Rep. James Clyburn (D)
South Carolina 6th District
South Carolina was first settled by planters from Barbados, bringing with them a tropical plantation economy, which they transferred to the not-quite-tropical climate of the Carolina coastal lowlands. The flat Lowcountry and the coastal islands are laced with sluggish rivers and swamps. The planters brought thousands of slaves from Africa, and Colonial South Carolina quickly became one of the richest parts of North America, with dazzling Georgian architecture in Charleston and classic plantation gardens. The planters built great irrigation systems and grew rice and cotton and the dye-plant indigo, all heavily in demand in Britain and elsewhere. All this wealth, of course, was built on the slave labor of countless African-Americans. In colonial times, a majority of South Carolinians were slaves, as were a majority of lowlands residents when Fort Sumter was fired upon (although there were also many free blacks in Charleston, a few of whom owned slaves themselves). South Carolina’s black heritage has left a lasting imprint on American culture. Gullah, a mixture of English, French and African dialects is still spoken on the sea islands, and Gullah customs survive—oyster roasts and sweet potato feasts at Christmas, handmade dolls and sweetgrass baskets. The poverty that was the almost universal lot of lowland blacks after the Civil War has eased only in the last generation, as development came to the coast and cultural isolation dissipated. But many African-Americans decided not to wait for progress. They abandoned South Carolina for opportunities in the North.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 6th Congressional District of South Carolina, created in 1992 as a black-majority district, includes only a bit of the South Carolina coast, which is increasingly lined with affluent retirement and recreational communities. The district’s boundaries take in the black central city neighborhoods of Charleston, North Charleston and Columbia, but leave out their affluent white areas, both urban and suburban, in the adjacent 1st and 2d Districts. The 6th includes Orangeburg, home of the historically black South Carolina State University, and Florence, at the center of the Pee Dee tobacco-growing country in eastern South Carolina. Orangeburg was the scene of a massacre in February 1968, when three black students were killed and 27 wounded by police while protesting a segregated bowling alley. The Pee Dee area has had substantial economic growth as a warehousing and distribution center: the QVC home shopping network opened a $75 million facility there in 2007. In Orangeburg, the Dubai-based Economic Zones World unveiled in late 2008 plans for an industrial and warehouse site that would create more than 3,000 jobs. Most of the cargo would arrive through the Charleston port. The 6th’s population in 2007 was 55% African-American. In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama got 64% of the vote, carrying every county except for Florence. This was the only South Carolina district he won.
Rep. James Clyburn (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: July 21, 1940, Sumter .
Education: SC St. U., B.A. 1962.
Religion: African Methodist Episcopal.
Family: Married (Emily); 3 children.
Professional Career: Teacher, 1962–66; Dir., Charleston Neighborhood Youth Corps, 1966–68; Exec. dir., SC Comm. for Farm Workers, 1968–71; Asst., SC Gov. West, 1971–74; SC Human Affairs Comm., 1974–92.
The congressman from the 6th District is James Clyburn, a Democrat elected in 1992 and the House majority whip, the third-ranking leadership position. He is also the highest ranking African-American in Congress. Clyburn grew up in Sumter, the son of a minister, and was educated at a private, all-black boarding school. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which took its cues from the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1960, he was one of seven people who organized the state’s first sit-ins, at a five-and-dime store in the Orangeburg town square. He met his wife while in jail for three days. Clyburn worked as a teacher, as an employment counselor and in government antipoverty programs. In 1970, he ran for the South Carolina House and lost narrowly. Democratic Gov. John West appointed Clyburn as state Human Affairs commissioner and he served 18 years, under two Democratic and two Republican governors. He ran twice for secretary of state, in 1978 and 1986, losing narrowly. Then the new, black-majority 6th District was created. Clyburn ran for the seat, and in the Democratic primary, won 56% of the vote against four African-American opponents, all with serious claims for the nomination. Clyburn was better known, ran first or second in every part of the district, and piled up 88% of the vote in his home county of Sumter. Clyburn became the only black to represent South Carolina in Congress since George Washington Murray (a distant relative of his) left in 1897.
|James Clyburn (D)||193,378||(67%)||($2,389,430)|
|Nancy Harrelson (R)||93,059||(32%)|
|James Clyburn (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (64%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (72%), 1998 (73%), 1996 (69%), 1994 (64%), 1992 (65%)
In the House, he established a moderate-to-liberal voting record, and in his early years, focused on local priorities. He also joined the moderate New Democrat Coalition at its 1997 inception, the only African-American House member to do so. When cigarette tax increases were proposed, he urged safeguards for tobacco farmers. The House twice passed his bill to create a Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor from northern Florida to North Carolina. On the Appropriations Committee from 1998 to 2006, he focused on securing federal funds to develop the corridor around Interstate 95, which passes through rural counties in the district that historically were dependent on tobacco and cotton.
