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Clyburn’s congressional papers to go to USC for new civil rights center

The University of South Carolina will open a research center dedicated to telling South Carolina's civil rights history.

Announced Monday by university officials, the center also will house U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's congressional papers, which the Columbia Democrat and U.S. House assistant minority leader said he will donate to the collection.

The Center for Civil Rights History and Research will be the first in South Carolina committed to telling the state’s civil rights story, university officials said.

Clyburn’s papers will become public upon his retirement from the U.S. House, where he first was elected in 1993.

USC professor Bobby Donaldson said many of the state’s contributions to the national civil rights movement are “not widely known.”

For example, Donaldson said Clyburn was among the marchers protesting segregation who was arrested in Columbia in 1961 for breach of peace.

Matthew Perry, an attorney at the time who later became the state’s first African-American federal judge, defended Clyburn and others.

Perry’s success in that case led to a lawsuit and a 1963 court ruling that overturned the breach-of-peace convictions and forbid the state from criminalizing “the peaceful expression of unpopular views.”

The ruling was used “in the famous march from Selma to Montgomery” and other civil rights demonstrations, including the more recent Columbia Occupy movement, Donaldson said.

Donaldson also applauded the “important groundwork established by so many” S.C. civil rights leaders, including those who attended Monday’s announcement.

The university’s S.C. political collection includes papers from some key S.C. civil rights leaders, but those documents have not been housed together.

USC president Harris Pastides said the collection will “zero in on this state’s unique civil rights history.”

Saying he was excited about the “one-stop research facility” documenting the state’s contribution to civil rights, Clyburn said he hopes his contribution – and the university’s commitment to the center – will encourage others to offer their papers documenting the period.

University Libraries dean Thomas McNally said the center, put together by existing faculty and staff, will not cost the university any additional money.

Once complete, the center will be housed in the Hollings Library inside the Thomas Cooper Library on the university’s main campus.

Exhibits and programs will be curated from the collection, which he hopes one day will be housed in its own facility, McNally said.

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