Sol Blatt: In His Own Words is now available online.
Born in 1895 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Blatt rose to prominence representing Barnwell, Allendale, and Bamburg Counties in the South Carolina House of Representatives. As Speaker from 1937 until 1947, and again from 1951 until 1973, Blatt set the state’s legislative agenda for much of the mid-20th century. He also identified and mentored numerous future leaders.
The “In His Own Words” collection contains personal and public letters as well as speeches and some photographs. As a small-town lawyer, local representative, and Speaker of the House, Blatt dealt with a remarkable range of issues. He wrote hundreds letters of recommendation for job applicants. He wrote letters to the state’s college football coaches asking them to recommend candidates for a vacancy at Barnwell High School. He wrote letters to the Highway Department asking them to grant his friends low license plate numbers. He even wrote letters asking the Department of Natural Resources to put fish in constituents’ ponds. All the while, he campaigned for office every two years, consulted with governors, represented defendants at trial, and raised a family.
Other highlights of the collection include Blatt’s correspondence related to the University of South Carolina. As a 1917 graduate of the University, Blatt kept a close watch over the school’s affairs. He frequently chided university presidents for not lobbying more forcefully for the school’s interests. He also wrote letters to recruits on behalf of Gamecock coaches.
Blatt’s papers also detail a rocky relationship with the state and national Democratic Party. Although he supported John West in the 1970 gubernatorial election, he had earlier encouraged Republican candidate Albert Watson when Watson defected from the Democratic Party in 1965. The 1960s also witnessed the rise of the so-called Young Turks among South Carolina Democrats. These Young Turks, including future leaders Dick Riley, Nick Theodore, and Tom Turnipseed, opposed what they saw as Blatt’s undemocratic control over South Carolina’s political processes. Blatt also vehemently opposed Jimmy Carter because he believed the President’s environmental policies adversely affected the nuclear waste industry in Barnwell.
This digital collection, as well as Sol Blatt’s complete personal papers housed at South Carolina Political Collections, are a rich resource for anyone who wants to know more about life and politics in South Carolina from the 1930s until the 1980s.
— Contributed by Nathan Saunders