Born July 21, 1940, in Sumter, South Carolina, James E. Clyburn earned his early political stripes as a student leader at South Carolina State College during the early Civil Rights years. After two decades in state politics, Clyburn won his home state's Sixth Congressional District, making him the first black man to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Congress since 1897.
James Enos "Jim" Clyburn was born July 21, 1940, in Sumter, South Carolina. Raised in a politically minded household, Clyburn was the eldest son of a fundamentalist minister, Enos Clyburn, and his beautician wife, Almeta—who were both engaged in an assortment of civic activities.
Clyburn followed closely in his parents' footsteps, beginning with getting elected president of his NAACP youth chapter when he was just 12 years old. After graduating from Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina, in 1957, he enrolled at South Carolina State College (now called South Carolina State University) in Orangeburg.
In college, Clyburn stepped into the middle of the growing Civil Rights movement that was beginning to sweep the South. At the school, he took the mantle of student leader and led several marches and demonstrations, including a 1961 event that led to his arrest.
Following his graduation that same year, Clyburn moved to Charleston, where he found work as a public-school teacher and employment counselor, and later as director of youth programs.
In 1970 the 30-year-old Clyburn made his first run at political office when he launched what would prove to be a failed bid for the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Despite the loss, the run raised Clyburn's profile, and in the wake of the race, South Carolina Governor John Carl West tapped him as an advisor. Four years later he was appointed as commissioner of South Carolina's human affairs department, a post he held for 18 years.
In 1992, Clyburn stepped back onto the campaign trail and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, taking South Carolina's Sixth Congressional District. The win was a significant one for the state, as it made Clyburn the first African American since 1897 to represent South Carolina in the United States Congress. Clyburn is a distant relative of his predecessor, George Washington Murray.
In the nation's capital, the Democrat quickly exerted political clout and over the last two decades has assumed various leadership roles.
In 1999 he was elected Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a post that no doubt helped him win a tight three-way race three years later for House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair. In 2005 he assumed the role of Chair of the Democratic Caucus. A year later, when his party regained majority control of the House, he was named House Majority Whip.
Over his more than two-decade-long career in national politics, Clyburn has tackled a number of causes, from addressing discriminatory issues and taking on environmental concerns to championing the opening of more community health centers and supporting measures to increase financial aid for higher education.
"[Representative Clyburn is] one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens," President Barack Obama has said.
In the wake of the fatal shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, Clyburn became a national voice on the tragedy and the debate that soon swirled about the state's flying of the Confederate flag at its capitol. At a prayer vigil in his home state the day after the shooting, Clyburn drew on his experience as a minister's son and as a veteran of the Civil Rights era to offer the church and its community hope. "There is no more solid foundation for the black experience in this country than the black church," he said. "No act will ever destroy the foundation of this church." He later offered: "If we stay silent, they win. They must not win."
Clyburn and his wife, Emily, whom he married in 1961, have three daughters: Mignon Clyburn, Jennifer Reed, and Angela Hannibal.
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