Emily Clyburn, the longtime librarian, civil rights activist and wife to Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American member of Congress, died Thursday morning at the age of 80, the congressman’s office announced.
Emily and Jim, who is now the House majority whip, met in jail after they were arrested for participating in a civil rights demonstration as students at what was then South Carolina State College in 1960. The two got married a little more than a year later, and they were together for 58 years.
Emily Clyburn was well known in South Carolina and was also passionate about her alma mater, helping to raise scholarship funds for students to attend college.
Earlier this year, the Clyburns dedicated the $1.7 million in endowed funds they raised and contributed over the past several decades to the now-South Carolina State University to establish the Dr. Emily England Clyburn Honors College Scholarship Endowment.
During her career, Clyburn established the library program at W.G. Sanders Middle School and Fairwold Middle School, in Columbia, South Carolina, according to The State. She was also the head librarian at the Charleston Naval Academy and was a librarian at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Columbia, retiring in 1994.
Leaders from both parties mourned her loss on Thursday.
“In the Congress, we all were blessed to see the great love that Jim and Emily shared over nearly six decades of marriage. Their love, forged during the fight for civil rights, brought joy to all who were fortunate enough to know them.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Emily Clyburn was a champion of equality and opportunity who made a difference for countless young people in her beloved South Carolina.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement that Emily Clyburn “was one of the most kind and dynamic people I had ever met and lived a consequential life changing South Carolina and the United States for the better.”
“Our prayers are with Jim and his beautiful family in their moments of grief,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also lamented the Clyburn family’s loss.
“Throughout our years of friendship with the Clyburn family, she was always a force, pushing not only her husband, but all of us who knew her well, to live up to our better angels. She was a remarkable woman — an activist and community leader, a true partner throughout Jim’s career in public office,” Biden wrote.
Jim Clyburn’s office said Thursday that a celebration of her life and legacy will be held at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina at 5 p.m. on Sunday, and her Homegoing Services will be at Morris Brown AMEC in Charleston, South Carolina at 11 a.m. on Monday.