveled all over the world and everything, and she jumped into this book and came to you. And I loved it, dearly. But I can remember --

ABBOTT: Do you remember the name of the book?

BUTTS: No, I can’t remember the name of the book. But then, finally, when I was five, I went to first grade, and I did learn to read, I think through the end of first grade. And the, reading just was so exciting, it was like really, like wearing glasses. When you have poor eyesight, and you didn’t’ know you really needed them? And somewhere, when I was very young, Renie had visited, my oldest sister, she had taught me several nursery rhymes, about three or four French nurser-- in French. I could sing those, but I didn’t know what I was saying. But when I went to school, Okay. My teacher was teaching the students, [singing] “Brother James, Brother James, are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? 15:00Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing, ding-dong-ding, ding-dong-ding.” And so I’m sitting there, intrigued, you know. So she walked over, and she said, “June, why aren’t you singing?” I said, “Because I only know it in French.” [laughter] I know that sounds horrible, but that’s what I said. “I only know it in French.” And she said, “Well, that’s wonderful. Now you learn it with us, and then you can teach it to us in French.” I loved that lady, she was so thoughtful and smart. So I learned it in English. But I can remember learning to read was so much fun, and -- we had this library. The con-- one of the branches of the Carnegie Library was in the black ghetto, and one of my great uncles was the janitor there, and I felt like that was kind of like our home, you know? And then I 16:00heard kids would steal books from the library, I had never thought, “How could you do such a thing?” You know. But I was very proud of our neighborhood, we walked everywhere. Am I running on?

ABBOTT: No, no, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do, you’re telling me stories.

BUTTS: Okay. Growing up, okay, I must come to the grim part. Because, to get to schoo-- on-- the fir-- God, where to start. There was a public elementary school right across the street from my house, my sister went there. And then little, at that point, I mean, in the history of Atlanta and all, little kids could go to school with the older sibling, as long as you could sit halfway in their seat. If you couldn’t fit in, you couldn’t’ stay. So her first grade, and second, and third, I went to all those things. We could stay up the morning, and at twelve o’clock the principal would see us across the street, 17:00and we’d disperse. And she, and so she, I’ll never forget, she would be looking back and forth, and if a car was coming, she’d say, “Run fast.” We’d scamper across the street. But I was afraid to cross the street by myself, because cars didn’t stop, I guess. And many kids were injured. That was, and there were no lights. So. Yeah. So I went there until, oh. My first grade, my mother didn’t even go with me. She just told me to go, she saw me across the street, and then she knew they would see me back across the street. So I went to this first grade class, and I really didn’t like it, it was different from sitting with my sister in her room, these kids, you could smell urine coming down the floor, and I’m sitting there, miserable. But I had talked with a little girl before we went through the gate, and we had talked about, “When were you born,” “When were you born,” and we were born 18:00about a day apart. So when I ran on in and got in my seat for first grade, this mother came to the door, and she was telling the teacher, “That child is only five,” you were supposed to be six, that was the new rule -- and so they sent me home. So I’ll never forget, they saw me across the street, and I ran home, and I rang the bell, and Momma comes to the door, and her little face went, “Aahh!” I thought she was going to faint. And she said, “What happened?” I said, “They said you have to be six.” And she knew I wasn’t six, you know. But she got on the phone, called my dad, said, “You’ve got to do something, that child has to go somewhere to school, she cannot stay here another year.” I thought she meant, like, I had to leave home or something, I was terrified. But what she meant was, he had to take out a loan for me to go to a private school across town. And he did, he took out 19:00two loans. And then the next year they put Mattiwilda, there, in the private school, also. So we lived across the street from David T. Howard, and that school now is going to be, it’s an empty school, it’s going to be torn down. Because they say the neighborhood doesn’t have enough children. But it was like a magic world, going to school at Oglethorpe. And they had progressive education, and many white teachers, and then they were not only teachers in the elementary school, but that was part of Atlanta University. Yeah. So at that point, they had several departments in their grad school, but they never did flourish and grow. And, oh, I don’t know how to jump through all of this, but as I grew up, there were public debates on what should black people do about making the government help us go to Southern schools, or doing something that 20:00many of the black people, even, wanted, called a regional system. That maybe you would have a regional med school, a regional law school for black, they said for negroes. And Atlanta University wanted to become the liberal arts regional center. And there was a black med school in Nashville, they wanted to build that up, get extra governmental help, and black students from the southeast would go there. I don’t know where they were going to put the law school, but those were the plans, and they’d have open debates in the city. My dad said he hated that idea, he was against it, and he felt that it was un-American. And he said, “We have the motto, Equal Justice Under the Law, that’s” -- and I remember, years later, we visited Washington, DC, and he was telling me and my sister, “Look up over this building.” It was the Supreme Court. “You’ll see, etched in there, Equal Justice Under Law.” And he was 21:00yelling so loudly, people passing by would look at him, like, “What’s going on there?” But he stood there and debated it, when I was a child, that that was the only way out, that it would be un-American to have a regional -- we didn’t say black -- Negro center for law, or medicine, or something like that. And his opponent -- they had different opponents, he was the main one who took that view, that it’s un-American, it’s illegal -- the people who wanted it, was the head of Atlanta University, President Rufus Clement, and I thought, “He’s so much smarter than my dad! Everybody knows that.” But Daddy could make the audience laugh. At least, that’s the way I thought that he was winning the debate, when he’d make a point, people would laugh. He also debated, one-on-one, with a man who was a black millionaire, and he had a 22:00newspaper, and he was the father of -- the name is, [can I pull it up?]? His son was accused of being Communist. Ben Davis. His son had gone to New York, and established residence, and he was a congressman from New York, and he, and the Communist Party was legal! One of my sisters was a member. And I thought, “Oh, that” -- by this time I’m in high school -- I thought, “That makes very good sense,” you know? And my dad didn’t lean toward communism, but he would jump back and forth between republican and democrat. [laughter] And he said, “I have to go with the man, whoever has the better platform.” But for many years, he was in the Republican vanguard, and he wou-- and he established some clout, there. When Eisenhower ran, I don’t know if it was the first or second time, when he was elected, I should say, my dad seconded the nomination, and there was a picture that appeared, in Look magazine, showing my dad at that, 23:00what do they call it? I forgot.

ABBOTT: The convention.

