CHARLESTON, S.C. — After being elected House majority whip last Thursday, Rep. Jim Clyburn recalled how, as a child growing up in Sumter, S.C., he once revealed to a family friend he dreamed of going into politics.
He was quickly told to keep such aspirations to himself. As a Black in segregated South Carolina in the 1950s, he was told he had no chance to be elected.
But Clyburn, 66, also remembered how his mother said to work hard and hold onto his dream.
"My mother did not live to see this, but I thought of her today," said the Democratic lawmaker, who now holds the highest leadership position by a Black in Congress. "I have been able to fulfill my dreams and the dreams my mother had for me."
Clyburn, a former school teacher and state Department of Human Affairs commissioner, is also the first Black congressman from South Carolina since Reconstruction. He now has the No. 3 job in the House.
The 6th District congressman will concentrate largely on lining up votes on legislation.
"What I want to do with this position is demonstrate to South Carolina ... and to people in this country that skin color ought not matter in trying to carry out effective policies and programs for our country," Clyburn told reporters in a conference call from Washington. "I want to do everything I possibly can to destroy those myths."
Former Rep. William Gray of Pennsylvania, a Black Democrat, also served as majority whip in the early 1990s.
Clyburn said it will not be easy trying to line up votes among the Democrats, but he'll also be seeking votes from across the aisle.
"I think it's important that we fashion legislation in such a way that we receive bipartisan support," he said.
Clyburn was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus when he was elected whip.
Now that he is the No. 3 leader, does he have higher goals in sight?
"I don't know that I can see that far," he said, laughing. "I don't plan to stay around here as long as Strom Thurmond. If anything else is coming it better come quickly."
Republican Sen. Thurmond, who died in 2003 at the age of 100, was the oldest and longest-serving senator ever when he retired earlier that year.
—The Associated Press