(Photo: Courtesy James Clyburn)
Fifty-three years and 30 days ago, James Clyburn pledged his love in marriage to Emily England.
Clyburn, who is definitely not a hearts-and-flowers kind of guy and laughs almost hysterically at the notion of romance, remembers the exact date and time they met: March 15, 1960.
The South Carolina State University student and civil rights activist had been sitting in jail all day after being arrested for attempting to sit-in at an S.H. Kress five-and-dime store in Orangeburg, South Carolina, when Emily and a group of other students arrived with food for the protesters.
After overhearing Clyburn comment about how hungry he was, "she thrust a hamburger toward me, but when I reached for it, she pulled back and broke it in half," he told BET.com. "She gave me half and she had half. I remember being very, very grateful."
The two walked back to campus together that night and over time, Clyburn says, "one thing led to another," which is his unpoetic way of saying he developed very serious feelings for her.
There was no bended knee in his proposal, either. In May the year after they'd met, Clyburn told Emily that they "were going to get married at some point." She told him that if they weren't married between then and September 1, she was heading off to graduate school at Syracuse University and wouldn't be back. The couple married a month later on June 24, 1961.
"I don't remember anything about that day but I remember the evening very well," laughs the third-top Democrat in the House. "It was a very romantic evening."
Ten years later, as they celebrated their anniversary, Clyburn remarked to a friend and college classmate how fortunate they both were to have ended up with their respective spouses. That's when he learned the true story of how Jim met Emily, and "it was not by happenstance," he said.
Months earlier, while looking out of her dormitory room window, Emily observed Clyburn walking across campus with the young woman he was dating at the time.
"Emily told her roommate that she didn't think we made a good couple, that she and I would make a better one and I was going to be her husband," he recalls. "And it happened."
Clyburn likes to joke that she basically "stalked" him, which is so not a romantic thing to say. But it's okay because there is absolutely nothing in the world that could be more romantic than the love of a good man that has lasted for 53 years, 30 days and counting.
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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