Edward P. “Ted” Riley: In His Own Words

photo of RileyEdward P. “Ted” Riley was a lawyer, Family Court Judge, United States Attorney, South Carolina state chairman of the Democratic Party, and was active in Democratic politics for many years.  Among his many positions in community leadership, he served as counsel to the Greenville County School Board from 1958-1978, a critical time for school integration; and as chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party from 1960-1964, which was a critical time for the Democratic Party in South Carolina.  In Mr. Riley’s lengthy oral history, he discusses public and personal aspects of his life in detail, including his childhood; his educational background; his time in the Navy; his legal career; and his experiences in politics.

Ted Riley’s involvement in Democratic politics in South Carolina spanned a very active few decades, and he had close associations with many prominent South Carolina politicians. Recognizable names appear throughout the interview, including detailed accounts of his relationships and professional dealings with Speaker Sol Blatt, who was a friend of Mr. Riley’s from the time they were young; as was James Byrnes, with whom Mr. Riley had a falling out and then later a reconciliation; Judge Matthew Perry, whom he describes as “one of the greatest men I’ve ever known;” as well as Fritz Hollings, Charles Cecil Wyche, Bryan Dorn, Cole Blease, among others.

Ted Riley’s time working as a lawyer in private practice, as a Family Court Judge, and as an Assistant United States Attorney in Greenville provide for some interesting anecdotes, and shed light on just how much the practice of law differs between then and now.  In one story he describes a trial he was prosecuting involving liquor, presumably in the midst of Prohibition; during which the defendant died on the stand while Mr. Riley was cross -examining him.  The defendant’s last words before he collapsed on the stand were “I’ll see you in hell.”

Ted Riley was born in 1900, and was active and involved in politics and law up into the 1990’s.  He observed countless changes and controversies over these years; from the violent and dangerous Jim Crow period, to the school integration cases of the 1950’s, and the conflicts that accompanied integration in the 1960’s; and he discusses details about all of these in his interview.  He provides interesting insights into the changes in race relations over the years.  The 60’s was also a time when many southern Democratic politicians, as well as voters, were switching parties.  Mr. Riley, however, remained devoted to the Democratic Party throughout his life, despite many of his friends’ and colleagues’ attempts to get him to follow them to the Republican Party.

The Presidential election of 1960 was taking place in the midst of this mass-switch in party ideology, and many loyal Democrats were actively against John F. Kennedy for President.  Ted Riley was the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party at the time.  He was a Kennedy supporter, and heavily involved in Kennedy’s presidential campaign in South Carolina, which was expected to go Republican for the first time.  Riley discusses the campaign and the election, particularly in relation to South Carolina, including Kennedy’s visit to South Carolina, Fritz Hollings’ involvement and support for Kennedy, and the eventual surprise win for Kennedy in South Carolina.

Ted Riley’s son, Dick Riley ran successfully for two terms as Governor of South Carolina, in 1978 and 1982, becoming South Carolina’s first two-term governor.  Ted Riley discusses his son’s decision to run; and his own involvement in the campaign; and some of Dick’s accomplishments during his time as governor.  He also discusses the dynamic among the major political players in the state during that time.  More on Governor Dick Riley’s family life and governorship can be found in two other oral history transcripts; that of his wife, Ann “Tunky” Yarborough Riley, and the oral history with Governor and Mrs. Riley and their son Ted Riley about their time spent in the Governor’s mansion.

To learn more about Ted Riley, check out his oral history here; or view his full collection here.

Contributed by graduate student assistant Mary Kennington Steele

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