tv Lectures in History Conversation with Rep. James Clyburn D-SC CSPAN December 31, 2021 11:00am-11:41am EST
legacy against contemporary criticism. and later, author matthew pearl talks about the kidnapping of daniel boone's 13-year-old daughter and tensions between settlers and native americans on the 1776 western frontier. a full schedule of history programming is available at c-span.org/history or on your program guide. here is lectures in history. a great honor to be with today and present today a dear friend and one of the great leaders of our country, jim clyburn. congressman clyburn is currently the majority whip, the third ranking democrat in the united states house of representatives. he's been in the congress since 1993 and has had a phenomenal record of achievement in economic development and racial progress. and he's one of the most revered
members of the congress. about 19 -- about 20 years ago, i was working to develop the idea of an african american museum and congressman clyburn was then as busy as anyone in the congress. if you went to his office on capitol hill, it was like grand central station, people coming and going and everybody needing time from the congressman in consultation with him. i went to ask the congressman if he would consider being chair of the board of the international african american museum that we had just created. and he was so busy, i was timid to ask. and he said, well, joe, let me ask emily. emily was the congressman's dear
wife who we lost, sadly, just a few years ago. and in sign of great respect for his wife, because he was busy as can be in washington, they went to south carolina as often as they could. about two weeks later he called me back and he said, joe, emily said yes, and i will. jim clyburn never missed a meeting of the board of international african american museum. those meetings were in charleston. as busy as he was, not only did he not miss the meetings, but he was prepared. he had read everything that had been disseminated to the board members. he was a historian, he taught history. and he brought an intellectual and an historical heft to the shaping of the museum. so the museum is wonderfully under construction now, it will be open in less than two years from now. it would not have happened without jim clyburn.
he realized that he could help us get some federal money to get things going, so there was a conflict of interest, so stepped aside and continued to advise us, advise us and support us. and i've known of the congressman since 1970, and the congressman, one thing i always -- i admire so many things about him. the congressman had ran for the south carolina house of representatives in 1970. no african american had been elected to the south carolina house of representatives since reconstruction. congressman jim ran and was narrowly defeated. in fact we all went to bed that night knowing that jim clyburn would be breaking that barrier and be serving in the house of representatives, and then as the
votes were counted late and ballot boxes came in from wherever, the next morning we found that jim had not been elected. and congressman, your grace in accepting what so many people would have railed, something was done wrong or whatever, the way that you, sir, handled that great disappointment to you and to us who were so fervent in our desire to have you elected, is something that i'll never forget. do you have memories about that, congressman, anything you would like to share? >> well, thank you very much, mr. mayor. i'll still call you mayor, please don't tell the current mayor that i'm doing that. but, you know, i think i've done that in his presence as well. but thank you so much for telling that story, because there's a little more to that
story, to firm up our relationship. during that campaign, you were running for reelection. and of course during that time, whoever led the ticket would be designated as chair of the delegation. another african american and i were running together, we had an uphill battle. and you felt that you would be reelected. and that we could be elected. and you helped with that. i'll never forget, you gave up all the media. we had pooled our resource, divided it up, radio and television. you decided that herbert and i
needed that more than you did, and you gave us all of your media time. and of course you knew at the time that you might not lead the ticket, but you thought it was more beneficial to the state and to the charleston community for the two of us to get elected. i have never forgotten that. i really believe that part of what led me to be able to accept that very disappointing defeat was having experienced the way you were able to sacrifice your first place victory for herbert and me. so thank you so much for that relationship. and so when you ask did i join this effort as chair of the steering committee, i did go to
emily. my dear wife of 58 years, because i didn't want to take on another responsibility and have her say to me at some point, you're taking on too much. and so she would not hesitate to tell me what she felt. and bringing her into that decision. and i want to thank you for the relationship that you had with emily as well. she admired and respected you a great deal. and i really, really hope that what you're doing and what we've worked together to do will do her memory proud. so thank you so much for having me here. >> thank you. and i loved emily too, she was a most wonderful person. and she was one of those people that if you were in her company, you just felt better. her goodness and her quality was
really -- was so inspirational. congressman, when you taught history at c.a. brown high school way back then, in the late '60s, i guess, what were the history books like? what did they teach? what did you have as material to teach about african american history? >> not much. it was the early '60s, i became a teacher there in charleston in january, 1962. i spent three years there at c.a. brown, teaching history. but what i did when i was teaching, i taught from the newspapers rather than from the textbook. most of my fellow teachers thought back then that i was going to get fired.
