Rep. Jim Clyburn says South Carolina Is ‘Retrogressing In So Many Ways’

Rep. Jim Clyburn recently published his memoir "Blessed ,Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black." TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com
Rep. Jim Clyburn recently published his memoir “Blessed ,Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black.” TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com

Christmas 1955. A teenage Jim Clyburn, eldest son of a Church of God pastor and a beautician mother, was preparing to march in Sumter’s annual Christmas parade.

With clarinet in hand, the 15-year-old, who would grow up to be a congressman, assembled with his fellow Lincoln High School band members at the parade’s launch point.

Then, the young musicians realized they were victims of a snub. Instead of being mingled into the parade with the other marching bands, the African-American high school was placed “dead last” in the parade – behind Santa Claus and a cadre of white riders on horseback.

“The horses were last in the parade for obvious reasons: They left deposits along the street that made walking behind them hazardous and sickeningly unpleasant,” Clyburn writes in his new memoir set to be released Thursday. . “It was a two-and-a-half-mile march through the muck and the stuff left behind by the horses. Jim Crow had not died in Sumter; he was standing off to the side, chuckling and still finding creative ways to insult black people.”

That indignity has lingered in Clyburn’s mind for more than a half-century. The memory remained as he rose through the ranks of state government, presided over the State Human Affairs Commission and won a coveted seat in Congress, the 6th District seat that has been his for 20 years.

It leavened his deeply religious view that “the least of these” should have a place at the table of South Carolina, and his belief that government is a legitimate vehicle to better people’s lives.

Clyburn’s memoir, “Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black” ($34.95, USC Press), is a paean to memory, to hard-won life experience and to the virtue of sticking it out in the face of opposition.

It begins with former President Bill Clinton’s much-publicized early morning tirade against Clyburn for failing to deliver South Carolina for his wife, Hillary, in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, a loss that set the stage for President Barack Obama’s historic victory. Clyburn had pledged neutrality, and he writes that he refused to be cowed, even by a former president’s harsh words.

The volume rolls back in time to Clyburn’s small-town beginnings and his coming of age in the civil rights movement. It also chronicles the crises Clyburn presided over in government as he broke barriers as the first black gubernatorial aide and state agency head.

The book is a reminder of just how long Clyburn has been a political fixture in South Carolina, where he remains the lone Democrat in a staunchly conservative congressional delegation. And it reveals that old truism that if you stick around long enough, political realities often are turned upside down.

In a odd way, the 73-year-old Clyburn has inherited the mantle of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond as the politician most likely to bring home the bacon to South Carolina. Like Thurmond, the veteran Democrat is unashamed – though more often vilified – for funneling federal largesse to South Carolina. Like Thurmond, Clyburn’s name is etched on highway markers and buildings paid for with federal dollars, a testament to his power on Capitol Hill.

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Source: Herald Online | CAROLYN CLICK – cclick@thestate.com

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