U.S. Rep. James Clyburn

By Reginald Stuart

WASHINGTON, DC — When James Clyburn was a college student at the South Carolina State College and local leader of student non-violent protests of racial segregation in local stores, he visited Jefferson Street in North Nashville often to visit the Jefferson Street Bakery, once a retail cornerstone of the area run by his late uncle. 

For sure, much has changed since. Segregation has been outlawed due to the persistence and courage of young people like Clyburn and the late John Lewis, the Nashville area college student who helped lead student non-violent civil rights protests in Nashville. 

Once they succeeded with their respective efforts and saw visible results of their work to move the needle of racial equity in opportunity forward, they used their right to vote to get others registered and active in trying to change opportunities for the better. Both made major achievements in public service, eventually winning election after election to the U.S. Congress and subsequently roles as major leaders in their political party—the Democrats.

This week, as Democrats began to seal the tape on their claims of victory in this year’s coast-to-coast elections, now Rep. Clyburn of South Carolina, celebrates his bid to keep his high-ranking post as Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. He won his Congressional bid from South Carolina last month and his election last week among House colleagues to win their selection of him for the third highest post among House lawmakers starting in January.

The two other top Democrats in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, current Speaker of the House, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland the No. 2 person in the House, decided last month, after securing their re-elections as lawmakers, they would step down from their party leadership roles to help pave the way for a seamless legislative leadership transition to a younger generation.

Clyburn, considered a key to the Democratic combination for success since the turn of this century, did not surprise colleagues by his decision to dismiss his age of 82 and stay in the challenge to help the new and younger generation of leaders. The Democrats will be led by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries D-New York, considered to be ready for the challenge although he, like many new members of the House, has no practical front-line experience like the older retiring leaders who literally marched, picketed and went to court to fight for their rights.

“It is important that the South, rural communities, and those left out of economic progress of previous generations have a seat at the leadership table next Congress,” Rep. Clyburn said in a statement released after his Democratic leadership meeting late last week. 

President Biden, who grasped the importance of Rep. Clyburn’s help since the 2020 Presidential

Contest, in which California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, was his Vice-Presidential running mate, noted Clyburn’s political presence and muscle when he, President Biden, suggested his party switch the party primary elections for 2024 to start in South Carolina. That dramatic move toward ending the reign of the Iowa Primary elections as presidential elections leader, since the 1960, reflected a symbolic reward by President Biden to South Carolina for Rep. Clyburn’s support and importance of Rep. Clyburn’s continued presence in Congress.

“It’s very clear he is not a wild man,” said Dr. Frank Pogue Jr., education consultant and past president of three stat-controlled colleges, “He’s very careful about protecting this country,” said Dr. Pogue, who served as senior vice president of the State University of New York System before becoming president of two institutions in Pennsylvania, one in Illinois and served as president of Grambling University of Louisiana.

“He is good solid man who is very needed today,” said Dr. Pogue, who got his start as a researcher at Nashville’s Meharry Medical College and was active in NAACP branches in upstate New York and Nashville. “People with commonsense,” said Dr. Pogue who grew up in Southern Alabama near Mobile. 

“It’s as if he grew up with us and our mothers,” said Dr. Pogue, echoing peers who grew up in the racially segregated South, civilly fought and survived it. “If Biden kicks off with South Carolina, he’s going to be among friends and supporters of the democracy we all need to protect, added Dr. Pogue, adding that Rep. Clyburn brings to the table impeccable credentials when it comes to higher education assistance and needs of the poor.

While House members were meeting last week deciding on their leadership for next year, Rep. Clyburn kept giving voters a fresh reminder of his work here of bringing home the bacon: In one of a series of funding actions, the South Carolina civil rights champion announced a federal grant of $58 million for South Carolina State University’s transportation center.