Clayton, Eva M. 1934–
Eva M. Clayton 1934–
Eva M. Clayton has represented the First Congressional District of North Carolina in the United States House of Representatives since 1993. One of the first two African Americans elected to Congress from North Carolina in the twentieth century, and the first North Carolina woman to serve a full term, Clayton was first elected along with President Bill Clinton in 1992. She was also one of a group of African American politicians whose influence expanded during the Clinton administration’s early years. Compiling one of the most liberal voting records in the House, she became known as a vigorous advocate for the concerns of African Americans nationally while still paying close attention to the needs of her rural, farming-oriented constituency.
Clayton was born Eva McPherson in Savannah, Georgia, on September 16, 1934. She has spent much of her life in North Carolina. Clayton pursued higher educational opportunities well in advance of the main waves of the civil rights movement, earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte in 1955 and a Masters degree in science from North Carolina Central University in Durham in 1963. She later attended the University of North Carolina Law School.
The Almanac of American Politics noted that Clayton is “part of the black middle class who have worked their way up in or close to government.” When political opportunities began to open up to southern African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of civil-rights-era advances, Clayton was just one of many educated young people who found their way into the political arena. She became interested in running for higher office as early as 1968, when she unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for a North Carolina congressional seat. After a stint as director of the Soul City Foundation, an idealistically oriented housing organization, she gravitated toward politics once again. In 1976, Clayton worked on the first gubernatorial campaign of veteran North Carolina politician Jim Hunt. Following his election, she was rewarded with the post of Assistant Secretary for Community Development.
Over the next 15 years, Clayton Remained politically active. She served on the Warren County (North Carolina) Board of Commissioners from 1982 to 1991 and founded her own consulting firm, Technical Resources
Born Eva McPherson September 16, 1934, in Sa vannah, Georgia; married Theaoseus Clayton; children, Theaoseus Jr., Martin, Reuben, Joanne. Education: Johnson C. Smith University, 8.S., Charlotte, North Carolina, 1955; North Carolina Central University, M.S., Durham, North Carolina, 1963. Politics: Democrat.
Career: United States Representative from North Carolina’s First Congressional District, 1993—. North Carolina Assistant Secretary for Community Development, late 1970s; founder and president, Technical Resources International; Warren County (North Carolina) Board of Commissioners, 1982—91; elected to Congress, 1992; served on Mouse Agriculture Committee, 1993—; served on House Budget Committee, 1997—.
Addresses: Office —U.S. House of Representatives, 2440 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
International. Her political break came in 1992, when veteran First District Representative Walter Jones decided to retire. Clayton challenged Jones’ son in the Democratic primary. Trailing after the first round of balloting, she won a convincing victory in a runoff election. In the November 1992 general election, Clayton won convincingly with 67 percent of the vote. She has since been re-elected by similarly comfortable majorities.
Clayton was a prime beneficiary of one of the most controversial forms of political maneuvering in the 1990s, racially-inspired redistricting. In 1992 the North Carolina General Assembly, following U.S. Justice Department guidelines for implementation of the Voting Rights Act, moved to create two congressional districts with African American-majority populations. The purpose of the redistricting was to encourage the election of African Americans to Congress. The new First District stretched from Virginia to South Carolina and included areas that had heavy concentrations of African American residents. As a result of the redistricting, Clayton has not faced a serious Republican challenge to unseat her.
Critics of redistricting complained that districts like Clayton’s diluted African American voting strength in other localities and ignored the natural common interests of people living in a geographically contiguous area. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated various state redistricting maps, including the North Carolina map of 1992. Under the revised map, the percentage of eligible African American voters in Clayton’s district shrank from 57 to 50 percent. Nevertheless, the Almanac of American Politics predicted that the new district lines “may reduce her percentage marginally but should not affect the safety of her seat.”
Clayton’s popularity crossed racial lines and resulted, in part, from her familiarity with issues that concerned people in her district and her responsiveness to those needs. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which closely monitors the subcommittee that oversees tobacco crops, and she has also worked to direct U.S. defense appropriations to the military installations in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia. Clayton has also encouraged the urban-oriented Congressional Black Caucus to pay closer attention to the needs of rural areas when pursuing its legislative agenda. In 1996, she took up the cause of African American farmers in North Carolina who claimed that they were being discriminated against by U.S. Agriculture Department loan officers.
As she has continued to gain stature and confidence as a legislator in Washington, Clayton has also begun to address the problems faced by African Americans in low-income communities across the nation. Holding forums in her district on teen pregnancy, she also initiated bipartisan congressional hearings on the problem. Clayton backed President Clinton’s efforts to increase the minimum wage and, in 1996, played a key role in combating Republican efforts to slash youth summer job programs. She remarked in Jet that a federally-sponsored summer job could be “the first opportunity many of these young people have to get a job.” Clayton has been a staunch advocate of low-income housing and food stamp programs, both of which have come under attack from conservative Republicans.
Clayton has also expressed deep concern about the issue of job training. “The issue of equity in jobs and fairness of opportunities is paramount,” she told Essence magazine, “Job opportunities combined with a fair wage are key to strengthening families and communities and increasing our quality of life.” In 1997, Clayton won a seat on the House’s powerful Budget Committee and seemed to be amassing the influence she needs to put her liberal political agenda into action.
Barone, Michael and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics, 1998, National Journal, 1998.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1996, CQ Staff Directories, 1996.
Essence, October 1996, p. 64.
Greensboro News Record, July 25, 1998, p. B5.
Jet, April 15, 1996, p. 39.
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), October 19, 1995, p. B1; December 14, 1996, p. B1; February 23, 1997, p. B1.
—James M. Manheim
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