He became chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1999, and in that role Clyburn urged the Democratic National Committee to become more responsive to blacks. After the 2002 election, he ran for vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus and prevailed with 95 votes to 56 for New York Rep. Gregory Meeks and 53 for California Rep. Zoe Lofgren. He said the leadership needed to more reflect the party’s diversity. In 2006, he was elected to move up to Democratic Caucus chairman, the No. 4 position in the party leadership, and later that year, be was chosen majority whip after Democrats won control of the House. Then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois also wanted the job, and would have had to leapfrog over Clyburn to get it. But Emanuel backed down at the urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who favored Clyburn for the post. Emanuel took Clyburn’s spot as Democratic Caucus chairman in recognition of his work raising money and successfully recruiting challengers in the pivotal 2006 election as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Clyburn said, “I’m going to be leery of going away from seniority. African-Americans supported the seniority system and waited their turn. Now, we get nervous when people talk about changing the rules.” He described his approach to leadership this way: “When it comes to working with the Democratic Caucus, I have to fish in a lot of ponds. I go fishing with the Blue Dogs. I go fishing with the New Dems. I go fishing with the Hispanics and I go fishing with the Asian Pacific Islanders, trying to cobble together the 218 votes I need. But a lot of times I have to be a hunter, and they tell me, even though I never hunt, they tell me that a good hunter knows how to work both sides of the ditch. I fish among my caucus, Democratic members, and I go hunting sometimes, among my Republican members.”
Clyburn sought enhanced influence for his whip organization in crafting policy, a way of getting more points of view from across party factions into the process of drafting major legislation in the committees. In 2007, he held a series of “listening sessions” with Democrats to explore options for an immigration bill. He also coordinated the House’s continuing response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, especially in the poor sections of Louisiana. With experience in dealing with hurricane damage in his home state, he led the Katrina Task Force, which made visits to the Gulf Coast and had regular meetings with local officials. He worked to waive the 10% matching requirement required for local communities seeking federal funds for disaster recovery. “I truly believe that if the demographics of the affected areas had been different, the response of the federal government would have been different,” he said in a May 2007 speech in Baton Rouge.
Back home Clyburn has not faced serious opposition for re-election. He has been a player in the state’s often pivotal Democratic presidential primary. African-Americans cast about half the votes in the primary, and Clyburn is the most prominent black politician in the state. In the 2004 presidential primary campaign, he first backed Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, with whom he had worked in the House. But Gephardt withdrew after the Iowa caucuses, and Clyburn endorsed frontrunner John Kerry rather than South Carolina native John Edwards. Throughout 2007, his support was eagerly sought by Democratic contenders, who attended his annual Fish Fry in Columbia. Although he did not take sides in the January 2008 primary, he clashed with Hillary Rodham Clinton when she seemed to suggest that President Lyndon Johnson, in signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, had a more important role than the Rev. King and other key civil rights figures at the time. “That bothered me a great deal,” Clyburn told The New York Times. As the leader of an older generation of civil rights leaders, he was initially skeptical that Obama could win the presidential nomination. When Obama clinched it in June 2008, Clyburn told a radio interviewer that he went home to watch it alone on television “because what I was feeling was indescribable and I was afraid that I would not be able to control my emotions.”
After the election, Clyburn got into an unusual conflict with Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who said that he would not use all of the money available to South Carolina in the economic stimulus bill enacted in February 2009. He called the governor’s action a “slap in the face” of the predominantly black constituents who would benefit. In April 2009, President Obama nominated Clyburn’s daughter, Mignon Clyburn, for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission. Since 1998, she has been on the Public Service Commission in South Carolina.