Congressman James E. Clyburn was at Claflin University on Sunday to sign copies of his memoir, Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black. Ministers’ Hall was filled with individuals eager to get their hands on a copy of the newly released book.
“Many of you in this room are friends of Jim Clyburn, and you know, as I do, that when he’s passionate about something, his commitment is unwavering,” said Janice Marshall, ’70, a Claflin University Board of Trustees member and the executive director of the James E. Clyburn Research and Scholarship Foundation. “He walks the walk and talks the talk.”
“It is fitting that we’re holding today’s celebration here, in Minister’s Hall,” she continued. In addition to Clyburn’s commitment to education, Marshall said, “Historic preservation is another of his passions, and this building was lovingly restored with federal resources he secured.”
Clyburn “has always been a steadfast advocate for those without a voice and a committed leader,” Marshall said. “His tenacity, endurance, fortitude, patience and faith provide a living example of what it means to be genuinely Southern and proudly black.”
Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said Clyburn is a great friend of the institution.
“In fact, he’s been a tireless servant and friend of higher education throughout his career as an elected official,” Tisdale said. “I say with tremendous appreciation to the Congressman that Claflin University has benefitted from the commitment and from the friendship.
“Through his book, our children and grandchildren, and future generations, will have a source to inspire them to dream big, understanding that a setback can be a setup for something grand.”
Clyburn shared with the audience his inspiration for Blessed Experiences and its title. In the book, he tells in his own inspirational words how an African-American boy from the Jim Crow South was able to beat the odds to achieve great success.
“The epilogue in this book is a letter to my children, my grandchildren, and all other children and grandchildren similarly challenged,” Clyburn said. “I wrote this book to take into account all of the challenges that I’ve had, and how I have dealt with those challenges in hopes that children coming along will benefit from them.”
Clyburn said Blessed Experiences has been nearly 30 years in the making. He wrote the first chapter in 1985.
“I set the book aside because I came to the conclusion as I was writing that I had not lived long enough nor had I had enough experiences to write the kind of book I wanted to write,” Clyburn said. “I wanted to write a book that would be motivational, informational, and a book that would tell exactly what … I wanted to pass on to future generations.
“I want this book to be a textbook for young people.”
The title comes from two episodes in the congressman’s life, he said.
“Bill Howell taught me my second year at South Carolina State, and Bill Howell and I were a bit combative in class,” Clyburn said. “One day, we were going back and forth, and he said to me, ‘Young man, you must understand, you will never be any more nor will you ever be any less than what your experiences allow you to be.’ That struck me, and it stuck with me. So I decided that my book had to be about those experiences. But about halfway through the book, I hit a wall and couldn’t write. And I remembered that my father used to spend all day Saturday reading, writing and humming his favorite hymn, Blessed Assurance … so I read the hymn Blessed Assurance. And there it was – I could see what my dad got from that hymn.”
The subtitle comes from an episode Clyburn recalled during his early days at the South Carolina State House. A legislator made a comment that Clyburn felt crossed the line. He approached the legislator after the meeting and was told that he needed to understand that the legislator spoke that way because he was a Southerner.
“I, too, am a Southern,” Clyburn said, adding that was the working title of his book for many years. “My parents were Southerners, and they didn’t talk that way, they didn’t use that kind of language, they didn’t insult people gratuitously. I wanted to make the case that we, too, are Southerners. … But we are a proud people, proudly black.
“The whole thing is to say to every child – black or white – in this state that you have a stake in being a South Carolinian. This state is as much yours as anybody elses, and you should be proud of the contributions you make to this state. Throughout this book, you will see time and time again I make the case for being a genuinely Southern and proud black person. And I never ever stray from that.”
Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black is $34.95 and available wherever books are sold. Clyburn said he has plans to write a sequel.