BUTTS: Yeah, thank you. At the convention. Look magazine did an article on my family. And that was their last edition, we said we killed it. [laughter] It was true. My husband -- I was married by this time -- refused to be in the article for different reasons. He said, “They’re just trying to make white America feel better. I can’t stand that idea, that they’re just trying to make white America feel better. They really want to talk about black people? Talk about a poor, hardworking family where they’re still in Mississippi, and blah blah blah.” I said, “But they’re talking about a family of achievers, and Mattiwilda was making it in opera, especially in Europe -- not here, in this country, but in Europe -- and my husband refused to be on the picture. I thought I would die; I was so put out with him. And it bothered, I 24:00guess it still bothers me? And I say “my husband,” which is a joke, we’ve been divorced for so long. I had to divorce him. Yeah, because he had no grounds.

ABBOTT: Okay. Well, before we get to that --

BUTTS: Yeah, we’d married and divorced.

ABBOTT: -- we have, let’s go back a little ways. Alright?

BUTTS: Thank you. Help, I’m saved!

ABBOTT: That’s okay, we’ll get there, that’s a good story, too. You were a little girl growing up in Atlanta --

BUTTS: Yes. In Atlanta.

ABBOTT: -- when the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to --

BUTTS: Oh, way before.

ABBOTT: -- really take shape. And your dad was one of the movers and shakers of the Civil Rights Movement.

BUTTS: Yes. He was, he laid the ground for a lot of peop-- Martin Luther King was my dear friend, personal friend. Classmate, he was six months younger than I. And his sister is still my friend. Oh, I don’t know where to start. Where. Help.

ABBOTT: Well, talk a little bit, like from a child’s point of view -- because you were a little girl -- your father was involved in this political 25:00world, you know, there were, I mean, you knew Martin Luther King before he was Martin Luther King, you know?

BUTTS: Oh, yes. But we didn’t meet until I was 13. So way before then, when I was a little girl, so many things happened, you know?

ABBOTT: Well, talk a little bit about what you remember. What was it like.

BUTTS: I got molested. I was molested by the man next door, which was, I shut it out of my mind. I couldn’t remember until I was in my late thirties, and went in psychoanalysis, and then of course, you know, you’re thinking of childhood things, and it gets unrecognizable, and then, “Hey, I think I remember something, there,” and then all of a sudden you start dreaming about it, and then I remembered the molestation, and... Something in my mind -- they call it disassociation, I had learned enough psychology to know that -- and that I don’t want to have part of my mind shut off. You know? It was, um. How to 26:00put it. Like, what happened, not how I remembered it. What happened was that, what happened. Was that my mother was away. She had gone to New York to see my oldest sister take the boat to go to France, on a scholarship, and the young ma-- he wasn’t so young, but the man she married wanted to just drive her, and Momma said, “Oh, no, that’s, I’ll have to go, too,” you know? And so they were engaged and everything, but at first she wanted to give up the scholarship and just get married, and my dad talked her into taking the scholarship, and got Maynard on his side, even. And what he told her was that, 27:00“If he really loves you, wouldn’t he want to see you take this scholarship?” An unheard-of scholarship, you know? “You have to be single, but he can come over when the year’s over. And you all can be married in Europe. You know, you can get married anywhere. And so that’s what they did. And so the winter that she was away, Maynard moved next door to us, and took all of his meal-- he boarded next door. I mean, he lived next door and boarded with us, took all his meals with us. And I called him, we had to call him Brother Maynard. We also had cousins, we called Cousin Isabelle. I hated that. And by the time I got to be maybe 10 or so, I finally got to call her Isabelle. But it took me longer before I could call him Maynard. He was so much older. Se, Renie, Irene, my sister, was 20 years older than I. Maynard was 14 years older than she. So he was very near my mom’s age. My mom was 43 when I was 28:00born, my dad was 47. So I was around old people, you know? I always felt, I can’t say comfortable, but understanding. Of their slowness, or their wisdom, or many other things that might have been good things, but weren’t like the parents of my friends. And I used to beg my daddy, I wanted them to be jazzy. Like my cousins’ parents, and all. And so when my dad would be going out, he worked on the railroad. Did I mention all this?

ABBOTT: Not yet.

BUTTS: He was a postal clerk who worked on the railroad, they used to send the mail by rail. And he worked his way up to being clerk in charge, which was very prestigious, not in an academic world, but in the world of hard labor, and his crews were mainly white, and did not like him. There were a few black men, but 29:00-- then we said “negroes,” of course -- and they didn’t have much loyalty and all, and he would be gone for several days, and they used to tell him, “Dobbs, you’ve got to sleep at some point, and when you do, we’re going to throw you over, out the...” Yeah. And I used to hear some of this. He used to have a gun, because it was required that the clerk in charge have a gun, and he used to sleep with it under his pillow, my mother was afraid to change the linen. And, what to say? I can remember, oh. When Mattiwilda and I were little girls, one of my earliest memories, he would take us down to the railroad. The yard was all open, here in Atlanta, between the terminal station and the union station, and so we would ride up, and he would get out, we would walk, and walk, and walk for the longest. And then he’d say, “This is my 30:00car.” And we could just peep up, we could barely see inside. All these stacks, and stacks, and stacks, where he’d have to file the letters and all. And then he would lift us up into the car. Immediately, we’d say, “I have to go to the bathroom!” You know, because that was, I don’t think we ever used th-- I can remember just wetting myself, trying to use the urinal. And, but that was our routine. Golly, so many portions of the puzzle.

ABBOTT: So when did, when were you aware of him being politically active?

BUTTS: When I would go to the -- not so much from his work, although he was head of the Masons, and I knew he was very much loved over the state of Georgia because, when I was four, he was elected grand master, and that was a big thing that, my mother told us to get on our knees and pray. Well, we never got on our knees any more, to pray or anything, but -- except at night, going to sleep -- we didn’t just pray for any reason. But she told us, me and Mattiwilda, to 31:00pray that he would get elected. And so then that night, Mattiwilda whispered, she said, they had an orphan home down in Americus, Georgia, right next to Plains, she said, “Pray that he lives, because if he dies, we’ll have to come here to live.” I prayed, “Oh, please let him live, please let him get to be Grand Master, and please let him live.” [laughter] And he did. And he was grand master for 29 years. Yeah. And during all that time, by this time I’m a teenager and so forth, they gave him gifts. His gifts were, like, having the home redecorated, and opened up, and all. Cadillac car, a driver. Because he would be planning what he was going to speak, what he was going to say, and so the driver was a boy who had grown up at the orphan home. And first he lived with my grandmother, and then he became my dad’s driver, and that was 32:00his full-time job. And then they built a big building, they called the Masonic Temple, which still stands on Auburn Avenue, and. Oh, then the income tax people came, and said that he was fraudulent and so forth, and they stood behind him, and they said, “We never intended for him to have any trouble with his money, that’s why we’d give him gifts. Like, trips to the Holy Land, Cadillac and driver, and refurbishing the house. All those were gifts, not to pin him down, but to free him.” So he was protected. And he was honored, and he didn’t, and it was because that was their intent. Okay, I’ve just run through many years, I don’t know what.

