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The Honorable James E. Clyburn

Maker interview details

Profile image of The Honorable James E. Clyburn
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  • November 10, 2021
  • May 20, 2014



  • Born: July 21, 1940
  • Birth Location: Sumter, South Carolina


  • Favorite Color: Gray
  • Favorite Food: Fish (Fried)
  • Favorite Time of Year: Christmas
  • Favorite Vacation Spot: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Favorite Quote

"While I Breathe, I Hope."
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United States Congressman James Enos "Jim" Clyburn was born on July 21, 1940 in Sumter, South Carolina to Enos Lloyd Clyburn, a fundamentalist minister, and Almeta Clyburn, a beautician. Clyburn was elected president of his NAACP youth chapter when he was twelve years old, and went on to help organize many civil rights marches and demonstrations as a student leader at South Carolina State College (now South Carolina State University), where he graduated in 1962 with his B.S. degree in history. He later attended the University of South Carolina Law School.

Upon graduation from South Carolina State College, Clyburn was hired as a social studies teacher at C.A. Brown High School in Charleston, South Carolina. From 1965 to 1971, he worked as an employment counselor, a director of youth programs and led the South Carolina Farm Workers Commission. After an unsuccessful run for the South Carolina General Assembly, Clyburn joined the staff of Governor John C. West in 1971 and was appointed as the first minority advisor to a South Carolina governor. In 1974, he was named the South Carolina Human Affairs Commissioner. He served in that position until 1992 when he stepped down to run for U.S. Congress. In November of 1992, Clyburn was elected the U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 6th Congressional District, becoming the state’s first African American to serve in Congress since 1897.

As a Congressman, Clyburn was elected co-president of his freshman class in 1993, and was unanimously elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1998. In 2002, he won an election among three House members to serve as vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Clyburn rose to the position of caucus chair in January 2006, and in 2007, he became the first South Carolinian to serve as house majority whip. In 2011, he became the assistant house democratic leader and the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. In 2018, Clyburn was elected to serve his second stint as House Majority Whip.

Clyburn has served as Steering Committee Chairman for the International Museum of African American History in Charleston, South Carolina, and as a member of the governing boards of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina; Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina; and The Palmetto Conservation Foundation. In addition, he has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by numerous colleges and universities, and has authored two books: Uncommon Courage: The Story of Briggs V. Elliott, South Carolina's Unsung Civil Rights Battle (2004); and Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black (2014).

Clyburn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He and his late wife, Emily, had three daughters: Mignon Clyburn, Jennifer Clyburn Reed, and Angela Clyburn.

U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 20, 2014.

Previews from the Digital Archive


Watch the full interview in the Digital Archive