By Chandler White
I became aware of the Moore Summer Internship through my academic adviser at the University of Tennessee, where I am a second year graduate student. I made the decision to apply due to my dual interests in archives and politics. I felt as though this would be a great opportunity to gain professional experience in a field for which I have great interest and also work with material and subject matter that I found interesting. I was honored to be selected for this opportunity and began my journey the day after Memorial Day 2015.
Before arriving as an intern at SCPC, I knew very little of South Carolina politics except for the names I had seen on television as part of the national political debate; Lindsey Graham, Mark Sanford, Nikki Haley, etc. My work at SCPC introduced me to three fascinating figures who have impacted the lives of South Carolinians in a very localized and positive fashion. While processing the papers of Luther Battiste III, Flynn Harrell and Johnnie Mac Walters I was able to get a glimpse into the careers of three honorable and thoughtful men who served with integrity, courage, and honor.
My first assignment at SCPC was to process an addition to the collection of Luther J. Battiste III, a highly respected past member of the Columbia City Council and a practicing attorney. Battiste began his official political career in 1983 when he was elected as one of the first African American city councilmen in Columbia, South Carolina, since the Reconstruction era. I say this marked the beginning of his “official” political career because he was involved in one historic election prior to becoming a Councilman, managing the successful 1971 campaign of Harry L. Walker as the first African American student body president at the University of South Carolina. Battiste served as Walker’s campaign manager and this successful bid set the tone for the many accomplishments Battiste would achieve in the coming years, including the completion of degrees from U.S.C. in International Studies and from the Emory University School of Law.
The Battiste collection paints the portrait of a gentleman politician who always served with the best interests of his constituents in mind, putting the betterment of the city ahead of his personal political ambitions. Battiste served on the Council for 15 years, running unopposed in every election after the first, but decided not to seek re-election after his third term ended in 1998 though he could have easily won again. Battiste explained through papers contained in the collection that due to his expanding legal career and family commitments he did not feel he could devote the time and attention necessary to serve on the Council and give the people of his district the full commitment they deserved. This is typical of the dedication to putting the citizens first that is reflected in the entire Battiste collection.
The Flynn T. Harrell collection was another highly insightful project which I had the privilege to work with during my time at SCPC. Harrell, like Battiste, is a native South Carolinian, raised in Columbia with a strong affiliation with the Baptist church. This upbringing inspired Harrell to become both a public servant and a lifelong advocate for religious liberty, as reflected in his collection of materials on the separation of church and state. My assignment in regard to the Harrell collection was to describe and integrate papers transferred from the South Caroliniana Library into the existing church and state items.
Through these papers I learned that Harrell worked for the people of South Carolina in many ways, serving as Executive Assistant to the state Attorney General for eleven years, serving on the Columbia Planning Commission, serving as Chairman of Governor Richard Riley’s Task Force on Critical Human Needs from 1981 to 1982, and as a member of the South Carolina Ethics Commission from 2000 to 2005. Harrell is also a long time member of the Democratic Party, which is showcased by correspondence with both local and national Democratic figures. These personal papers create the profile of a man who is both rational and compassionate, never forgetting that his purpose for being involved with politics was to help the citizens of South Carolina. I had the privilege to meet Mr. Harrell during my time at SCPC and found him to be the same kind, intelligent, and humorous gentleman that I had pictured from working with his papers. It was a great honor to meet Mr. Harrell and I feel that I learned much from him.
My final assignment at SCPC was to process an addition to the collection of Johnnie M. Walters. Again, I had no prior knowledge of Mr. Walters or his career, but came to admire his integrity and skill. Walters was appointed Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service by President Richard M. Nixon with the expectation that Walters would “play ball” with the Administration and use the IRS as a political weapon to reward the President’s allies and punish his enemies. Walters refused to go along with this plan, ignoring the enemies list compiled by the President and his orders to unjustly harass the persons on the list through the IRS. Walters emerged as one of the few members of the Nixon Administration to escape the Watergate scandal with their reputation fully intact and to carry no taint of corruption into their post-Administration career. This fact is a tribute to the sense of integrity and competence which came through to me in reading his papers. The vast majority of the addition I processed consisted of speech transcripts ranging from the mid-1960’s to the late 1990’s, mostly centering on tax law and the functionality of the IRS. Walters was a prolific speaker, as I found out by creating an Appendix of the almost 200 speech transcripts contained in the collection. The audience for these speeches ranged from Senate and House Committees on Watergate to the Greenville Kiwanis Club. This showed both Walters’ voluminous knowledge of tax law and his great sense of humor.
I am writing this blog on my last day at SCPC and can’t believe how quickly these four weeks have flown by. It has been a very exciting time for me and I will carry many great memories back home. I am thankful for the leadership, knowledge and good nature of all my colleagues in the processing room, especially Mr. Herb Hartsook, who on a daily basis displays a tremendous sense of professionalism and camaraderie that has served as a great example to me moving forward. I consider the experience I have gained in the area of processing and cataloging documents invaluable toward my future career goals and I am certain this experience will serve me extremely well in the future. I will remember the beauty and history of the University of South Carolina campus and the many fine meals I enjoyed at Preston’s Upstairs at the Russell House, easily the finest on-campus dining facility I have ever experienced.
I will remember my weekend trip to the beautiful city of Charleston and the happy realization that I was staying only 2 hours from the beach, as opposed to 8 hours in also beautiful but landlocked Tennessee. Sadly, I will remember the shock of the tragic Charleston church shootings, which took place during my time at SCPC, but I will also feel encouraged by the overwhelming support of the people of South Carolina to those who lost loved ones and friends in that terrible event, and encouraged by the positive changes that seem to be in motion in the aftermath of such an unthinkable tragedy.
But most of all, I will remember the honor I felt in being selected for the Moore Summer Internship and the confidence it has given me. I encourage anyone with an interest in the field of archives to learn more about SCPC and apply for any opportunity to be a part of this growing and vibrant organization, and I hope that many more students will get the opportunity to share my great experiences in the years to come.