Flynn T. Harrell: Friend of the Archives

Flynn Award Speaking

Flynn Harrell offers brief remarks to South Carolina archivists.

On October 10, 2014, the South Carolina Archival Association bestowed on Flynn T. Harrell its Friend of the Archives Award.  He earned this recognition through his long dedication to the South Caroliniana Library and his work in arranging his own papers, first for the Caroliniana, and now for South Carolina Political Collections.

Harrell is a native of Columbia and a member of the University of South Carolina Class of 1956.  His career was spent in finance and government as the business/financial officer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and as executive assistant to South Carolina Attorney General Travis Medlock.  Harrell chaired Gov. Richard W. Riley’s Task Force on Critical Human Needs, and since his retirement, served on the State Ethics Commission.

Harrell served as president of the University South Caroliniana Society from 1987 to 1990. As a member of its Council and later president, Harrell provided able stewardship and helped guide the Caroliniana in its collecting and outreach efforts.  In 2008 Harrell created a collection with South Carolina Political Collections which formed the culmination of Flynn’s lifetime interest in the separation of church and state.  The Flynn T. Harrell Collection on the Separation of Church and State has become a leading collection documenting this key tenet of American government and society.  Some nine feet of personal papers document his professional career while over seventeen feet of material document the separation of church and state.

Flynn Award2

Flynn Harrell receives the award from SCAA Vice-President Steve Smith.

In an article written for a USC publication, Harrell reflected on his life as follows:

Early on I became enamored with the historic South Caroliniana Library and worked there as a student assistant during three summers and part-time during my junior and senior years.  I was an accounting major, but my love for South Carolina and its history made this a growing and cherished experience.  I boasted to a few friends that not every college student could say that he or she had worked in the oldest separate college library building in America.

The books, manuscripts and other holdings, all pertaining to our state, were informative and impressionable.  I have admired the leadership and staff of the library, having worked under the legendary Dr. Robert L. Meriwether and observed his successor directors, Les Inabinet, Allen Stokes and Herbert Hartsook.  I am a long-time member of the University South Caroliniana Society, having served as president following the term of my friend and noted historian Walter Edgar.  I knew this would be a humbling experience.

I have recognized the importance of special collections of the papers of numerous state leaders and citizens, from the early years forward, not only in politics and government but also in business, education, industry, arts and science.  These readily become repositories to document the history of South Carolina and its people.  An understanding of the past is a prelude to working toward a more enlightened and just future for all.

Having grown up as a Baptist, I was exposed to the historic belief of that denomination as to religious liberty and its corollary the separation of church and state.  I found the subject fascinating and concluded that separation was in the best interest of both government and religion.  I have read rather extensively in this field, including two journals throughout my entire adult life, Church & State, published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Report from the Capital, published by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Over the ensuing years I have authored several church/state articles and have spoken on the subject on more than one hundred occasions to churches, schools, civic clubs and other groups.  In recent years I have served as treasurer on the Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

For three decades now, in my opinion, the Southern Baptist Convention has compromised its historic commitment to religious liberty by becoming even more conservative and more a part of the Religious Right.  (Almost twelve years ago my wife and I joined a congregation of the Presbyterian Church/USA where I serve now as an elder and moderator-elect of the presbytery.)

I believe many Americans do not understand Thomas Jefferson’s reference to a “wall of separation” between church and state.  They have not reflected upon how well our constitutionally-guaranteed religious liberty has served both religion and government.  And they have not comprehended the weakness of religion in those nations which do not mandate such separation.  This freedom is far more inclusive than where there is an officially-established state church.  It did not work in the early days of the colonies, and it would work even less today in our vastly increased pluralistic society.

It is important that Americans remain free to worship or not to worship according to the dictates of their individual consciences.  State-coerced religion would result in an America that few of us would recognize or desire.  True and vibrant religious faith must remain voluntary.

The culmination of a lifetime of involvement in the cause of religious liberty has resulted in our gift to South Carolina Political Collections in the University Libraries of books, journals, an extensive clipping collection and correspondence of forty-five years.  Our family also made a financial gift to endow this collection so that these resources can expand and remain available for present and future generations of students, faculty and researchers from far and near.  These gifts have been given to help insure continued religious liberty for all Americans through the separation of church and state.

–Contributed by Herb Hartsook

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