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Family, life experiences inspire Clyburn’s ‘Blessed Experiences’

Posted: June 10, 2014 5:21 p.m.
Updated: June 11, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The third-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives visited Camden on Friday, a homecoming of sorts as he signed his new book, “Blessed Experiences,” at Books on Broad.

Clyburn grew up in Sumter and attended Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy in Camden. He described his time there as beneficial.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “My mother attended Mather and stayed there through the tenth grade.”

Clyburn said his mother had a strong desire for her children to also attend Mather.

“I went to Lincoln High in Sumter until 10th grade and then I got in with the wrong crowd,” Clyburn admitted.

He said the experience at Mather got him in touch with reality.

“I still remember my teachers there. I wrote about them in my book,” he said. “It was a very wholesome experience, a salvation. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not gone there.”

Clyburn still has family in Camden.

“My cousins still live in Camden. I visit them all the time,” Clyburn said, noting that his family recently held a picnic in Camden that he was able to attend; he also attends yearly family reunions. “I have a big family. I’m very family-oriented.”

Before he became a student at Mather, Clyburn played baseball for Sumter’s Lincoln High School against one of his cousins who played for Jackson High School in Camden.

“I’ve always been very competitive with my brothers and cousins when playing sports,” he said. “We love each other. We’re very close, but we’re very competitive.”

Clyburn said he has maintained close contact with his first cousin, Margaret Lawhorn, who works at the United Way of Kershaw County and its mentoring program. She spoke fondly of her famous cousin.

“Congressman Jim Clyburn and my father were first cousins with the same name which we had a great time laughing about growing up!” she said. “When my father, James E. Clyburn Sr. passed away last year, Cousin Jim -- which we affectionately call the congressman -- spoke at his funeral service. He stated everyone thought it was him on the news saying the congressman had passed, but the age gave it away -- which my father was 91 years old -- and there were quite a few people in line ready to take his job. The family enjoyed him sharing that story during such a time in our lives.”

Lawhorn also recounted a very special memory shared between herself, Clyburn and President Bill Clinton.

“Several years ago, during Black History Month, each classroom door was to be covered with a famous Black American at Jackson Elementary School where I loved being a first grade teacher,” she explained. “I decided Congressman James E. Clyburn would be my famous person. Congressman Clyburn came and spoke to the school’s student body of only kindergarten and first graders at that time. His message was absolutely unforgettable and powerful! That was a moment in Kershaw County that was priceless! He took a Jackson School T-Shirt back to the White House and he and former President Bill Clinton took a picture with the shirt. It was framed and placed in the front office of the school for years as a memory of his visit to Camden.”

Clyburn also maintains a relationship with other Mather alumni: Camden resident Clifton Harryton Anderson and Anderson’s sister-in-law, Ethel Mae Tillman-Anderson. The two of them recently traveled to Columbia to personally congratulate Clyburn on his serving as U.S. House Majority Whip. Anderson said Anderson said the visit allowed himself and Clyburn the opportunity to reminisce upon their school days at Mather. Both of them remembered there was a sense of discipline and “can-do” spirit instilled in them by the teachers, Anderson said.

Clyburn’s close relationship with his family was part of the inspiration for his book. He described the writing process behind “Blessed Experiences,” as one that took place during a period of 28 years. Clyburn said he’d been keeping notes since 1985 because he knew the kind of book he wanted to write required experiences.

“I wanted it to be instructional, motivational, something that would inspire and motivate high school students,” he said, adding that although the book discusses events that occurred during the Jim Crow era, “I had no feelings of sadness writing this book.

“In spite of circumstances, in spite of expectations, you should not be limited. I say to young people, ‘Three strikes, you’re out’ is a baseball rule. That’s not life. You’re never out in life. Nobody knows how many times Thomas Edison failed before he got a light. Our failures can be overcome.”

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