but i never got fired. in fact i had a hard time keeping people out of my classroom, because i felt that history ought to be a part of the living person. and to bring those students into history, just think, for example, i was teaching at the time that we had the cuban crisis, when the russians placed those missiles in cuba. i was standing in my classroom. why would i say to students, when all we saw in the newspapers was about the russians bringing these missiles down to cuba, not far from charleston where they lived? so what i did was, we would pick up the newspapers and say here's
what's going on today, let's go over chapter 22, the chapter on cuba and go over the background on that. that's the way i talked. it was a pretty good success. and as you know, i still hold on to relationships with many of those students even until this day. so, you know, that's the kind of thing i didn't get. when i was teaching -- i mean, i was a student, the history teacher would tell us, you know, for a test, for instance, we got a ten-question test here, what's the date that this happened, what's the date that columbus discovered america, what's the date this, that, and the other. i hated that. and so when i started teaching, on my first day in the classroom i would tell my students, i want you to write down two dates. number one, 4/76 a.d.
number two, 10/76 a.d. those are the only two years i want you to remember. the roman empire fell in 476. william the conquerer opened up the new world in 1066. those to me were the two big dates to remember. other than that, we talked about issues and how those issues related to them in their everyday lives. >> and congressman, you provided great leadership to those young people. and i remember the ambassador from the united states, a couple of others, who became real distinguished leaders, and they all would point back to being in jim clyburn's class, the impact you had on those kids was absolutely remarkable. >> well, thank you.
james, who grew up there, raised by his grandparents, was in my class. when james was named ambassador, he said, i need you to be at my swearing-in. we were out of session at the time but i came back up here to washington no go to his swearing-in. i never shall forget, when he stepped to the podium after being sworn in, he pointed over to me. i noticed when i got there, there was a little mark on the floor that they took me to, and that's where i stood. he pointed to me and said to the whole crowd that i wish you all could be in one of his classes, because he opened up the world to me. and that did everything for me. and as i was walking down to the
ame church, i looked over to my right, and standing there was james gadson. i didn't know he was there during the service, but he told me later he would never have missed that, because he was in the whole group. he lived in an apartment on cummings street just a few blocks from here. they would all come to our house and we would have these sessions. and i would just talk to them about the world at large. so they would know there was much more, could be much more to their lives than that which existed on charleston's east side which is where c.a. brown
was. that was the backdrop to this great vision that you had and still hold on to with the international african american museum. not the charleston african american museum or an african american museum but international african american museum, because it talks about how charleston and that community fits into the international scope of things. the common theme i'm trying to teach around. by the way, now retired from big time on wall street. he used to be general counsel for american express. that's what came out of those classes. and there were so many other things to talk about. that's not what we're here to talk about today. >> one thing -- we'll get to the museum quickly, but when, congressman, you lost the
election in 1970, the newly elected governor of south carolina, john west, who was a citadel graduate, saw jim clyburn's character and the way that he with grace handled that defeat. he appointed congressman clyburn to be the first director of the south carolina human affairs commission. and then the congressman for governor west really went around the state, making ties and connecting business interests and other interests together so they and south carolina could move forward together as a more racially together community. wouldn't you say, congressman? >> absolutely. when i was asked what happened
in that election, i simply said it looks like i didn't get enough votes. and when i was pressed, i held to that, it looks like i didn't get enough votes. and that was the headline on that thursday morning. i talked to the reporter on wednesday after the tuesday election. on that thursday morning, john west, having just been elected governor of south carolina, was going out, passing through charleston. he picked up newspapers. and he immediately called. i was not home. we spoke with him and he told me, please have me call him. and i caused him. he asked me to meet him the following monday. i did. and we -- he offered me the position on his staff. and he said to me at the time --
because at first i turned it down, i said, no, i don't think i need to do that, i'm a little bit too caustic. he said to me, if i had your talent, i would be a little more caustic than you are. that started the relationship. and my desk in columbia was a desk that he had as governor. his wife dolores. john west, when i became majority whip, she called me and said john west would be so proud of this, i want you to have his desk. >> wow. >> she gave me the desk he had as governor. i sit behind that desk right now every time i go to my columbia office. and i would hope that would be somewhat of a lesson to some of your students.