ABBOTT: Well, but so --

BUTTS: [laughter] I tend to do that.

ABBOTT: One of the things that you mentioned to me before, was that he was really, he was assertive about civil rights meetings happening outside of churches.


BUTTS: Oh, very much. He felt that the church biased. He said, peo-- it’s not considered good manners -- and these are not exactly his words -- he said, “How can you say that something’s going to take place in a church, and it’s not influenced by the church?” And then churches have rivalries, and they have a different agenda. We should not meet as church people, we should meet as black, as negroes. And that was his big pitch, we should buy from negroes, we should cu-- it wasn’t that he was against whites, but whites would have to be in that world. Like they were at Atlanta University, the few white women, from first grade on, who taught me, lived in the black world. Now. They weren’t married, they couldn’t marry because it was against the law. And it’s remained against the law until the year that Mattiwilda married a white man, in ’56 or so. It had just been legal a few years, from the late forties, 34:00in the South. And for her marriage, we all went to New York. I lived in New York at that point, but my dad brought up the different sisters, and a cousin, and we always felt like such a [trave] -- I started to say, damn travesty, but those were the words we would use for this. It was so incongruous; you know? So it was like, white people were in our world, but we weren’t in the white world. And Sisters Chapel, many people think it’s like sister, you know, like, “She’s my sister,” kind of hip talk. No. Sisters Chapel was named for two white women, one of whom was Miss Laura Spelman -- that’s how we got Spelman College -- and her sister, who never married. Miss Laura Spelman married John D. Rockefeller, the first one. And her children were all, and she 35:00was rich. They were rich. My ol-- Spelman has been in my life all my life, and two of, three of my sisters taught there. I really wanted to teach at Spelman, but I couldn’t get on because I would have taught human sexuality, and they didn’t want that. By the time I came, they were into rap sessions in the dormitory, and I said, “That’s fine, we need down time to talk about and digest feelings about whatever, but you need, just like you teach economics, or math, or French, you need to teach human sexuality as a part of a newer kind of sociology, little bit science, good bit science,” that’s the part I’m not that good in. But it’s multifaceted. The most enjoyable teaching stint I’ve ever had was when there were four of us teaching human sexuality, at 36:00University of Maryland at College Park. One was a lawyer, I’m an educator, there was a nurse, and the guy who was head of the physical ed department was the chair of all this. Yeah. And we were a good team. We were varied, and interesting, and still not enough. We didn’t have any artists.

ABBOTT: Well, there you have it. So let’s go back to your teenage years, your dad was organizing voter registration drives, and you know. What kind of impact did that have on you? Because you were, that was an unusual thing, to have such a high-profile parent.

BUTTS: Yes. I was extremely proud of him. I was a little bit -- as I got to be in, I went to college at 16. By this time, adolescence, I felt a little bit inhibited, like they were country, they were not th-- it was not like the 37:00Alphas, or the Omegas, fraternities that went on in college. My dad became an Omega, but he never finished college. And I used to say, “You know, you really should go back.” He should have gone back before I was born, I felt. At that point, the president of Morehouse begged him to come back, and he said, “I just want you to associate with the students. You don’t have to go to every class, but we want to give you a degree. And he couldn’t afford the time off, and he couldn’t take, he felt he couldn’t take that time. I think something in him didn’t want to do it, either. And then, after his death, they wanted to confer a degree upon him, and I said, “No, he didn’t want it. He said, ‘What could Spel-- what could Morehouse do for him?’ He loved Morehouse, but what could it do for him? Not really anything.” And my sister, [Millie?], I think, received it. So all that was about his fu-- he had 38:00two funerals. A midnight funeral that the Masons put on, and a day funeral, at noon, that was held at our church, First Congregational Church, and it was, talk about impressive. It’s still hard for me talk about. And he was very well-loved, very well-respected. But that’s the first time I saw my mother kind of rise up and say she wanted the second funeral to be at our church. And she didn’t want it just to be on Alban Avenue, Alban Avenue was the busy black Main Street, and he loved Alban Avenue. Loved it. I mean, it had, well, everything in the black world had to be there, they had one or two restaurants, one or two hotels, people we knew, respectable people, didn’t go to the 39:00hotels, you know? But. They had churches, and. I’m kind of floundering now.

ABBOTT: It’s okay, it’s okay. So you know, when you were, you said you met Martin Luther King when you were, like, 14?

BUTTS: Yes, yes, they moved into my neighborhood, when --

ABBOTT: Okay, can you talk a little bit about being a teenager, knowing him as a teenager? Not many people can tell stories like that.

