My father was over 40 years old when he took and passed an entrance exam, and matriculated at Morris College in 1941. He excelled as a student but was not allowed to enter his senior year because he had not provided proof of having graduated high school. He had not because he could not.

My dad, Enos Lloyd Clyburn, was the youngest of three boys born to William Clyburn and Phoebe Lloyd Clyburn on December 23, 1897 in Kershaw County. Although he loved school and had a great thirst for knowledge, at the time, South Carolina did not provide education for "Negroes" beyond the seventh grade. So he repeated the seventh grade three times before being declared too far advanced of the other students and not allowed to return. He got a job in a bakery shop, but continued to study.

By the time Almeta Dizzley reached high school in the 1930s South Carolina had begun providing high school education for blacks. She convinced her father to allow her to go to Camden and work as a Live-In with the Dibbles family, Columbia mortician Perry Palmer's grandparents. They paid her, in part, with tuition payments to Mather Academy.

During this time she met, and made a decision to marry, Enos, a widower since July 21, 1929. But wanting to finish high school first, she left Mather Academy after the tenth grade, because it required 12 years to graduate. She transferred across the street to Jackson, a public high school that only required 11 years. She received her high school diploma in June 1937 and married Enos on July 23. They subsequently moved to Sumter, in large measure because Morris College was there, and they both yearned to further their educations.

Almeta did not have Enos' problem, she had her high school diploma. So after graduating from Garners Beauty School and running a beauty shop for a number of years, she entered Morris and graduated in 1953, when I was 13 years old, my brothers John and Charles 11 and 9 respectively. She was very proud of that Bachelor's degree, and hung it on a wall in Clyburn's Beauty Shop, which she continued to operate while attending Morris and returned to full time after graduating. Mom died August 23, 1971, a victim of multiple myeloma. But this column is about Dad.

Although I have memories of my father attending Morris, I never fully realized the import of his dropping out before graduation until a chance meeting with Reverend T. M. Dixon in Hampton County when I was running for Secretary of State in 1978. Later that night when I shared with my dad what I had heard from Reverend Dixon he told me the full story.

I wept. Not so much because of the reason he was not allowed to graduate, but because were it not for that chance meeting with Reverend Dixon, I may not have ever known. Dad would have taken to his grave another of the indignities rigid segregation had visited upon him and many others and from which they all tried to shield their children. I would have been robbed of another useful incentive. My Dad died shortly thereafter on May 5, 1978. He was eighty years old.

I can only imagine how proud my dad would have been to receive his Bachelor of Theology Degree back in 1945. But I know how proud I, my siblings, John, Charles and Tosha, our children, grandchildren, and spouses were to receive it on his behalf, May 10, 2003. Morris College did our family and, hopefully it's family, proud.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) is a member of the Conrgressional Black Caucus and Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus

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Issue Number 44
May 29, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
Who Killed Black Radio News?

Like Father ... Like Son

Blacks poorest of all, says Census... African famine prompts Bush sales pitch... SEIU declares health key presidential issue

The last word on Jayson Blair... Victory declared for Danny Glover... Harvard not full of house Negroes

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Commentaries in Issue 43 May 22, 2003:

Cover Story
Permanent War and "The Color Line" - Iraq on the 100th anniversary of the Souls of Black Folk

The Morality Csar's New Clothes

Bush cuts deeper into affirmative action... Call for a New Civil Rights Movement... Poor Clarence Thomas feels rejected

Blair/NYT reader response... The dollar’s inevitable slide... Malcolm’s urgent message

The Blair Affair: A Punishing Bias by Pamela Newkirk, Guest Commentator

Fault Blair and The Times, Not Affirmative Action by Amos Jones, Guest Commentator

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.