he said to me all the time, you never say everything that's on your mind. i wouldn't going to say what was on my mind that morning after the 1970 election. but certainly i kept it there and i talked about the results and it made all the difference. a different headline, and i don't think i would have ever gotten that call from john west and i certainly wouldn't be sitting here now as the number three guy among democrats in the united states house of representatives. >> i agree with that, congressman. and why i raise that, for the students, because it's such important life lessons in that. you accept disappointments with grace and you build for the future. that's one of the many great lessons that jim clyburn has given us, not only his legislative leadership but as a human being, as someone you could trust and who inspired those kids he was teaching at
the c.a. brown school. he inspires members of congress on both sides of the aisle right now because of his character and his intellect and his determination. it's really amazing. congressman, changing subjects a little bit, it would seem to me that the recent unfortunate efforts, in my opinion, to make it less easy for people to vote, just more cumbersome than it needs to be, that that is a bit reminiscent of what happened after reconstruction, a different form in a way, but it seems to me that it's very unfortunate that in our country, that there are any efforts we should be -- we respectfully
believe we should make it easier and less cumbersome for american citizens to vote rather than to throw these obstacles in their way. what are your thoughts about that, congressman? >> you're so right about that. i really believe that we have to be very, very careful in this great country that we're at. i have said over and over again, this is a great country. it does not have to be made great again. it's a great country. our challenge is making this country's greatness accessible and affordable for all of its citizens. and the foundation upon which that greatness is made is the unfetterred right to the ballot. and we have grown in our pursuit of a more perfect union by opening up that ballot. that's what the 1964 civil rights act was all about.
that's what the 1965 voting rights act was all about. in pursuit of perfection by making the franchise, the ballot, more accessible to all of its citizens. and for us to get to a point of backtracking on that most important thing in our democracy would be to destroy that pursuit. and i think it may very well destroy this fragile democracy that we have. we have been a shining light, as ronald reagan has said, on the hill for a long time. people that look to this country, for example, for a long
time. i don't know that anybody will look with honor upon any country that would turn the clock back on its pursuit of perfection, that would take away the right to vote, as some jurisdictions seem to be pursuing. i would hope that this will be an anomaly on the part of a couple of states, and let's get back in pursuit of perfection. >> thank you, congressman. and i know we probably have some questions. kerry, do we have questions ready yet? >> yes, absolutely. >> open it up. >> yeah, please, and just as a reminder, for any of the students, really any of our guests, if you want to put questions into the chat, i'll do my best to relay those to the
congressman. i wanted to maybe just take us back for a minute, congressman, to the 1960s. and i think about, you know, the work that you did around the orangeburg massacre and especially around the charleston hospital strike. i think about that period as a time of great upheaval, the assassination of dr. king and bobby kennedy. and i'm wondering if you might draw some parallels or make some comparisons to our contemporary politics and, you know, what are the, you know, the comparisons between today and 1968, if those are appropriate? >> well, not just '68, i was long out of school at the time. i started teaching in charleston in 1962, i went to work for john
west in 1971. in 1968, i was in charleston at the time, but i was running the neighborhood youth program, and in the fall of '68 i became the rector of the south carolina mission for farm workers. and that's where i really was at the time of the massacre. i knew many of the students, in fact i can williams was one of the students leading that who was from north charleston. and ike was on my staff, he passed away. what was going on then i was very much involved with. he and i stayed in touch. and i became sort of -- at the
time of the hospital strike in 1969, we also had the workers strike, few people still remember that. bill saunders, who along with mary mutry was leading the hospital strike. when the workers strike came along, for some strange reason they asked me to get involved with the garment workers and negotiate to end that. so we had two things going on simultaneously but we met every evening to keep things on course. the lines of communication stayed open. and that's why i'm a little bit concerned today about cutting off discussions. you have to find ways to keep the communication going. and if you stop talking, you're never going to get to the issue. what was going on back then, a lot of what you see today i
think is reminiscent of that. and i do believe that we overcame back then, because people with open minds, some people with broad shoulders, stepped up to get us back on track and back where we needed to go. that 1970 election came right after the hospital strike. so here is joe riley, running for reelection, said, i'm giving up my media, i paid for it, it's mine, but it's more important for these two people for our legislature to be integrated. and by the way, i lost that election, and i went on to become the first african american to serve on the governor's staff. and so we both came out winners.
