Clyburn represents the state’s “largest and poorest legislative district,” and this has led him to support legislation that addresses issues such as health care, transportation, environmental justice, and education.
Congressman. Clyburn was born in Sumter on July 21, 1940, to Enos and Alameta Clyburn. He attended Mather Academy, a private high school for African Americans in Camden, and earned a B.S. from South Carolina State College in 1962. While attending South Carolina State, he participated in sit-ins to desegregate public facilities in Orangeburg. He met his wife, Emily England, at South Carolina State, and they were married in 1961. They are the parents of three daughters.
Clyburn has had an extensive career in public service. From 1962 to 1971 he lived in Charleston, where he taught school, served as an employment counselor, and directed two youth and community development projects. From 1971 to 1974 he served on the staff of Governor John C. West. In 1974 Governor West appointed him as South Carolina human affairs commissioner. He served for eighteen years under both Democratic and Republican governors.
Clyburn’s public career also included several runs for public office. In 1970 he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the General Assembly. While he was human affairs commissioner, he ran unsuccessfully for the office of secretary of state in 1978 and 1986. In 1992 Clyburn ran for the Sixth District congressional seat, which had been created when the U.S. Justice Department ordered the General Assembly to redraw the state’s district lines to create a “majority minority” congressional seat. Clyburn won, becoming South Carolina’s first African American congressman since 1897.
Clyburn represents the state’s “largest and poorest legislative district,” and this has led him to support legislation that addresses issues such as health care, transportation, environmental justice, and education. He is the only South Carolina legislator to receive perfect scores on the Americans for Democratic Action and Children’s Defense Fund legislative report cards, two advocacy groups that measure the level of support by lawmakers for liberal and progressive legislation. Clyburn also became a strong advocate for historic preservation and free trade. In 1995 he supported legislation to create the state’s Heritage Corridor, and he has been an advocate of more funding to support the state’s heritage and historic sites. In 2000 he visited Cuba to explore trade agreements that would end the U.S. embargo against that nation and benefit South Carolina by opening up a new market for the state’s farmers.
In 1998 Clyburn was elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He was the first southerner to hold the chairmanship of the thirty-eight-member organization, and his election signaled a new direction for African Americans in Congress. As a congressman from the South with a large rural and poor constituency, Clyburn focused his agenda for the CBC on building coalitions with Republicans and other caucuses in Congress to garner support for issues such as economic development and public transportation. This was a shift from the traditional civil rights agenda that had dominated the CBC’s agenda for the first twenty-seven years of its existence. From 2007- 2011, Clyburn served as the House of Representative’s Majority Whip for the Democratic Party, and from 2011-2019, he served as the House’s Assistant Minority Leader. In 2019 he resumed his role as the Majority Whip. He was re-elected in 2020 to serve his fourteenth-consecutive term as South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District Representative.
Botsch, Carol Sears, et al. African-Americans and the Palmetto State. Columbia: South Carolina State Department of Education, 1994.
Derfner, Jeremy. “The New Black Caucus.” American Prospect 11 (March 27, 2000): 16–19.