Obama to Clyburn: Charleston victims ‘are my people’


Rep. James Clyburn speaks during a prayer vigil for the nine people slain inside the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. (Photo: Richard Ellis/EPA)

Nearly one week after the Charleston mass shooting, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., condemned the Confederate flag as a symbol of “suppression,” accused Republicans of giving “aid and comfort” to a far-right group thought to have inspired the alleged killer, and recalled an anguished telephone call with President Barack Obama the day after the tragedy.

In an emotional telephone interview with Yahoo News on Sirius/XM radio, Clyburn said he was on his way from Charleston airport on Thursday to a prayer service for those slain at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when Obama called.

“The president called, and we talked, and I noticed that he was very emotional in talking about Clementa” Pinckney, the pastor and Democratic state senator killed in the attack, Clyburn said.

“I mentioned a couple of names (of victims) to him. He said, ‘Those are my people! Those are my people!’ He repeated that two or three times. I could tell that this event has struck a very emotional chord with him. So I was not the least bit surprised when he informed us that he would be coming to the service,” Clyburn said. Obama will deliver the eulogy for Pinckney on Friday.

The lawmaker also accused the Republican Party of giving “aid and comfort” to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that advocates white primacy and opposes “all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” Several GOP presidential hopefuls have announced recently that they will return donations from the group’s president, Earl Holt III, after it emerged that the alleged Charleston killer, Dylann Roof, cited the organization’s work as an inspiration. The group posted a statement on its website saying that it is “deeply saddened” by the shootings and hopes “ that there will not be an escalation of racial tension .”

“All you have to do is look at it, this Council of Conservative Citizens, how much money they were giving to Ted Cruz, Rand Paul — these guys are big contributors,” Clyburn said. “I’m not saying anything that is a secret.”

Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, and Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, are only returning the money “now that this has come to light,” Clyburn said.

“But they were taking this money before, and they’ve been giving aid and comfort to these people, and that’s just a fact,” the lawmaker said.

Amid a heated debate over the fate of the Confederate flag flying near South Carolina’s state Capitol, Clyburn said he was “hopeful” that state lawmakers would rally the support necessary to take it down, and he linked the banner to the Ku Klux Klan, segregation, and efforts to cripple the civil rights movement.

“When I look at that flag, I see my great-grandparents, even in some instances my grandparents, because that flag is the flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia,” he said. “That’s not the Confederate flag, that’s the flag that was popularized after the Civil War by Nathan Bedford Forrest when he went out to form the Ku Klux Klan…”

“When John Lewis was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when — I think it was in Anniston, Ala. — when those Freedom Riders were attacked, everybody knows that the law enforcement officers stayed away so that the vigilantes could beat and firebomb these people. The confederate flag was everywhere to be seen,” Clyburn said. When South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond ran for president as a segregationist in 1948, “that flag was all over his convention,” the lawmaker added.

“That flag is a sign, a symbol, of rebellion, of defiance, of suppression. That’s what that flag is, and everybody knows that,” he said.