SCPC Research Guide: Civil Rights

Editor’s note: Our student assistants have been working on compiling lists of collections with material pertaining to various historical research topics. This guide was completed in fall 2011 by Lauren Stefan. Please visit our Research Guides page for other topics!

Desegregation and related events in South Carolina schools
Highlights documents and collections you may use to research anything from the Orangeburg Massacre to the desegregation of Clemson to the ins and outs of public school desegregation. It also includes a section on voting rights and registration efforts of the era.

Orangeburg Massacre:

The special report produced by the Southern Regional Council, titled Events at Orangeburg, provides a valuable look at what events occurred to heighten racial tensions in Orangeburg and describes what occurred there in February of 1968 (William D. Workman Jr. Collection, box 28). Other relevant documents in the Workman collection include The S.C. Task Force for Quality Education statement from February 16th, 1968 (box 28) , the Adams v. Orangeburg court case from March 20th, 1964 (box 27), and an article titled “Dr. Payton: Orangeburg Fatalities Were Avoidable,” written Feb 13, 1968 (box 47). Additionally, the John Carl West Collection contains great information on the topic, including response letters to West from the students at South Carolina State College (box 3) and the edition of The Collegian, the South Carolina State College newspaper, which followed the events. It is also worthwhile to read The Lowcountry Newsletter (box 3) for various accounts and interpretations of the incident, as well as West’s letter to W.J. Bryan Dorn (box 3), in which he writes:

“The racial pressures and tensions have certainly created problems which seem  literally to try men’s souls, as well as their wisdom. The encouraging fact, to me, and one so often overlooked, is that those who preach violence, whether white or colored, are in the distinct minority…”

In the Robert E. McNair topical files, the education folder on South Carolina State College in 1968 contains significant material pertaining to the thoughts and opinions of citizens across the state as the city of Orangeburg attempted to move on from the incident (box 40).

Harvey Gantt:

Inside the William D. Workman Jr. Collection rests a large assortment of documents addressing Harvey Gantt’s journey to gain admittance as the first African American student at Clemson University. There are frequent updates from newspapers, courts, and citizens throughout the extensive process of appeals and trials. In 1963, “Clemson Enrolls Gantt Amid Peace and Order,” reported the final ruling- that Clemson must accept all qualified African Americans. A thorough summary of the case can be found in “Full Text of Court Order for Clemson to Admit Gantt.” In addition, the Saturday Evening Post’s article, “Integration With Dignity: The inside story of how South Carolina kept the peace,” displays numerous photos and a well-written account of the first day Gantt spent on campus as an enrolled student at Clemson.

Ernest F. Hollings gave his final speech to the General Assembly on January 9, 1963, just a few weeks prior to Gantt’s first day. It seems as though Hollings helped set the peaceful tone surrounding that day, as he passed on these words: “[We must] move on for the good of South Carolina and our United States. This should be done with dignity. It must be done with law and order. It is a hurdle that brings little progress to either side. But the failure to clear it will do us irreparable harm” (Hollings Collection box 688). However, many people did not support the court decision, as can be seen in the article, “Thurmond Raps Gantt Reversal.” Here, Strom Thurmond remarks that the decision to admit Gantt was “an act of glaring stupidity.” The essay, “Segregation and The Court: The Ten Years of Change in South Carolina,” paints a remarkable picture of the Gantt story while also discussing how race relations in South Carolina had evolved and complicated during the proceeding decade.

Furthermore, this collection contains a copy of The Gamecock’s first issue after the enrollment of the first two black students at the University of South Carolina, including photos from that day and articles written on both sides of the integration debate.  There is also material about the first African American female at USC and the intriguing fact that her and other black students were asked to refrain from attending football games as a safety precaution (all articles in Workman box 47).

Allen University and Benedict College

There is significant material on the interesting situation that arose in the midst of controversy at Allen University in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The William D. Workman Jr. Collection contains the majority of information on the dismissal of three teachers at each of these schools under communist allegations (box 27). There are also clippings discussing the loss of certification the schools received, as can be seen in “S.C. No Longer To Accept Allen’s Education Courses: No Reasons Are Given For Action” (box 48). The Walt Lardner Collection holds a political cartoon commenting on this accreditation scandal (box 1) and much commentary can be found in the Workman collection about the eventual acceptance of white refugee students at Allen University. Clippings pertaining to a similar situation at Benedict College and relating to USC’s early refusal to accept black students are located in this collection as well (box 48).

Desegregation – Opposition

Letters encouraging Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston in his opposition of desegregation are found throughout his collection and effectively capture the sentiment of the constituents at the time, including reactions to the Brown v. Board ruling (box 40). There are countless requests and even petitions for ODJ to stop Congress and the Supreme Court as they attempted to desegregate the nation (boxes 47 and 89). For example, one such request from a student named Larry Duncan confirmed his support for segregation, when he wrote in 1953, “Perhaps I am prejudiced by my previous training however I think all races should be separate” (box 35). Another unique item is a story written by a constituent supporting segregation in the form of an Aesop’s fable, titled “Aesop did not write this one” (box 40). A copy of The White Sentinel, an anti-desegregation publication published in August of 1955 regarding the potential effects of desegregation on the military and more, is a compelling representation of the thoughts and views of the advocates of segregation (box 46). Boxes 132 and 133 hold a considerable assortment of clippings relating to school closings due to refusals to integrate and the issue of Federal School Aid in 1955. In addition, the William D. Workman Jr. Collection contains many pamphlets, booklets, and reports in response to desegregation that are useful (box 35). An example is a Baltimore superintendent refusing integration, saying, “no effort will be made deliberately to transfer children of either race for the purpose of mixing schools,” in “Eliminating Racial Segregation in the Baltimore Public Schools” (box 34).

