Clyburn reflects on historic Charleston speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the highest-ranking African American elected official on Capitol Hill,...
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the highest-ranking African American elected official on Capitol Hill, reflects on a poignant memory with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during a speech in Charleston. (Source: Gray DC)(KNEP)
Published: Jun. 17, 2019 at 11:54 AM EDT

Monday marks four years since the tragic Charleston church shooting, where nine African American worshippers were shot and killed by a white supremacist. As we honor their lives and legacies, we go back in time to the long fight for civil rights in this country.

Washington Correspondent Alana Austin interviews South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn about a poignant memory with Martin Luther King, Jr. during a speech in Charleston.

More than half a century after King preached the values of love and equality, the fight against racism remains front and center for many.

“That’s Martin Luther King, Jr. on his last trip to Charleston, South Carolina,” said Clyburn as he pointed to a picture. “That’s me down in the left corner.”

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn – the highest-ranking African American leader in Congress – reflects on what it was like to have a front-row seat during an invigorating speech in July 1967.

During the Charleston remarks, King made the case for peace, outlining how strife doesn’t solve problems: “And so I believe consistently in non-violence.”

Clyburn embraces the courage the civil rights leader demonstrated, even in the face of peril.

“He was suffering under a lot of threats,” Clyburn remembered.

As a Polaroid camera snapped the photo, now framed in Clyburn’s office, members of the audience were startled by a TV light falling to the floor, according to Clyburn. That moment revealed so much to Clyburn about the fearlessness and bravery of King.

“We were up out of our seats because we thought they had just heard a gunshot,” explained Clyburn. “King never flinched, and never took his eyes off the audience.”

Less than a year later, King was assassinated. While much has changed since the 1960s, Clyburn still believes there’s more work and more healing ahead, especially as Charleston still recovers from the heartbreak of the racially-motivated 2015 church shooting.

“There’s only one thing that can be done in my opinion that will move racial relationships forward, and that is for us to learn how to accept and respect different people’s backgrounds and experiences,” said Clyburn.

That video of King’s visit was included courtesy of the University of South Carolina Moving Imagine Research Collections. The footage was originally recorded by WIS TV.

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