John Thomas, III, the editor of The Christian Recorder, scored a two-for-one deal when he interviewed Congressional Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina at the General Board in Birmingham, Alabama. Clyburn—the third most powerful democrat in the American government—not only shared his shrewd political insights but he also talked at length about the legacy of the AME Church.
Clyburn is a 14-term Democratic congressman; and after the 2018 elections where Democrats took control of the House, he reclaimed the Majority Whip position. When he came to Congress in 1993 to represent South Carolina’s sixth congressional district, Congressman Clyburn was elected co-president of his freshman class and quickly rose through leadership ranks. He was subsequently elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, vice-chair, and later chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Congressman Clyburn’s humble beginnings in Sumter, South Carolina, as the eldest son of an activist, fundamentalist minister, and an independent, civic-minded beautician grounded him securely in family, faith, and public service. His memoir, Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, was published in 2015 and has been described as a primer that should be read by every student interested in pursuing a career in public service. His wife of 58 years, Emily Clyburn, passed away in September at the age of 80. They are the parents of three daughters, Mignon Clyburn, Jennifer Reed, and Angela Hannibal and four grandchildren.
TCR: In the last few years, we have seen the Republicans and Democrats use faith in politics. Who would’ve imagined Paula White being the president’s faith-based advisor 10, even five, years ago? And now she’s also the head of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
JC: Well, I think that what we have to remember is that so much of what we say and do are what I call faith-based. When you are talking about young people and their futures, you don’t have to be preachy to get them to understand the importance of having faith in themselves. One Bible verse that represents this is Hebrews, 11th chapter, 1st verse, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
TCR: You’ve been in Congress for more than 28 years. Can you talk about how the AME Church has had influence and sway in Washington, DC?
JC: Well, I think that one of the things the AME Church has not done a good job of is making people aware of the role they played in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed “separate but equal.” Everything that has happened since 1954 when it comes to integration and desegregation is based on that ’54 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. And those five cases that we talk about so often that we celebrated out in Kansas started in little old Clarendon County, South Carolina. They began with [the] Rev. J. A. DeLaine, an AME pastor with St. Mark AME Church, Liberty Hill AME Church. It was called Belton v. Gebhart. Well, the Belton family really came out of South Carolina. They’re AME.
TCR: What does being an active member of the AME Church mean to you in your political life?
JC: I think the AME Church was born out of protest. I mean, Richard Allen gave birth to this church in protest over current events and that’s what attracted me to this movement. And so, I think that what we have to do is get people to know of that relationship. Most people don’t know that that is what this church is all about. And I think that if the church were to spend a little more time putting that out there, we’d have much more young people involved in this AME movement than we have today because the whole activism of the AME Church is what is attractive to young people.
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Source: The Christian Recorder