Dean of Libraries Tom McNally has pleased us all by the announcement that Associate Director Dorothy Walker will succeed me as Director of SCPC. I retire at the end of December and Dorothy will take over on January 2. Her expertise, judgment, and demeanor make her the perfect choice. Good things are in the offing. I’m sure you join me in my excitement to see where Dorothy will lead SCPC.
I hope you will indulge my reflections on 38 years spent helping to preserve the history of our state. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career and will miss the work and even more, the interaction with donors, co-workers, and the scholars that use our collections.
I was a part of the first generation of formally trained archivists. I graduated with a degree in History–The Administration of Archives from the University of Michigan and came to South Carolina in November, 1979, to accept a job with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
In 1979, the state Archives was a large organization with a terrifically bright group of young middle-managers. I received priceless mentoring from these archivists during my four years overseeing work on the pre-Civil War papers of the state legislature. When an opening occurred at the South Caroliniana Library as its Curator of Manuscripts, I jumped at the opportunity to return to academia and work with their remarkably rich and diverse holdings.
SCL was all I had hoped for. Their largest collection, the papers of former governor and US senator, Olin Johnston, consisted of over 500 feet of materials which basically was untouched since they were acquired after his untimely death in 1965. The Johnston collection became my special project. I stole time from my routine duties to work with it, not knowing that I was setting the stage for the remainder of my career at USC Libraries.
USC approached Senator “Fritz” Hollings in 1989 seeking his papers. Over the next two years, I schooled myself in the nascent archival specialization of congressional collecting, while helping then library dean George Terry to develop USC’s proposal. Hollings’ decision and Terry’s vision has resulted in the SCPC that we know today — numerous diverse collections documenting modern society and government, housed in a state-of-the-art building.
Hollings’ papers form our signature collection and I am proud to have devoted so much of my life to documenting his work and contributions to South Carolina and the nation.
Regular readers know my blogs typically reflect something current, so I’ll digress from this reflection for a moment. I recently spoke with Dr. Alan Blum, a distinguished medical doctor who has created a remarkable archive at the University of Alabama documenting smoking in America. He sent me a copy of a letter to the editor he had written as a teenager in 1964. He had attended a rally in Woodmere, NY for Senate candidate Robert Kennedy. His letter excoriated the audience for their rude welcome of one of the speakers,
the former governor of South Carolina (a handsome, dynamic, movie-star type whose name escapes me. The jeers which greeted him all came after the mention of the words “South Carolina.” Shocked, I looked around, and to my amazement saw about 100 teenagers throughout the crowd booing away at this person they had probably never heard of. To those northern teenagers, the mere mention or association of “the South” connoted, simply, “bad.” Does this myth of the southern states being so anti-progress, anti-liberal, and especially anti-civil rights actually pass for fact in the mind of the so-called more aware and more keenly intellectual northerner?
Hollings is a powerful speaker so I was not surprised that Dr. Blum, on learning that we held the Hollings Collection, was immediately transported to a chill autumn day and memories of Hollings’ eloquent support for his friend, Bobby Kennedy. All this brings me back to my joy and pride in reviewing my career and my association with Sen. Hollings and our other donors.
I have enjoyed writing my various blogs and sharing my experiences and thoughts through these posts. And I will miss the good work done in SCPC and the relationships that we craft with our donors in documenting their careers and contributions. Best wishes to our fine staff and our wonderful donors!