Nick Theodore is a progressive Democrat who served over twenty years in the South Carolina House and Senate and, from 1987 to 1995, under Republican Carroll Campbell, as the state’s 85th Lieutenant Governor. Theodore knows as much about South Carolina politics as any man alive and he shares his wealth of knowledge as well as details of his remarkable life in his 2014 book, Trials and Triumphs: South Carolina’s Evolution 1962-2014. The book is both a personal narrative as well as an analysis of an era in which politics and society underwent startling change. SCPC is proud to count Theodore among our donors of collections.
When Theodore mounted his first campaign, a successful race in 1962 for the South Carolina House, the South was a Democratic stronghold. The Republican Party had been chiefly a patronage organization but had recently begun to grow through the efforts of a small group of activists. Political campaigns at that time were personal. Candidates met workers at factory gates (yes, South Carolina had factories, chiefly a broad base of textile plants across the state), hosted bar-b-ques, and sought votes one at a time over the months before the Democratic primary. Except for Presidential campaigns, the Democratic primary served as the real election. How things have changed.
And Theodore worked well with Republicans as that Party grew to dominate the state. He is particularly generous in his praise of James B. Edwards, our first Republican governor (1975-1979) since Reconstruction — “Edwards was recognized for his ability to work across party lines in accomplishing needed legislation. Nowhere was that more evident than in our effort to continue improving education. . . . Edwards led the charge to provide adequate financing of our effort and promised to advocate for and sign the education bill.” He then goes on to detail how the Education Finance Act of 1977 passed the South Carolina House.
Trials and Triumphs is a must-read for any student of South Carolina society and politics. If you open the book at random, you will find something of interest. For instance, I have long been fascinated by the decision in 1965, following the death of U.S. Senator Olin Johnston, of then-governor Donald Russell to resign his office so that he could then be appointed to the Senate by his successor, Bob McNair. Years ago, I actually interviewed Russell about this decision. In two pages, Theodore sketches a better picture of this event than any I have seen before.
Some memoirs are better than others. Trials and Triumphs is among the best of its kind.