BUTTS: I know it, I know it. First of all, I don’t think he was suicidal. Did he think he was going to be killed? Oh, yes. He had accepted that. We were good, good friends, and then we both bounced into college real quickly, he was six months younger than I. And we took courses together, sociology courses. We had a circle of friends, we were not the only two, we just lived on our side of the town, which was, everything was over on the southwest side, you know, the 40:00colleges, and all the activities, and so forth, but ML, as we call-- we called him “ML,” and we called his younger brother, “AD.” Okay, I have to start with when we first met. AD had a crush on me. And so we went into the back, my father and I went into the black back one day, my uncle -- his uncle, really, was standing there, but he was like a brother to my dad, they grew up together, slept in the same bed and all. Uncle Jess was there, Reverend King, his two sons, and two or three other men, practically. All the group was men talking. And I’m standing there, talking with them, feeling like I can hold my own, and we’re discussing something about the war. And then Daddy turns around, and he said, “By the way, which one of you boys has a crush on June?” I wanted to die. I didn’t know he knew anybody had a crush on me, much less these little short guys. I mean, they came to about my belly, you 41:00know? And I’m standing there, wanting to die, and so AD spoke up and said, “Both of us.” And it blotted out, I don’t remember the rest. But AD was just a nuisance, he was impestuous [sic], and funny, and always stealing something, or doing something. Okay, there were two girls who were first cousins in our neighborhood, the [Bernie?] girls, lived apart. Mattiwilda and I, and the three King children, and we played Monopoly, a couple of summers, just over, and over, and over. We’d do our housework, do the cleaning, washing, ironing, whatever we had to do, and then, in the afternoon, we’d have this lunch ready, and play Monopoly. And so AD came up with the thought to me, he said, “I can make you the Monopolist, we have an old set I found, of money and stuff, and I’m just going to slip you a couple of hundreds every now and then, don’t ever let them know.” So I became the Monopolist with such 42:00regularity. [laughter] Of course it all slipped out, and AD cuffed his brother, like that. With his, he had the stuff in his hands, the money and all, and he banged AD, ML banged AD across the head, and the face, and all. “How could you do such a thing. Cheating! You cheated,” and he was not non-violent at this point, hadn’t come into that glory. So Christine, their sister, laughed. She thought it was so funny. She thought everything AD did was funny. Mattiwilda was furious, like ML, and I thought ML was going to hit me, but he didn’t’ hit me. But I was 13, as I said, we were pretty big, and I was taller than he was, but I still thought he was going to hit me. For cheating, nobody cheated. We didn’t know people who cheated, you know. So, at any rate. It got written up, mistakenly, in a book. Mattiwilda was interviewed years later, and she was reminiscing, and she got it wrong. She thought the two brothers cheated, and I used to tell her, “That doesn’t make sense.” And 43:00I tried to tell the author before it went to print, he said, “It’s too late.” I said, “But you’re going to print a lie.” ML didn’t cheat, ML didn’t cheat. He just wasn’t a cheat. AD and I did, but not ML. I mean, don’t put that on him. So I would -- and I remember one of my nieces said, “What are you so upset about? It’s just a game,” I said, “But it didn’t happen.” And he didn’t cheat. If he cheated, I wouldn’t carry on. AD wa-- did it, yeah, but ML didn’t cheat. So Coretta, along comes Coretta, you know, years later, and she asked me once, she said, “Did that really happen?” And I said, “No, that was a mistake, Mattiwilda’s memory, da-da-da-da-da.” And she said, “I thought not,” she said, “It just didn’t seem right.” And Mattiwilda, of course, lived away and all, then finally she came back here, I got her to move back here in her old age, and she died just recently. But before she died, she was here two years, and she 44:00wouldn’t let me bring Christine over. I said, “Christine wants to visit, and so forth,” she said, “Well, she was always,” she kept her at arm’s distance, you know? And one day we were out riding, and there was Christine walking, standing in front of the church, walking across the street, there, and so we stopped, and she came over to the car, and kissed Mattiwilda and all of that. Never brought it up, of course, you know? But it bothers me that it’s still written in a book, that the two brothers cheated, and that’s why we stopped Monopoly. That just wouldn’t have happened, it... I don’t know why Mattiwilda’s so stubborn, she couldn’t say, “Oh, I forgot, I made a mistake.” But anyway.

ABBOTT: So you went, you took some classes together, yeah. You, both of you --

BUTTS: Oh yes, sociology classes, yeah.

ABBOTT: -- went to college a little bit young.


BUTTS: He was even younger, yeah. We skipped along the way, we started, I started at five, and everything is such a long story. Going to school, I went to, finally got into Oglethorpe, which was a part of Atlanta University, the black educational complex.

ABBOTT: And how long did you stay there, how lo--

BUTTS: The rest of my life, through college.

ABBOTT: Through college, okay.

BUTTS: And we had to go -- well, I went to public school for a while, when the high school part broke down, but that was the only high school for black children in the city, and the whole county. And it was terribly over-crowded, and so we were glad to get out of there, and we got out a year sooner by taking a test to skip twelfth grade. And that was a war effort, they were trying to get kids to hurry up and get into the military.

ABBOTT: So you went to Spelman, from there you went to Spelman?

BUTTS: I went to Spelman.

ABBOTT: And all of your sisters went to Spelman.


BUTTS: Yes. We made a record, it hasn’t been equaled, in American education, for six women to go to the same college.

ABBOTT: What was that like for you, what was Spelman like? What was your life like then?

BUTTS: Well, of course I wanted to go to a co-ed school. We could go across the street and take classes, but Spelman was so strict, we had to be there at eight o’clock for chapel every day, and I came from across town, transportation was slow, and. I just have to say a word about transportation, because from first grade, I said I had to take the street car. There was a sign, right up over the conductor’s head, that said, “White people shall sit from the front to the back, and colored people shall sit from the back to the front.” I used to, before I could read, I used to look at it, and then I knew what it said, and you know. It used to bother me. Bother me, bother me. And whites would sometimes not fill up the front of the car, and there would be 47:00a seat or two empty, and all these black people would be standing up there, and the conductor wouldn’t make the white person move, and we couldn’t sit in front of them, or beside them, and I would be falling, and different ladies would hold me up, or I’d hold onto their pocketbook or something, you know? That’s my childhood memory, looking at that sign, and hating it. And hating them, and then going to school, where there were white teachers who were wonderful. One lady I didn’t understand, this lady taught physical ed. We pronounced her name, it was, she was Canadian. It was Dupuis. And we pronounced it, “Mr. Pree.” I thought she was a man. Her hair was shorter than yours it was kind of shaved and short, and she wore pants or shorts all the time. She taught physical ed, she taught at the high school, elementary school, and the college. Mr. Pree. One day a rumor got out, “Mr. Pree is wearing a 48:00dress.” “What!” Everybody ran out of class. We had to find Mr. Pree, because they were saying it’s “Miss Dupree.” We could, it was like, oh. That was just, the teachers couldn’t control us. And there was Miss Dupree in a dress. With this very, very short hair, but she had tried to comb it a little differently. I couldn’t get over it. At any rate, I also saw her, because she came back after she retired, she moved to Canada and they came back, she and her friend who had come down with her, to Spelman. I don’t think they married because I don’t think it was legal at that point, but they had some kind of a blessing ceremony, or something like that. And my sister gave a party, and they were there, and I remember going over and hugging her, and telling her I was so 49:00glad to see her, but I didn’t really know her. By that time, I’d known many other people, transsexuals, and bisexuals, heterosexuals, homosexuals, and I never thought that I would be interpreter, because it still seemed like such a mystery to me. But when I finally got into grad school, I was going to study sociology, and I found myself looking more into sexuality, and trying to understand it, and trying to find out, could certain parts of the science -- it didn’t have to, you didn’t have to be a scientist, but you could understand enough to interpret certain of the sociological dilemma, so maybe could put a meaning into life circumstances -- and that’s what I went into, human sexuality. The guy I married turned into a psychiatrist, but he was very disparaging toward human sex-- towards sex education, that was the whole point. 50:00Should sex education be taught in schools, and is it helpful, is it harmful. And I felt like it’s helpful. It helps me to understand someone I’ve been puzzling over all my life, like “Where do babies come from?” I mean, that’s part of it. And... so...

ABBOTT: So where did you go to graduate school?

BUTTS: To Teachers College, Columbia. That was not, like I reached out, that was where my sisters went. The two middle ones, and Mattiwilda, and I just followed suit. I was not an imaginative person. But I wanted to go to New York, and I figured, no matter what I studied I’d be in New York, you know? And that was going to be my teacher.

ABBOTT: So human sexuality is what you ended up studying at graduate school?

