The Food Corner-2008 Campaign Edition
Photos Courtesy Cecil Williams Photography
A highlight of the South Carolina Democratic Party's Path to the Presidency Weekend, April 26-28, 2007, was Congressman Jim Clyburn's World-Famous Fish Fry, held in the Municipal Association parking garage in downtown Columbia on the evening of Friday April 27.  Six of the eight Democratic presidential candidates came and spoke (all except for Gravel and Kucinich).  Twelve hundred (1,200) pounds of whiting filet were served ("and it was all eaten") along with 120 loaves of Sunbeam bread, and lots of J. Anthony Brown's Hot Sauce and yellow mustard.

History of Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry

In 1992, before Jim Clyburn was even elected to Congress, he held his first fish fry as a thank you to South Carolina Democrats.  It is always held the same night as the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the party’s largest annual fundraiser, in Columbia. Over the years the J-J Dinner changed from a bi-annual to an annual event, and the fish fry followed its lead.

The event has always been free and open to the public and a place for faithful Democrats, those who couldn’t afford the price of the J-J Dinner tickets, to celebrate the night before the State Democratic Convention.  The event runs until midnight so those attending the J-J Dinner can join in the fun.  The menu is simple—fried whiting on white bread with mustard or hot sauce.  The drinks are cold and plentiful, and the music is always hot.

The fish fry began in the parking lot of Clyburn’s campaign office, which now serves as his Congressional office in Columbia.  Campaign staffers fried the fish, jazz music played on the front patio, and traffic was jammed on Gervais Street for hours.  In 1994, the event moved next door to the terrace of the Clarion Town House Hotel.  By 1996, the event was so large it was held at the American Legion Post on Pickens Street in Columbia.  After several years at the Legion Post, it again grew too large and was moved to the parking garage behind the Municipal Association at 1411 Gervais Street, where it remains today.

For 15 years, Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry has been an important stop on the South Carolina Democratic campaign trail.  When South Carolina catapulted to the first in the South primary in 2004, none of the Democratic presidential candidates missed the opportunity to greet the crowd.  Since then, presidential hopefuls have continued to stop by, even in off-election years.

Columnist Roger Simon has described Clyburn’s fish fry as “one of those all-too-rare, feel-good evenings in politics.” This year should be no exception.

Copyright © 2007  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action