Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)

Published October 26, 2010

Congressman James E. Clyburn is the first South Carolinian and second African American to serve as Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. On November 16, 2006, the House Democratic Caucus unanimously elected him to the third-ranking position in the House, and he continues to serve in the post that is responsible for ensuring there are enough votes to pass the legislative agenda in the Congress.

His humble beginnings as the eldest son of an activist fundamentalist minister and an independent, civic-minded beautician grounded him securely in family, faith and public service. He was elected president of his NAACP youth chapter when he was 12 years old. As a student leader at South Carolina State College, he participated in many marches and demonstrations, and was chosen as the star witness in a 1960 Orangeburg civil disobedience case. That case developed from the arrest of 388 college students -- two of whom were Jim and Emily England of Moncks Corner, South Carolina, whom he met during that incarceration.

Jim and Emily have been married since June 24, 1961. They began their personal and professional lives together in Charleston, South Carolina; he as a history teacher and she as a librarian in the public school system. Jim later served as an employment counselor, and director of two youth and community development programs. In 1968, he became director of a migrant and seasonal farm workers program.

Jim launched the pursuit of his lifelong dream to become an elected official in 1970, running for the South Carolina House of Representatives. He went to bed a 500-vote winner, and awoke a 500-vote loser. His measured reaction to the loss caught the eye of the newly elected governor, John West. He asked James, whom he dubbed "Jim," to join his administration, making him the first African-American advisor to a South Carolina governor since post Reconstruction.

After almost four years on his staff, Governor West appointed Jim South Carolina Human Affairs Commissioner. It was a position he would hold for almost 18 years, earning Jim a reputation as a fair and firm mediator and consensus builder. But when he ran for South Carolina Secretary of State in 1978 and again in 1986, his lifelong dream continued to elude him.

In 1992, Jim resigned his position as Human Affairs Commissioner to run for the United States Congress -- where no Black South Carolinian had served since 1897. This time he won the primary with 56 percent of the vote and easily won the general election for South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District. Jim was sworn in as a member of the United States House of Representatives in January 1993.

Congressman Clyburn was elected co-President of his freshman class, and six years later, he was chosen unanimously as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2002, he was elected in a three-way race to serve as Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and in January 2006, his peers elevated him to Chair of the Caucus.

In addition to serving as House Majority Whip, Congressman Clyburn also serves as leader of the House Democrats’ Faith Working Group. The Clyburns have three daughters, Mignon, Jennifer Clyburn Reed, and Angela Clyburn Hannibal; two sons-in-law, Walter Reed and Cecil Hannibal; and two grandchildren, Walter A Clyburn Reed and Sydney Alexis Reed.

Written by BET-Staff

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