BUTTS: Yes, exactly. Yeah.

ABBOTT: How did you get connected with Masters and Johnson?

BUTTS: Okay, that’s a good question. I, excuse me. [sniff] I had a dear 51:00friend who was at Planned Parenthood, she was the fundraiser, her name was Martha Stuart, and as she used to say, “I’m the real one, S-T-U-A-R-T.” And she was a great fundraiser. Sh-- I met her, how did we meet? I’ve forgotten how we met. But Martha was divorced, she had two children, and we just, oh, she helped me in so many, she taught me to have enough strength to rent men’s ice skates so I could learn how to skate, ice skate, that’s the one sport I conquered. Not really well, not a good ice skater, but at least I could hold my ankles up and I could move, and I wasn’t falling over on my children, bringing down other little children. So Martha was able to bring in some money for Planned Parenthood from a man named [Spiro Scurrous?], who was a 52:00TV -- not TV. Movie director, entrepreneur, and so forth, and she wanted a think tank. She said, “Let me get just the people I know, just my good friends, some of them, most of them had finished graduate school, but they’re in medicine, they’re in law, they’re, some are housewives and so forth. Can I get about 20, 25 people in a conference, so that they can talk about when they were coming through adolescence, and how they felt, and then how they feel now, as professionals, but put that under layer, of turning into an adult, because that’s really important.” And so she paid for, this Spiro Scurrous gave her the money, and I invited my husband, I was married, then, I had two children, not three. And Hugh didn’t want to go. And it stunned me, because I’d been to him, with him to medical conventions, and... I was the adoring wife because 53:00I really adored him. And now I could invite him to a conference, he didn’t want to go? I couldn’t even get over it. And he said, “Don’t you want to be by yourself, have a chance to shine?” And I said, “But, no. I want you, too.” And I said, “I’m sick of being by myself in a room practically full of white people, I want you there because you are you, and we are a different thing together.” So at any rate, he didn’t go. And I went, and --

ABBOTT: Were you the only black person there?

BUTTS: Only black person. Not the only. Wait a minute, hold on, yes. Yes, I was the only black person at the first conference she put on. Then, from the conference, so much came out, there were so many things. But the emphasis was on women, being women. It wasn’t on black and white, it was on women. And 54:00Martha put on, she got into a series of interviews, she called it, “Are You Listening.” It was brilliant, and she interviewed a lot of different people, and she came down with cancer, and she died. But she left an indelible impression on me, for freeing yourself, for being able -- oh, and she introduced me to Masters and Johnson, you asked me how’d I meet them.

ABBOTT: All right, so through her.

BUTTS: Martha put on this conference at Fordham, they were just going to go co-ed. They were going to go co-ed in the fall, we put on the conference Thanksgiving, and they were going to go co-ed the next fall. And we met in the elevator, which was like, “Dong,” you’re confined in this lit-- it was like a service elevator. And when we got on, Masters and Johnson had been on it, up and down, they couldn’t find the way. When they got to the top floor they tried the next floor, and so she showed them how to get to the first meeting of this big conference that Spiro Scurrous sponsored.


ABBOTT: So you went and trained with them, right?

BUTTS: Yes, they asked me -- well, when, Okay, I was on the board when Bill was on the board. I was happily married then, I didn’t meet him, I mean, you know, we were introduced but I didn’t get to know him, anything like that. But years later, by this time my marriage had broken up, and. Oh, so I met Jenny, and we wrote notes. We gossiped, we liked each other, we talked about Martha. I don’t mean meanly, you know, female. And she told me, “If you ever want to relocate, oh. Think of coming to St. Louis.” I thought, “St. Louis! I’ll never think of coming to St. Louis. Please.” But she said, “But if you ever really want to, if you can leave New York and the eastern 56:00part, St. Louis has its charms.” She was so firm, she really thought that. Anyway, I went out there. What I found was, your friends, once they become your boss, different breed, you know? Suddenly I couldn’t get her on the phone, and I found she deliberately kept herself sealed off. And I had stayed in their home for one week, before, when I visited the center, then I bought my home, I moved with my children. And then things would be going bad at work, you know, I’d have a disagreement with the lady who was my supervisor, and I’d call Jenny, couldn’t get through. And then it dawned, I’m a slow learner. But I had to work, every day, every day. Every Sunday, half day Saturday, and I thought, “I can’t stand this! Like, I’m not used to this.” I had to be at work, in my white coat, at nine o’clock in the morning until about six in the evening, then I’d get off, and I -- I couldn’t live in St. Louis, I 57:00couldn’t afford it, but I lived in a little town nearby, had to drive back home, same thing the next morning. Half day Saturday, one or two hours on Sunday. Every, I mean, like, Easter, Mother’s Day, the bicentennial, I s-- I told them, back in February, I can’t take this, I have to go. And they said, “Well, at least stay for a year.” I said, “A year?” And they said, “No, you should at least stay two years.” I said, “I can’t stay two years.” They said, “Well, a year and a half or something like that. It’ll look bad on your record; it’ll look like you’re not up to it or something.” So I said, “Well, I’ll just have to make it, because...” I stayed a year and a half, and we part-- managed to still have a friendship, enough to part on good terms. I admired them terribly, much. But I said, “Why do you do this to people? Why do you make us work? It isn’t’ necessary that the female and male therapists have to be there on every session. You two don’t do that anymore.” They said, “But, look. We started this, 58:00we can play around with it. You learn.” And they kept saying, “People leave, and they start their own things. That’s what you must do.” Well, it’s wonderful to have two therapists, it’s wonderful. You can run ideas that you hear the man say, they come [inaudible] totally different when the woman gives her opinion. Like you have a mother and a father. And biologically, and sociologically, aesthetically, they’re very different. And they have a lot in common, of course we know all that, but they are different. And it’s ideal, I think, to have both. But after my divorce, I said, “I’m taking care good care of my children as their mother,” that’s the way so many kids are brought up, just a mother. Then some don’t even know who their father is, you know? So anyway. I also started drinking, I didn’t ever have any trouble on my job, or anything like that, however what it did to me was 59:00awful, and hard time getting over it. I kept saying, “I can stop any time I want to,” Ha. Except when I did try to stop, I couldn’t stop, and my two girls never got into it, they were just wonderful. Just like when I would go out shopping, one would be on either side, they’d hold onto me. My son, “boom,” was off somewh-- where’d he go? I don’t know where’d he go, you know? This boy was something else. So, at any rate, the same thing with alcohol. He jumped into it. And not only would drink what was at home, but got into all the other kinds of drugs you can ever hear about. And it really, I couldn’t get him to stay in school, he dropped out of college, and he’s a middle-aged man now, and he’s been sober one year. There were times when he’d get sober and stop, but now he’s been sober continuously for a year, 60:00and I’m very proud of him, I’m very happy. To me, it’s, AA is a beautiful organization, I love AA. And when I was more able, I used to sponsor women, and. I used to be very much active in it. I’ve changed altogether. I don’t even know where we are for chronological.

