An expressway over Wappoo Creek bridges South Carolina’s 1st and 6th congressional districts. Closing footage: The Statehouse at sunrise in Columbia.

The state legislature had begun the crucial task of redrawing voting district lines after the 2020 census. Even small changes in the lines can mean the difference between who wins office, who loses and which party holds power. As the process commenced, Clyburn had a problem: His once majority Black district had suffered a daunting exodus of residents since the last count. He wanted his seat to be made as safe as possible. Republicans understood the powerful Black Democrat could not be ignored, even though he came from the opposing party and had no official role in the state-level process. Fortunately for them, Clyburn, who is 82 and was recently reelected to his 16th term, had long ago made peace with the art of bartering.

[quote align=”left”]The fight over the South Carolina redistricting has exacerbated racial wounds in a state where the growing white population now accounts for about 68% of residents, up from 66% a decade ago. Driven by the immigration of white retirees and a slow emigration of Black people, the state’s Black population has dropped over the years to just over a quarter of its 5.2 million residents. The GOP now controls all major state elected offices except for Clyburn’s seat.[/quote]

The resulting map, finalized in January 2022, made Clyburn’s lock on power stronger than it might have been otherwise. A House of Representatives seat that Democrats held as recently as 2018 would become even more solid for the incumbent Republican. This came at a cost: Democrats now have virtually no shot of winning any congressional seat in South Carolina other than Clyburn’s, state political leaders on both sides of the aisle say.

How Rep. James Clyburn Protected His District at a Cost to Black Democrats

The meeting was arranged in secret. On Nov. 19, 2021, the chief of staff for South Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Committee texted Dalton Tresvant, a key aide to Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s most powerful Democrat. “Hey Dalton – Andy Fiffick here,” he said.