ORANGEBURG, South Carolina — Days after endorsing Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jim Clyburn has a specific and sharp critique of her opponent: Bernie Sanders' education plan would threaten the existence of smaller, private historically black colleges, Clyburn told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
The third-ranking Democrat in the House is one of the fiercest and most prominent champions for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in politics.
The next Democratic primary contest is here, where Clyburn is immensely popular. He said he will speak on Clinton’s behalf at Union Baptist Church in Charleston on Sunday — and also to Clinton herself to map out a game plan about whether the two will campaign together in South Carolina before the Feb. 27 primary.
But on Saturday he told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview that while he acknowledged Sanders’ campaign is gaining traction with college-aged students in South Carolina, the education plan they’re attracted to doesn't protect institutions like nearby Claflin University, which is private.
“You've got to think about the consequences of things,” Clyburn said. “[If] you start handing out two years of free college at public institutions are you ready for all the black, private HBCUs to close down? That’s what's going to happen,” Clyburn said.
“Tougaloo College in Misssissippi will be closed if you can go to Jackson State for free,” he said.
Clyburn has given time and and significant donations to HBCUs over the year. The Times and Democrat reported last year that Clyburn’s total giving to South Carolina State (Clyburn's public alma mater) and other area colleges is nearly $2 million.
He said he has a special affinity for private HBCUs, firing off to BuzzFeed News a list of the institutions where his family has funded endowments. Part of the reason he wanted to publicly endorse Clinton was in part to bring attention to Allen University, the site of Friday's event. Clyburn serves on the school's board.