ABBOTT: Well, we are working our way up through your life, so let’s go back a little bit, and you know, you were married, you had three kids, can you talk --

BUTTS: Yeah, had three kids.

ABBOTT: -- a little bit about, you know --

BUTTS: And a twin miscarriage. And, yeah, that wa-- took its toll, but. I’d say we had a good marriage for about 10 years, very good marriage, unusual. We used to go to Vermont, and we bought a big plot of land there, 138 acres, and we planted Christmas trees, the government helped to plant Christmas 61:00trees, and we had good neighbors that were interesting, intelligent people, and our friends would come up, and spend the weekends, and spend summers and so forth, and it was beautiful. My mother-in-law even said, “I can see why you people love Vermont.” It was just, it was a wonderful place. I didn’t want to live there, though. After my divorce, my lawyer told me, “You own it, why don’t you just live there?” I felt, “You really want to see me go crazy drunk? I don’t know what to do with myself.” It gets dark at three o’clock. Four, for sure. And there were no black people around. You know, at first we thought, “Oh, great, we’re free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last,” to get out of New York. But it wasn’t a matter of trying to get away from being black, and I really enjoyed one or two summers, there, where I wrote, finished up my doctorate, and it felt like I was on top of 62:00the world. But I wouldn’t want to live there, especially with old age and stuff like that.

ABBOTT: Oh, yeah. So talk a little bit about your kids.

BUTTS: My oldest daughter was a very interesting person; she was always running away from me as a little kid. Like, you know, learning to ride bikes, and th-- I was always cha-- “[Lucia?], come back,” that kind of thing. But she didn’t, she wasn’t cuddly. And my second child was very cuddly, and then, now, we’re not in touch. I really regret that. There are so many things I don’t understand about personality, that I wish I could. I tend to 63:00talk a lot, I think that disturbs a lot of people, it certainly disturbed the guy I was married to. He was used to listening. And my son is kind of an amalgam for the two personalities of me and him, but of course his own person, too. As a child, he was the smartest of all my, he had more retention, he could reason, he could ask interesting questions, and. Oh, I just get overwhelmed.

ABBOTT: It’s okay, that’s what we’ve been talking about a lot. Let’s talk a little bit about your teaching career, because that’s one of the things that, you know --

BUTTS: Yes. I loved teaching. Especially in the med school. The kids were so bright, and the subject matter was respected. I loved teaching at Howard, we 64:00started some films, I worked with transsexuals, and I was, they weren’t going to do the transsexual operation, sex change operation, but they did do preparation. Excuse me. And it was, I don’t know what the requirements are, now, but it used to be you had to have two years of trans dressing, and living, and working, and so forth, being a person of the opposite gender, being accepted in that world, and so they would come to our clinic. Oh, we called it the Gender Dysphoric something, I ca-- I used to always say, “But it’s not dysphoria. They feel better, now, about themselves than they ever did as kids, or adolescents, or whatever. And the closer they can get to the whole big makeover, the better they are.” What I found was, there was such 65:00narrow-mindedness, and such -- inquisitiveness was just the beginning of it. Narrow-mindedness, mainly, of so many of the physicians, you know? Psychiatry started interviewing some of these people, the first that came to us, and then we started our clinic, the Gender Dysphoria whatever clinic. But there was a psychiatrist who was well-established in the community, who was in charge of the mental health clinic, and he thought they ought to use the men’s room when they came to the clinic for their meeting. I said, “Men’s room? They don’t want the men’s room, they’ve got all their makeup, and dress, and everything. If they come in a little early and they want to use the ladies’ room, what do you want me to do? Stand at the door? I’ll be glad to do that.” So he said, “Yes, stand at the door, make sure they all go in at the same time, they all come out at the same time. Don’t wander around the 66:00building.” So I said, “You can’t tell them not to, I mean, they are people, you know? If they go to speak to somebody on another floor, you want everybody just to stay on the same, you know, like, come in the door, use the ladies’ room, come out?” He said, “Yes.” That’s what he wanted. So it was his clinic. But the head of the department did back me up, that they didn’t have to use the men’s room. They laughed, they thought it was the funniest thing. But we made several teaching films, where I’m talking about, I’m talking about, see, the whole word, you know, “dysphoria,” gender unhappiness, it should be either sexual dysphoria, because I know a whole lot of heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals who are miserable. Anyway, I’m wandering all off of what I did.

ABBOTT: So, so you’re -- no, no, you’re, but you were one of the first 67:00folks to begin to work with transgender people.

BUTTS: Yes. And what I fou-- this is what I’m trying to say. The personalities blinded me, because the guy who was head of that clinic, mental health clinic, taught Sunday school, he was all, “When I teach Sunday school...” I thought, “Well, then, go teach in your damn Sunday school.” I felt like religious people have such a hammer over so much that has to do with sexual inquiry, science may help put illumination up there, where we can all look at each other and say, “How varied, how interesting, how beautiful, how...” And here’s mother nature changing it all and making you old. [laughter] And as it goes by, it’s wonderful. And it’s, it’s like a dream, because it’s all a multiplication of the same thing. And I wish I could say it, I wish I could express it. I read some more of Pink Zinnia, can 68:00we make this first?

ABBOTT: Sure, sure.

BUTTS: There’s so much you got there.

ABBOTT: Thank you.

BUTTS: And it was letting go. Catch my breath. And letting go, of course. I can’t talk. I’m sorry.

ABBOTT: Take a minute, take a minute.

BUTTS: Okay. Can we have a break?

ABBOTT: Yes, we can have a break, we can stop for a minute, you know. You’ve been doing great, but.

[break in audio]

ABBOTT: With one little click here.

BUTTS: But I’m not running away from it, it’s just that I can’t deal with it. Ooh, did you feel a breeze? That was your running past? Thank you.

ABBOTT: So let’s go back to one of the things that you were saying before we 69:00stopped, and that was, what a mystery sex is --

BUTTS: Yes, yes.

ABBOTT: -- and what a beautiful mystery sex is.

BUTTS: Oh my God, I can’t think of anything more blinding, more illuminating, more unforgettable, and yet you’re knocked out of your senses. [laughter]

ABBOTT: And this is, this has really been your life’s work.