so i say to young people all the time, this experience that you have, it may look like that obstacle, but it could very well be a stepping stone if you respond appropriately to it. >> one of our wonderful librarians has a question for you. ruby murray asks, if you might say a little bit about the political damage that the slogan "defund the police" did to candidates in the recent elections. and do you have any suggestions for a better framework for, you know, the urgent need for police reform moving forward? >> yes, i do.
and i've been writing about it, and i've been talking about it. i think we have to all reimagine policing. i think that, you know, if you're a lawyer, and you are policed by the bar association, i just saw a couple of weeks ago two lawyers in south carolina, i saw the headlines, about two who were disbarred because they did something wrong. so the same thing has to take place with policing. it's an honorable profession. my cousin wilson clyburn was for 40 years a police officer in camden. i spoke at his service. he was an honorable person in an honorable profession. so we cannot allow the one bad
apple to ruin the entire barrel. and that's what will happen if we don't extricate, get that bad apple out of the process. and that's what we have to do. this whole notion that we seem to have that once you strap on a gun or pin on a badge, all of a sudden you're a saint and you cannot be held accountable. and that's what has been allowed to creep into policing. we have to have police. it's an honorable profession to be in and i support that. but we should not go so far as to the current state of affairs, black lives matter, with respect to what happened in the 1960s, when john lewis and i were demonstrating, we formed what became known as the student
nonviolent coordinating committee, snc, people came out with a new slogan, burn baby burn. that undercut what we were doing, undermined the effort. and i saw that, along with john lewis. just a few months before he passed away, the two of us sat in the back of the house chamber once day and he said that we needed to speak out, we shouldn't stand by and allow sloganeering to kill the black lives matter movement the way it did the student movement that we were a part of back in the '60s. i want your students to notice, i keep talking about the student movement. you never heard me call at it civil rights movement. there has always been a civil rights movement.
what was going on in the 1960s were the students, the student nonviolent committee. the naacp was formed in 1909. so there has always been a civil rights movement. these things always take place. so i try to put things in the proper perspective. so i say to your students, let's keep things in the proper perspective. one of them is, keep policing in a proper perspective. and let's remember that throwing out bad policemen is not to destroy the profession. >> our good student and president of the campus chapter of the young democrats, active in the young democrats statewide, tyler mitchell, would
like to ask you, given all the events of the previous year, what are the prospects that america can build a stronger foundation in the area of social equality? >> i think the prospects great that it could be done. my dad used to say something all the time that i think about a lot these days. where there is a will, there is a way. what we have to do is develop the will. and i don't think enough people have developed the well to do what's necessary. it's so easy to walk away from it, it's easy to pretend it is not going on. the hard part is working together and putting aside individual differences. you know, the mayor and i were talking today, i say to people a
lot, i was born and raised in the town of sumter. came to south carolina state and met emily on that campus. she was born and raised up in monks corner, on a little 22-acre farm. we found out very early in our marriage that our backgrounds were so different that we had to make some significant adjustments in order to have a successful marriage. and i think the same thing applies to almost everything that we do. we have to learn that we have different backgrounds, different experiences. and we have to learn from each other. and you don't necessarily learn from people by shutting them up. you learn from them by listening to them. you get an atmosphere for some problems by coming together. and so i would say the prospects are great, if we can keep people
engaged on a very personal level. and that's the challenge, for me to be able to set aside whatever my inclinations might be long enough to listen to the other guy, to see whether or not he's got a better idea. and the same thing applies to women as well. i happen to be the father of three daughters. i listen to them. i talk to them. i ask their advice. and i often follow it. >> you know, as i've been standing here, i literally keep getting goosebumps. and i mean it. it's just so thrilling to see this fine, wise man representing our country in congress, representing us in south
carolina, with truth and justice, knowledge, experience. you know, we often read about things in political life that displease us. it's so important that we rejoice when we see someone like jim clyburn, who has essentially devoted his life to this cause. and it's about honesty and justice, and integrity. so for everyone who tuned in today, and certainly for the students of the class i'm honored to teach here, congressman, we just thank you so much for being with us and the marvelous example you give all of us of public service, decency, and what it means to be a citizen of our country.
