Thursday, October 04, 2007
By Jason Darby, ‘99
Reprinted from the Summer 2007 issue of SCSU Review
Congressman Clyburn will be featured in The Big Picture, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. on ETV
As a student at South Carolina State College in 1960, Sixth District Congressman and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and six other students from SC State and a neighboring institution organized the first sit-ins in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Era.
The seven students were inspired by four other African American college students who organized the first sit-in at a Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth’s restaurant, seeking equal treatment and service as white customers.
Those Greensboro students helped to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to push along integration in many areas of the South.
Clyburn and the classmates, whom he still refers to as “my family,” became early SNCC members. What they were doing was dangerous to both their physical safety and their academic future; 15 students were either expelled or suspended from SC State four years earlier for peaceful campus protests.
But, Clyburn and the others persisted.
“I had a sense that what we were doing was important,” he said. His career and life have been defined by that sense of obligation. If you ask him, however, about his most important, most lasting SC State memory, he will very quickly tell you that “it was the day in 1959 that I met my wife, Emily.”
Following their graduation from SC State, the couple began their professional careers in the Charleston County public schools. Clyburn became a history teacher, and his wife became a librarian.
Their experiences as students during a tumultuous time in history and their early professional backgrounds fostered their appreciation of history and a love for their Alma Mater led them to establish the James E. and Emily E. Clyburn Endowment for Archives and History.
Endowments have thrived at many public universities for hundreds of years. However, endowments at most of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been severely underfunded and, often, nonexistent. The Clyburn Endowment is the first of its kind in SC State’s 111-year history.
“Emily and I have been richly blessed by our relationship over the years with SC State, and we wanted to create this endowment as a way of giving back,” Clyburn said. The couple is indeed giving back, raising more than $1.25 million thus far for the endowment with proceeds from a December 2005 holiday gala and corporate and individual contributions.
The Clyburn Endowment includes a needs-based scholarship component and provides a unique opportunity for SC State to present academic symposia, host eminent scholars and historians on the campus and house and showcase historic papers and documents in a new university archives.
“I have pledged whatever time I have left on this earth to try to make sure the people of this state get to know SC State University,” said Clyburn.
For him, that history not only includes recognizing the achievements of African Americans from the Palmetto State, but also understanding the fierce opposition that was in place to educate the descendants of former slaves at the university’s founding.
“People also need to know why this school is here and how it got here,” he said.
He relates the importance of that effort to an axiom that he often heard his father use: “It’s much better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
“I think that it’s incumbent on me to light as many candles as I can,” he said.
The program will be housed in the Emily E. Clyburn Archives and History Library, part of the forthcoming $70 million, 475,550-square-foot James E. Clyburn Transportation, Research and Conference Center.
The university archives are currently located near the center of campus on the second and third floors of the Miller F. Whittaker Library. The majority of historic papers and documents are housed on the third floor of the library, inhabiting an area previously used for Department of Library Science offices and classrooms.
“So far, we’ve been fortunate enough to find space to store archival materials,” said Mary L. Smalls, dean of library and information services. “We have had to turn all of the study rooms on the third floor into archival space and half of the study rooms on the second floor, as well as a few closets and unused offices.”
“We’ve been fortunate that we have not yet had to tell anyone, ‘No, we can’t accept your collection’,” she added.
Among the growing holdings in the SC State University Historical Collection are:
- University administrative and financial records dating back to the institution’s inception;
- University publications such as yearbooks, catalogs, student newspapers and alumni magazines;
- Donated materials that reflect the university experience from a student perspective;
- News clipping files that reflect or affect SC State directly or indirectly;
- A 20,000-plus image photographic collection; and
- An audio-visual collection that includes an oral history collection.
Researchers – ranging from historians and scholars to the media – are constantly making requests to use these resources.
“We have gotten requests from CNN, MSNBC and a number of other media outlets over the years to provide information,” said Smalls. They even come in and perform the research themselves, particularly as it relates to the annual observance of the 1968 “Orangeburg Massacre.”
Showtime Networks recently commissioned a motion picture based on the Civil Rights Era confrontation at the front of the campus that left three young men dead and 27 wounded at the hands of state highway patrolmen. Smalls anticipates that the filmmakers will use the archives for research.
Clyburn himself has already made a sizable contribution to the archives, having pledged his own papers in 2001.
“I had quite a few schools and other entities asking for my papers, but I always knew that if I had the chance to give back, it would be SC State University,” he said.
Asked how he thinks researchers might define his legacy decades from now, Clyburn shared that he only hopes that they will determine that he never shirked his responsibility.
“I just feel that I have a certain responsibility to the order of things that I strive hard to live up to,” he said.
The university archivists continue to sort through the first third of the Clyburn papers.
“It’s definitely a growing collection, and I see more growth in years to come,” said Smalls. “I think that housing the archives in the new location is very positive and will complement people’s thinking and desire to give even more – thanks to Congressman Clyburn.”
Smalls looks forward to the day when the archives will be able to relocate from Whittaker Library to the new Emily E. Clyburn Library.
“In the new facility, we are projecting a research room with a lot more space,” she said. They are even planning space for a larger processing room. “You need a lot of space to be able to sort through materials when you’re processing a person’s collection.”
Smalls added that the extra space will allow them to process multiple collections simultaneously.
However, space is not the only reason that a move is anticipated.
Located on the top floor of an older building, the current archival space is subject to seasonal shifts in temperature and relative humidity and monitors documents to make sure that they do not prematurely age.
According to Smalls, the temperature in the vault and stack areas of the new archives will be maintained at a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees relative humidity. The reading room, offices and work areas will have a standing environment relative to the rest of the facility.
Smalls is also hoping for good exhibit space to do monthly or rotating exhibits of materials from some of the collections to generate further interest from potential donors.
“I believe that having the new facility will aid and assist us in getting more collections,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to add some collections that we’ve been working toward for a number of years.”