BUTTS: And one more thing, one more wrinkle for -- my life’s work, what I learned at school, what I learned with Masters and Johnson, was that the intensity of the orgasm is not the whole story. Because they would ask women, who would come to their clinic when they were doing their data, gathering the data, “Which did you enjoy more? Wednesday night or Saturday night?” That is, being with your friend, or being by yourself? Invariably, all the women they had would say, “Being with my friend.” Being with my husband, or my girlfriend, because they took gay and straight subjects. What recorded, what 70:00was recorded with the machines and all, was being solo. That was the most intense, but what do machines know? They don’t know what you smell, they don’t know what you feel, they don’t know how you resonate. They just record, maybe, how you clutch. Something like that, mechanical. Body temperatures --

ABBOTT: Uh-huh, but they recorded the electricity, so to speak.

BUTTS: Exactly, exactly. But the intrapsychic, which is religious, which is spiritual -- I shouldn’t say religious -- which is spiritual, is the essence of who you are, unforgettable. That was with the one they loved. Now, when the men heard about this, most men got angry, and they said, “Damn that research. I thought I was important.” And what they said was, “You were, you are important.” What was recorded on the machine was, aahh, clutching, or 71:00intensity, or something like that. What the woman remembered, was partner. Her girlfriend, her husband, whoever it was she loved. And that’s a beautiful, what bigger compliment, you know? But I remember, even, talking with Hugh about it, and he took the same attitude. Aahh. You know. He would not, oh. They wanted to kind of get to know him, Masters and Johnson, so they arranged with a psychiatric group in St. Louis to invite him out to speak. He never knew how he got that invitation, but they told me, years later, that they were looking him over, in case the two of us, you know, wanted -- because that was my hope, that we would go together, work together, or maybe I could study with them, and then we could work together, something like that. As a counseling team. And he 72:00didn’t like that ide-- anyway, he went there, to whatever psychoanalytic group invited him, and he spoke. Masters and Johnson came up to him when the meeting was over, and they said, “You know,” because he knew that I had, you know, taken an interest in their work, but at that point we were far from divorce. So they asked him, when it was over, “And how’s June?” And he said, “Um, I believe she’s in LA.” They said, “Really?” And he was thinking of a woman named June that he worked with. When he told me that, I almost fainted, I fell back on the bed. And then I sat up and I said, “Wait a minute, Hugh, you thought of June” -- her name was, odd name, June Jackson Christmas -- I said, “You thought of June Christmas?” And he said, “That’s the only June 73:00that’s professional that I know of.” I said, “I’m professional, I’m in grad school, but I’m a professional.” And he didn’t think so. So that was, like, “aahh.” Which I could feel, you know, for the longest. And even though I worked with them and got to know them, and then moved on to where I didn’t feel comfortable and wanted to leave, I still respected them very much, I just didn’t want to work under those circumstances, and they weren’t going to change, so it’s best for me to change. To leave. Even though I went through all those changes, I still wanted him to think well of them. It mattered to me. And then I found out most psychiatrists were threatened by what they said, because they said, “You can’t uproot your values in two weeks. You can’t change everything.” And I said, “They’re not trying to change 74:00people, it’s very American. Like, if it works, if you can receive orgasm from this, you don’t have to go through the long labyrinthine getting-to-know-what-happened-to-your-parents and all. Go right there, that’s enough for now.” And he didn’t th-- he thought that was superficial, and whatever.

ABBOTT: So at a certain point in your career, you became sort of like the sex columnist for Essence magazine.

BUTTS: I did, yes. And it was rewarding, I got such fan mail. I loved my fan mail. And I liked my life at that point, you know? I was into my work, I really should have turned out a book, back then. There was an OB/GYN, black physician, who wanted to write a book with me, and he kept saying, “I’ve got all of the credentials, and a little money to help publish and so forth, and we could turn out a book, we got something.” Then his life fell apart, he was, 75:00it was a second marriage, and this woman cleaned him out for all his money, and left town, took the children. The weekend I went down to work with him, I was going to stay with him and his wife and kids in their apartment, and it was crowded, but -- I mean, it was going to be crowded, but they were going to put me up for the weekend so we could actually turn out, like, the bulk of what we had to do. And there he had just been ripped-off and left. I felt so sorry for him, I really really felt sorry for him, and I was a little bit afraid of him, too, because I didn’t know whether he -- and I was drinking a lot, so the two of us drank vodka for the weekend and commiserated. Within a few months, he’d committed suicide. Yeah. And I used to think, “God he could have turned that wrath on me.” I don’t know. Because it takes wrath to commit suicide. I 76:00was never in danger of that.

ABBOTT: So tell me about a couple of your topics for Essence, what were some of your memorable articles?

BUTTS: All right, yeah. I brought a few, I don’t know whether I f-- I stayed up so late last night, sorting out some things. But I can share with you some things about masturbation?


BUTTS: It wasn’t like how-to, but it was like, freeing up some of the cobwebs, so you can any way you do too, T-O-O. And what’s more natural? Babies touch them-- I don’t say they have orgasms, however, there are some researchers who have wondered if babies have orgasms, some babies seem to get a big deal. And I don’t think the clitoris or anything is developed enough with little girls, but. But rubbing, or touching, and all of that, is euphoric. My 77:00middle child used to laugh when she was a baby, once she flipped over. She was very young, she flipped over on her stomach, and she was laughing in the bassinet, and when I walked into the room, I saw the little drapery and all, pulled over her, I was so afraid, I thought she’d smothered herself. Except she’s still laughing. And she was just happy. So it’s not -- for grown-ups, it’s not “Ha-ha,” you know what I mean.

ABBOTT: I do know what you mean. So you’ve been ret--

BUTTS: Oh, may I tell you one more thing? Like, breakthrough?

ABBOTT: Sure, of course.

BUTTS: One of the biggest joys I had was working with two lesbians. And they almost didn’t want to let me start, because what they said was, first question -- one was more aggressive than the other one -- and she said, “I’ve got one question for you, just one.” I said, “Sure.” And she said, “Are you 78:00gay?” I said, “No.” And she said, “Well, there goes all my other questions, because there’s no point in trying to get into it if you don’t understand me from the beginning.” I said, “But I might be able to help you. I may not understand everything, but I might be able to help you, even so.” So we started working, and one of the things that helped her to feel at home, was that she could give pleasure, but she couldn’t receive it. She felt, somewhere internally, like I think she felt she wasn’t deserving of pleasure. But she could give pleasure. And then we talked about her family, and her brothers, and her dad, and everything she liked in school, or sports, or whatever, and we talked about the things she didn’t like, you know? And we had a lot of talk. And something melted. Because the other thing I wanted to 79:00say -- and somehow I got this from reading Pink Zinnia -- when you mentioned about just letting, it was your notes for your last speech, at the existentialist congregational, congregation. And it is letting go, of course it’s all letting go, that’s the whole way to relax and everything, but there’s something else that happens, that we don’t understand internally, and that’s the uterus moves when the woman becomes excited, it moves upward, into the fundus. And so there’s more room for entry, for whatever’s entry, entering, or if nothing’s entering, it moves. And then, with orgasm, it squeezes. Now, that may not sound like, “Oh, that sounds like fun,” but the only similarity I can make, that does maybe sound like fun, is when the baby’s nursing, when the baby really pulls the milk? It’s not like a man sucking at 80:00your breast. It’s when the baby’s little tiny delicate mouth, somehow the whole, the baby bursts into sweat, sometimes, sucking. But it makes the uterus squeeze.

