In This Review

Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black
Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black
By James E. Clyburn
University of South Carolina Press, 2014, 336 pp.

In 1955, Clyburn was an enthusiastic clarinetist in the marching band at Lincoln High, the all-black high school in his hometown of Sumter, South Carolina. So he was thrilled when local authorities decided to allow the band to march in that year’s Christmas parade through town. But pride turned to chagrin when the band discovered that it would come last in the parade, separated from the white high school’s band and positioned directly behind a contingent of horses -- ridden by whites, of course. “A two and a half mile march through the muck and the other stuff left by the horses,” is how Clyburn describes what followed. Jim Crow died hard in Sumter, yet Clyburn became the first black man elected to represent South Carolina in the House of Representatives since Reconstruction and went on to serve as majority whip, one of the highest congressional positions ever held by an African American. To read his remarkable, engaging memoir is to be reminded of the stunning accomplishments of the generation of African Americans who broke Jim Crow and brought the United States (and especially Clyburn’s beloved South) into a new and brighter era. The civil rights movement did not emerge from a vacuum; it was formed by idealistic and hard-working entrepreneurs, preachers, and community leaders living in a segregated and unequal society who refused to lose hope. Clyburn’s memoir is more than the account of one man’s life: it is a portrait of the South in a time of historic change.