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Profile of Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina


Profile of Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina

Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

James Clyburn, Highest Ranking African-American in Congress:

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was elected House Majority Whip in the 110th Congress, making him the third highest ranking House member, behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who previously held the position.

Clyburn is the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, and the most powerful Democrat in his home state. Clyburn's annual Fish Fry is the Democratic political event of the year in South Carolina.

Rep. James Clyburn in Congress:

First elected to Congress in 1992, Clyburn represents South Carolina's majority-black sixth district. Respected by his constituents, he's since been reelected each subsequent term by a wide margin.

In 1998, Clyburn was unanimously elected Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and won a coveted seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. In 2002, he ascended to Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and to Caucus Chair in 2006.

Notable Moments:

In January 2007, Clyburn was elected to House Majority Whip, a position previously held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Clyburn is the second African-American to hold the third highest House position.

House tradition is that the outgoing Majority Whip passes an actual ceremonial whip to the new Whip. Rep. Clyburn reportedly felt uncomfortable receiving a whip from a white man. He opted, instead, to hold the ceremonial whip jointly with the only other African-American to occupy the position, former Rep. William Gray (D-PA).

Congressional Caucuses and Committees:

  • House Appropriations Committee
  • Congressional Black Caucus
  • Democratic Homeland Security Task Force
  • Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
  • Congressional Human Rights Caucus
  • Congressional Rural Caucus
  • Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus
  • Faith Working Group
  • Chair, International Museum of African American History Steering Committee
  • Rural Health Care Coalition

Before Congress:

From 1974 to 1992, James Clyburn served under four governors, two Democrats and two Republicans, as South Carolina Human Affairs Commissioner.

From college graduation in 1962 to 1974, Clyburn worked as (in chronological order):

  • History teacher at C.A. Brown High School in Charleston
  • South Carolina Employment Security counselor
  • Executive Director, South Carolina Commissioner for Farmworkers
  • Director, Neighborhood Youth Corps/New Careers
  • Assistant to the Governor for Human Resources Development

College Activism:

As a leader of the infamous Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at South Carolina State College, Clyburn was involved in demonstrations and sit-ins aimed at embarrassing racially segregated schools and businesses.

He was jailed several times, including at the 1961 march on the South Carolina State Capitol that resulted in the landmark case, Edwards vs. South Carolina. While he was jailed with 387 other students in 1960, he met his wife, Emily England, a fellow student. They married a year later.

Youthful Activism:

The son of a politically active African-American preacher in South Carolina, James was elected president of the local NAACP youth chapter when he was twelve years old. As a teenager in the 1950s, he participated in demonstrations and marches protesting racial segregation policies of the South.

Personal Data:

  • Birth - July 21, 1940 in Sumter, South Carolina to Enos Clyburn, a fundamentalist preacher, and Almeta, a cosmetologist.
  • Education - B.A. in history from South Carolina State College, 1962. Attended University of South Carolina Law School, 1972-74.
  • Family - Married to Emily England since June 24, 1961. Three daughters, Mignon, Angela and Jennifer Clyburn Reed, a son-in-law, Walter Reed; and two grandchildren, Walter A Clyburn Reed and Sydney Alexis Reed.
  • Faith - Christian, African Methodist Episcopal

Emily Clyburn, Married to Rep. Clyburn:

Emily England of Moncks Corner, South Carolina studied library science at South Carolina State College. After graduation, then marriage in 1961, Mrs. Clyburn has worked as a librarian at elementary, middle and high schools, a naval hospital and a Veterans Administration hospital.

Now retired, she was honored in 2007 by the University of South Carolina College of Social Work for "distinguished courage and ability in effecting social change in the local area, state and nation."

For more, see Emily and James Clyburn Marriage Profile.

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