ABBOTT: I didn’t know that, wow.

BUTTS: Yes. I wanted to share that with you. That’s what Masters and Johnson found, with their research. And he was the first to take a tiny little camera, Japanese camera, like that, and put it on something to insert, and take pictures. And that’s how they got the fundus, and the uterus lifting up, and the positions, and so forth. And nobody else has even studied, they don’t give a damn. This was back in the ’50s, nobody’s ever verified his, corroborated, or negated his research. Why is it so off-limits? I’m asking you.


ABBOTT: Well, that’s a big topic.

BUTTS: Ain’t it something? Yes.

ABBOTT: Ain’t it something, that’s a big topic, why it’s so off-limits.

BUTTS: It’s a big topic.

ABBOTT: Well, one of the things that, you know, I want to do, is to come back and have conversations with you about topics, you know? Some of the, you know, reviewing some of the articles that you wrote, so we can speak more specifically about some of this --

BUTTS: Okay, because it’s too much.

ABBOTT: It is, it is. So for the sake of today, to kind of sum it up a little bit --

BUTTS: Enough. Yeah.

ABBOTT: -- to, you know, give us a final paragraph, here.

BUTTS: May I kiss you?

ABBOTT: You can.

BUTTS: You dear, and you understand.

ABBOTT: So with, you know, your 87 years of learning, and observing, and paying very close attention to the human being --

BUTTS: May I share one more thing --



BUTTS: -- that gives me like a mental image? Mrs. Doubtfire. Remember that stupid movie? But it had a lot of good things in it. At the end, when Robin Williams is, like, toward the end, it’s not the very end of the movie, but when he’s Mrs. Doubtfire on TV for children, and somebody asks some question, and he says, “Well, dear, whatever,” you know, and I’m thinking, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” I want to talk to people, to broad -- maybe they’re not in front of me like an audience, but for something that will get out there, that will be understood by somebody. That’s what I hope to do.

ABBOTT: And you’re doing it.

BUTTS: I don’t care what Hugh Butts thinks of sex education.

ABBOTT: You’re doing it. So for today, just for the sake of today, you know, if you were to summarize, you know, that you have had a fascinating life, 83:00you grew up --

BUTTS: I’ve had a fabulous life.

ABBOTT: Yes. You are the granddaughter of slaves, your father was and I--

BUTTS: No, just missed slavery. Just -- oh, the granddaughter. Excuse me, I’m listening --

ABBOTT: Granddaughter, yes. Right.

BUTTS: -- wrongly.

ABBOTT: And your dad was an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, you know, you were a teacher, and one of the first sex therapists, probably the first African American sex therapist in the Masters and Johnson tradition.

BUTTS: I was the football queen at Morehouse.

ABBOTT: I didn’t know that. [laughter]

BUTTS: Yes. And didn’t have a date, didn’t have a date for the dance that night.

ABBOTT: So, but here you are. And how do you see things now? What is your viewpoint from, you know, you’re the last of your sisters, you’ve come close to death but you’re still here, still talking?

BUTTS: Yeah. I would have been an astronaut if I could have. And there’s a 84:00woman named Vera somebody, Vera [Teryshnikova?], something, in Russia, for whom they built the space capsule, and she married somebody, it was not Gagarin, but somebody like Gagarin who had been in the program, see what their offspring would be like, because they’d been in deep space. That’s so important. And we don’t even have, they wouldn’t let women in the space program. They wouldn’t let blacks in the space program, for the longest. Our skin may be protection out there in the deep space, you know? But -- pigment, I mean. So all this to say that I read where she told Putin -- she’s in her seventies, now -- she said, “There are so many experiments where you send up a dog, or a monkey, something. A human, you really need to see the reaction on, and I can go, you know? I don’t have to come back.” End of conversation. But I 85:00understand her. If I had the opportunity to do something, I don’t know what, I mean, I certainly don’t have the space program, but I used to, my earliest, oh. This we should have recorded.

ABBOTT: We’re still recording.

BUTTS: Oh, we’re still rec-- Okay. I loved Amelia Earhart when I was little, I used to pray for her. And the way I would pray was not like this, you know, but I would jump in the backyard, if I saw an airplane, we didn’t see many. But if an airplane was passing by, I would jump the whole time I saw it, until it was out. Am-e-lia-Ear-hart. Am-e-lia-Ear-hart. A-- I thought maybe they could find her, like, “I believe in fairies, I believe in fairies,” you know? If you chant it, maybe it’ll come true. And I used to hope they’d find her, I didn’t even know whether she’d still be living, or whatever, but if they could just find her plane, even. And I wanted to fly. And of course, I 86:00didn’t even learn to drive until I was 32, but I did learn to drive in New York City. So I thought, “Well, hey, that counts for something.”

ABBOTT: It does.

BUTTS: And it’s like I’ve been my own worst enemy, with the drinking and other setbacks, and not getting over Hugh F. Butts. I decided, one day, the F must stand for “Fuck off.” [laughter] He must be the world’s dumbest man.

ABBOTT: Is he still alive?

BUTTS: He’s still alive, and I’m trying to get my son, “Call your father, write to him. He could help you.” I don’t know what else to say.

ABBOTT: Well --

BUTTS: That’s another whole, let’s just let that slide on by.

ABBOTT: We’ll let that slide on by.

BUTTS: But -- oh, what am I trying to say. Between an egotism, and a crush like, oh, God, I think it’s all the same thing. I think it’s variations on 87:00the same thing. Either like a microscope, where you can see real big, and then something else -- no, a microscope you can see real little, and then the telescope, you see real big. But it’s -- in being opposites, they have a relationship. And rather than to think I’m so self-effacing, no. I’m so egotistical, that I think I must be the world’s greatest woman, except I think all women are pretty great, you know. Most men. And I don’t know, I’ve run out, stop me.

ABBOTT: Thank you, thank you, thank you. We’re going to stop, you know, we’re going to come back, though. Because we have not exhausted this.

BUTTS: I love that idea, of pinpoint, yeah. Thank you.