To celebrate Congress Week, April 1-7, 2016, South Carolina Political Collections (SCPC) will post daily blogs reflecting on our history and celebrating our 25th anniversary. Today’s post concludes my reflection on how we have developed our holdings.
We were very conscious in the early 1990s that the vast majority of our holdings were papers of Democrats. This made sense. During most of the 20th Century, the Democratic Party dominated South Carolina politics. But by 1991, the Republican Party was on its way to dominance. Clemson’s Strom Thurmond Institute held not only the papers of Sen. Thurmond, but those of Thurmond associates, Republicans Fred Buzhardt, Carroll Campbell, Harry Dent, John Napier and Ed Young. We had inherited from the Caroliniana the papers of Republican pioneer William D. Workman and the archives of the Republican Party itself. But I worried that SCPC might have difficulty. I worried that we would be seen as the Democratic repository while Clemson received the majority of collections from South Carolina Republicans.
We decided to address this by actively seeking the papers of prominent Republicans and inaugurate a major oral history program interviewing Republican pioneers. Early on, we reached out to each member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation. Floyd Spence, the popular Second District representative and the first prominent South Carolinian to switch to the Republican Party, immediately called in response to our letter. I will never forget our conversation. Spence asked what he could do to help us. I requested that he pledge his papers. His response: “Done. What else can I do?” And that willingness to help defined our relationship. For the rest of his life, Mr. Spence was a devoted friend to SCPC.
That gave us credibility, but since Mr. Spence was so clearly identified as a staunch USC alumnus, I worried it might not be enough. I hoped to build on Mr. Spence’s commitment by seeking the papers of Dr. James B. Edwards. Edwards was an oral surgeon, among the first to practice that challenging specialty in South Carolina. He became a Republican pioneer and was elected to the state Senate in 1972. In 1974, the Republican Party had recruited Vietnam War commander, General William Westmoreland, to run for governor. The Party decided to hold its first statewide primary as a party-building measure and recruited Edwards as an opponent for the hugely popular general. As Edwards later told me, if he was going to run, he would run to win. And he did win, both the Republican primary and an eventful general election, becoming the first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction.
Edwards was a popular and unexpectedly successful governor, despite having to work with a Democratic state legislature. He was selected by President Ronald Reagan as Secretary of Energy, then went on to lead the Medical University of South Carolina where he served as president for seventeen eventful years. I always marvel that Edwards became a huge success in three such disparate fields — dentistry, politics, and higher education.
I reached out to Dr. Edwards in 1995 and received polite but firm responses that he wasn’t interested in us. But he never said he was committing his papers elsewhere. So I continued to seek him out at a Party Silver Elephant dinner and wrote him whenever I could report a development that might interest him. The first hint that we might be successful came after I had sent Dr. Edwards the description of the papers of Arthur Clement, a recent acquisition by the South Caroliniana Library. Clement was an important African American businessman and a friend of Edwards’. I received a full page letter from Edwards in which he reminisced about his good friend. I also often ask our donors to speak to prospects and compliment our stewardship. Such testimony carries a lot more influence than a promise by an unknown archivist. So I asked Sen. Hollings to speak with Dr. Edwards on our behalf. Soon thereafter, Hollings called to tell me that he and his wife Peatsy had spoken with Dr. and Mrs. Edwards, and he thought Dr. Edwards was ready to speak with us.
During the drive to Charleston for our meeting with Dr. Edwards, the Library Development Director Carol Benfield and I strategized on exactly what we would say. We assumed we would have a very limited time to make our case and wanted to be as convincing as possible. We were escorted into Edwards’ office at the Medical University, and I started our spiel. Dr. Edwards almost immediately held up his hands and said he didn’t need to hear more, that Hollings had persuaded him to donate his papers.
This was a major milestone in the development of SCPC. It assured that we would never be considered merely the repository for Democratic collections. Equally important, Dr. Edwards valued what we did, invited me to conduct a life history over a series of visits to his lovely Mt. Pleasant home, and he and his wife Ann became important champions of SCPC as well as dear personal friends.
I hope these anecdotes share some of the story of SCPC’s evolution over the past twenty-five years from its conception to our prominence as a leading congressional repository. We’d be nothing without the active help we have received from so many of our donors and their families and associates.