At the age of 12, Rep. James Clyburn was the president of his NAACP youth chapter. Now, Clyburn is the assistant Democratic leader in the 113th Congress.
Clyburn, D-S.C., joined Student Government members Tuesday night in the Hollings Special Collections Library to share stories about his life and accomplishments and to answer student questions.
Clyburn began by telling students about his background, saying he was born in Sumter to a father who was a minister and a mother who was a beautician. Both of his parents were active and involved in the community.
“Every morning we had to recite a Bible verse,” Clyburn said, “and every night we had to share one current event.”
At a young age, Clyburn became involved in the civil rights movement, leading him to join a sit-in demonstration in college, at South Carolina State University. When he was arrested for his participation, he met his wife Emily in jail.
Continuing his involvement in civil rights demonstrations, the congressman helped to organize other marches and protests during his time at S.C. State.
“Doing those sit-ins, I formed some notions about who and what I was,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn was also involved in the landmark case for breach of peace, Edwards v. South Carolina, where he and 186 others were arrested.
Clyburn also spoke about how he was first elected to Congress in 1993. He began as co-president of his freshmen class, was elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1999 and was elected as House Democratic caucus vice chair in 2002. In 2006, Clyburn became the House majority whip.
He currently represents the sixth district of South Carolina, is the leadership liaison to the House Appropriations Committee and is one of the Democratic caucus’s primary liaisons to the White House. He has also worked on committees helping to support the development of regional water centers, broadband connections and education.
Wrapping up his lecture, Clyburn answered questions on racism, immigrations and other topics, saying that race issues will never go away, but should never be ignored. Speaking about current law that could make it more difficult for minorities to vote, Clyburn said, “It has been around, and it will stay around.”
Clyburn then left the audience with three pieces of advice: that good education leads to good manners, that they should be respectful of the people they lead and that no matter how many times you try and fail, you should always stick to the state motto, “While I breathe, I hope.”