Desegregation – Protests, Police, and Violence

In the Robert E. McNair Collection, there is a whole folder relating to the boycotts and unrest at Voorhees College in 1970 that warranted the calling in of the National Guard (box 107). This collection also hosts information regarding the battles over desegregating Greenville and Darlington that ultimately resulted in the Lamar Incident, one of the first and only times that the final call for integration resulted in violence in South Carolina. Besides the accounts of this shocking incident and public reactions to it, there are many clippings situated in the collection about desegregation and busing in these cities (box 107). Additional articles and reports on the Lamar Incident are located in the William D. Workman Jr. Collection (box 28).

Various clippings highlighting both sides of the story of police brutality during the Civil Rights Era are located in the Workman Collection. The Greenville News article, “‘Brutality’ Case Should Be Closed,” shows a more rare perspective, sharing that “some police officers are almost afraid to make an arrest…for fear of being hauled up before a board of some sort.”  The bulk of the articles have a heavy focus on arrests of African Americans at sit-ins, trespassing charges, and the Rock Hill protests (box 47). In-depth insight into the issue is present in the book Violence and Dissent in Urban America and in an essay written by the Dean of Criminology at the University of California titled “New Dimensions of the Police Problems in Racial Tension and Conflict” (both box 35).

School Desegregation

Basic information on early school desegregation efforts can be found scattered throughout the collections, including items such as a CORE pamphlet labeled “First step toward school integration” and  the Southern School News issue from March 1960 featuring news about school desegregation across the region (both Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston Collection box 75). The William D. Workman Jr. Collection has several worthwhile school desegregation speeches (box 28). “The Legal Standing of the South’s School Resistance Proposals,” published in 1954 by the S.C. Bar Association, adds a nice look at how and why some Southern states planned to dodge the new rules for desegregating (Workman box 36).

As time wore on, it became apparent that many schools were not following the laws of desegregation effectively. This general “confusion” about how to desegregate is reflected in various political cartoons in the Walt Lardner Collection depicting various officials and political leaders across the South (box 1). The Robert E. McNair Collection contains material reporting on McNair’s choice to lead the strongly opposed citizens of South Carolina to finally move on and accept the rulings of desegregation. A February 1, 1970 article in the Detroit Free Press about the concerns of integration across the South, reports that the “big question, of course, is whether most white children will show up for totally integrated classes.” In the aforementioned article, McNair hoped that this would not be an issue by adding: “We must adjust to new circumstances,” and “We don’t want to bring up another generation of illiterates” (box 107).

The Ernest F. Hollings Collection is home to a substantial number of documents that address the plans for Freedom of Choice Schooling across the state of South Carolina. Questions about busing pertaining to the newly enforced school rules are addressed as well (box 117). The Hollings Collection possesses correspondence on how to enact desegregation plans regarding teacher ratios, including a “Beaufort County Analysis of Staff,” which highlights the district hiring plans to balance the ratio (box 144). One piece reflecting the shortcomings of South Carolina was a numerical report for the 1969-1970 school year, titled the “S.C. Terminal Plan Districts,” which lists the racial breakdown of teachers by school district. It is of note that merely two of the districts saw a net gain in the number of black staff members from the previous year (box 144). Additionally, letters from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent to the Lexington County school district and several other districts are present. These letters are written about district failures to desegregate and noncompliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 during the 1967-1968 school year. The collection holds a general statement from the Department describing the new policies, as well as examples of the letters that were sent home to parents informing them that separate schools would no longer exist (box 99).

Voter Registration:

The Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston Collection has several useful folders containing clippings relating to voter rights, registration, and literacy tests in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Era (box 133). In the William D. Workman Jr. Collection, there are many clippings pertaining to voter registration levels, including: “Negro Voter Group Opens Office; Hundreds Register,” which discusses the Voter Education Project of August 1964, “Registered Negro Voters Figured at 101,000 in S.C.,” and “Voter Registration Suit Promised in Williamsburg” (box 47). In the Walt Lardner Political Cartoon Collection, there is an image where a preoccupied Strom Thurmond questions, “Do you want to see me, Jesse?” to Jesse Jackson holding up a sign that says Voting Rights Act of 1964. The background shows that he has clearly knocked down several doors in a large hallway to reach this point (box 9). Statements made by Albert Watson, William Jennings Bryan Dorn, Strom Thurmond, and Donald Russell which capture the different sentiments that existed in South Carolina in response to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are useful for research too (box 35).

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