thank you, sir. >> well, thank you so much for having me. i would commend to all of your students, if you have not done so already, please do me a big favor. read martin luther king jr.'s letter from the birmingham city jail. that to me, next to the bible, is one of the timeliest documents i've ever read. i want to call your attention to one little part of that book. king wrote in that book that we are going to be made to repent in this generation, not just for bad people, but for good people. so the good people, when we see injustice, must break our silence. we have to preserve this country. we have been an example for the world, and we cannot allow any
misfits to destroy that mantra that we have developed over the years. so thank you so much, mr. mayor, for allowing me to be here with you today. >> thank you. >> and i'm not disrespecting the current mayor. >> thank you, sir. if i can just add one thing for the students. dr. king's "letter from a birmingham jail." he was in jail, he wasn't given any paper to write on. he wrote that most amazing letter on the margins and the edges of newspapers that he was collecting. the message that was so powerful, with the knowledge of what that courageous, industrious hand did to make
sure that the truth get out. it's really wonderful. thank you very much, congressman clyburn. >> thank you. >> thank you all for being here today. did you know you can listen to "lectures in history" on the go? stream it as a podcast anywhere, any time. you're watching american history tv. in 2017, american history tv toured the newly-opened smithsonian national museum of african american history and culture in washington, dc. here is a look at one of their exhibits. >> we're fortunate enough that we were able to receive a call from the edisto island historic preservation society that wanted to donate a slave cabin to our museum. they knew we were looking for a slave cabin to really help tell the story in a powerful way. and fortunately they had one from port of pines plantation located on edisto island, south carolina. what's really powerful about this cabin is on the front side,
we interpret it looking at slavery. on the back side we interpret it looking at freedom, because in fact on edisto island, that is where the union army camped out during the period of the civil war. and you see where land is given to the african american community and taken away several times until it is ultimately taken away for good. but let's talk about the interpretation in terms of slavery. notice the cabin behind me. what's important about that cabin is, not unlike where people locked up animals at night that worked in the fields, not unlike the enslaved men, women, and children, this really could be considered a pen. but african american men, women, and children, again, through resistance and resilience and holding on to their humanity, found ways to love one another, to practice their faith, to grow gardens on the side of their cabins to supplement their diets, and to create new cultural practices. >> watch the full tour online at c-span.org/history.
american history tv. saturdays on c-span2. exploring the people and events that tell the american story. at 2:00 p.m. eastern on "the presidency," a look at presidential trains with bob withers who wrote "the president travels by train." he talks about the roles trains played in the presidencies of abraham lincoln, franklin roosevelt, dwight eisenhower, george h.w. bush and at least one presidential spouse, lady bird johnson. and at 8:00 p.m. on "lectures in history" a professor of the new school discusses the role the fitness industry played in 1980s american culture with new business models for group classes like jazzercise, the rise of fitness studios, and the sales of vhs fitness tapes. exploring the american story. watch american history tv saturdays on c-span2 and find a full schedule on your program guide or watch online