Jim Clyburn says HBCUs help people be a part of America's greatness

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Jun. 19—The most powerful member of South Carolina's U.S. House delegation paid a visit to Aiken Saturday evening.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, Orangeburg and North Charleston, provided the keynote address at a roast of his cousin, S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, held at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.

The roast was held to raise money for the eight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in South Carolina — Allen University, Benedict College, Claflin University, Clinton College, Denmark Tech, Morris College, South Carolina State University, Vorhees University — as well as Paine College in Augusta, Georgia.

Jim Clyburn, a graduate of South Carolina State, began his speech by providing an overview of the history of the HBCUs in the state.

He said that after slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War, churches stepped in to provide education and training to the newly freed (and largely uneducated) former slaves.

This education and training eventually led to the creation of most of the state's HBCUs including Allen (AME Church and the alma mater of Bill Clyburn), Benedict (Baptist), Claflin (Methodist), Clinton (AME Church), Morris College (Baptist) and Vorhees (Episcopalian).

Paine College is also a product of the education and training, having been founded in 1882.

Clyburn said South Carolina State came along in 1890 as part of the second Morrell Act that sought to bring technical training to former slaves and their descendants.

Denmark Tech was created after World War II to provide trades for African Americans.

Clyburn said America didn't need to be made great again (a 2016 campaign slogan of Republican Donald Trump), it was already great. He added that the country needs to make sure everyone can get to that greatness, and HBCUs help African Americans grab the greatness.

He used the example of Lake City native Ron McNair, a NASA astronaut who was killed in the 1986 explosion of the Challenger shuttle.

Clyburn said McNair was clearly intelligent, having earned a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but needed remedial classes at North Carolina A&T (another HBCU) in order to receive the extra attention necessary to keep up in class.

"He said to me, 'had it not been for those small classes with professors with the kind of backgrounds and experiences that I had, I never would have made it,'" Clyburn said. "That's what HBCUs are all about."

Clyburn used subject-verb agreement as an example. He said that when people grow up not caring about whether their subjects and verbs agree, they'll need to take remedial English when they get to college.

"That's what HBCUs are all about," Clyburn said.

The roast also featured speeches by Aiken City Councilwoman Lessie Price; longtime Aiken educator Clarence Jackson; Security Federal Bank CEO Chris Verenes, who played football for Bill Clyburn at Aiken High; longtime Clyburn family friend Rosemary English; and Clyburn's children, Judge Courtney Clyburn-Pope and attorneys William Clyburn Jr. and Tony Clyburn.