Encore: James Clyburn's Rise To Popular South Carolina Democrat

Mar 6, 2020
Originally published on March 6, 2020 10:18 am

When Rep. James Clyburn — the highest-ranking African American in Congress — endorsed Joe Biden's 2020 bid for president, it helped propel the candidate to crucial victories in the South Carolina primary last month and on Super Tuesday.

Clyburn, elected to Congress in 1992, has served two stints as House Majority Whip, a post he currently holds. At StoryCorps in 2007, Clyburn talked to his granddaughter about success and failure.

Click the play button to hear their conversation.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Anita Rao.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday. It is Friday and time again for StoryCorps. Today, we have a conversation with Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. His endorsement helped Joe Biden to win the South Carolina primary, transforming the presidential race in recent days. Back in 2007, Clyburn talked with his granddaughter Sydney Reed about success and failure.

SYDNEY REED: Have you ever felt you wanted to quit?

JAMES CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. When I first won in 1970, when I won the primary for the South Carolina House of Representatives, there was this big party after the votes came in. And everybody was jumping up and down and very happy. But the next morning, I went into the bathroom, and there on my sink was a little note from your grandmother. And the little note said, when you win, brag gently. When you lose, weep softly. Now, I thought that was kind of interesting, and I stuck it up on the mirror in the bathroom.

So we go into the general election in November. And when the polls closed that evening around 10 o'clock, all the news media announced that I had gotten elected, that I was going to be a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. About 3:30 in the morning, somebody rang my doorbell, and they told me that something had gone wrong down at the courthouse. And I went down to the courthouse, and they told me, rather than winning by 500 votes, we have determined that you have lost by 500 votes. The next morning, when I went to my bathroom, I looked up at the mirror, and I wept softly. And yes, I thought then that this was the worst thing could possibly happen. But later on that morning, I determined that I was going to go forward.

In 1978, I ran for secretary of state and lost. 1986, I ran for secretary of state again and lost. And more than one person said to me, well, that's your third strike. What are you going to do next? And I always said, three strikes may be an out in baseball, but life is not baseball. And so in 1992, I ran for the United States Congress, and this time, I won. I don't know. There was just something that kept telling me that you got to stick this out. And, you know, we have our state seal in South Carolina, and the Latin phrase on the seal says dum spiro spero - while I breathe, I hope. And I've always felt that there's hope, and so I have never given up.

INSKEEP: James Clyburn talking with his granddaughter Sydney Reed. Their StoryCorps conversation was recorded in 2007 as part of this amazing series, an amazing record of American life, and it will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.