Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Time Someone From That Other Party Found a Way to the South Carolina Congressional Delegation

James E. Clyburn. Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.

The author organized civil rights sit-ins during the 1960s. In 1971, he became the first Black person to be an Executive Staff member to a South Carolina Governor. He worked for four Governors, two Democrats and two Republicans.

Clyburn ran for a local office and ran for two statewide offices, losing each time. In 1992, he was elected to Congress. He was elected President of his Freshman Congressional Class. He later became Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and served in the House Leadership including four years as Majority Whip. He is now the Assistant Democratic Leader.

Clyburn believes the Democratic Party reforms that diminished the influence of party regulars went too far. Super Delegate to the National Convention status was provide to Democratic Party state chairs, vice chairs, Governors, and members of Congress. Clyburn supported Obama for President.

Clyburn denies he has a political machine but notes he has a personal following. He appreciates loyalty yet realizes it can not be given consistently or blindly. People should think freely, he notes.

From 1965 to 1958, the NAACP became less aggressive as it sought to win legal victories. 246 branches closed including 30 in South Carolina as regional membership fell from 128,716 to 79,677. The Core of Racial Equality was more aggressive and grew in membership.

In 1960, Clyburn was one of the Orangeburg Seven who planned a march. A sit in at a restaurant was planned. He and 387 of about 1,000 marchers were jailed. The U.S. Supreme Court would overturn their convictions.

Clyburn could “feel the fire burning in my belly” as he entered politics. Clyburn advocated creating a housing finance commission even though courts had ruled two previous efforts as unconstitutional. A third attempt was successful.

Clyburn was elected President of the South Carolina Young Democrats.

Governor John West appointed Clyburn to lead the State Human Affairs Commission in 1974. The law was weak so Clyburn sought to make it stronger. He believes “we may have helped to bring something tangible---some actual shape and dimension---to what had been a vision.”

Clyburn ran for Secretary of State in 1978. He lost. He later looked at his career and decided to “confront my detractors” and “take control of my own destiny in a positive and aggressive way.”

Clyburn ran for Congress. By then he had learned that “all politics are also personal” as well as local. He also regretted running against a friend and damaging that friendship. He saw his campaign as one for “human values”.

Clyburn was elected to Congress. He proposed legislation for enterprise zones to promote economic development. He showed others that Democrats can be in favor of business, despite the stereotype that they are not.

Clyburn was elected to Congress in 1972 at age 52. He was the first Black elected to Congress from South Carolina in 95 years even though the state was 28% Black.

Clybun emerged early in his Congressional career as a leader. He was one of the Gang of Five who held out voting for the 1993-94 Federal Budget until it included funds for Empowerment Zones.

President Clinton’s office placed an Administrative Objection to Rep. Clyburn’s first bill, which was to name a Federal Courthouse after a civil rights attorney and Judge, Matthew Perry. When Clinton asked Clyburn to support his Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Clyburn raised the question of Clinton’s Administrative Objection. Clinton stated he knew nothing about it. The objection was lifted. Clyburn supported Clinton’s requested bill. Indicative of the political divide in South Carolina, today the Matthew J. Perry U.S. Courthouse stands about a block away from the Strom Thurmond Federal Building.

Clyburn was elected Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. This began a long career as a House leader including serving as Majority Whip and now Assistant Democratic Leader. He has influenced much and continues serving in in Congress.


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