Congressman Tom Rice Visits SCPC

Tom Rice

SCPC Director Herb Hartsook welcomes Congressman Rice to our facility.

Tom Rice was on campus last week for Homecoming and took time from his hectic schedule to tour SCPC and learn more about our program. Rice earned both his master’s and law degrees from USC, and on that Homecoming Friday afternoon the congressman addressed a crowd of Gamecock fans gathered in front of the Russell House, encouraging the fans to root for Carolina over Vanderbilt on Saturday. As Rice predicted, the Gamecocks earned their first SEC victory the next day. He seemed to enjoy his visit to SCPC. He was accompanied by his wife, Wrenzie, and DC office scheduler Terra Davis. Terra took the photos that illustrate this post.

Rice and Hartsook

Herb explains our archival procedures and services as the repository of a congressman’s papers.

Congressman Rice represents South Carolina’s newest congressional district. The 7th District encompasses parts of eight northeastern counties including Georgetown and Horry. The district was created as a result of the great population growth experienced in South Carolina as determined by the 2010 census.

In the first race to represent the 7th district, in 2012, the Republican primary attracted a large field: nine candidates, headlined by former Lt. Governor Andre Bauer. Rice forced Bauer into a runoff and then won the election, receiving 56% of the vote. Rice serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure, Small Business and Budget committees, where his expertise developed as a CPA and tax attorney stands him in good stead. One of his key interests are South Carolina’s ports and particularly that in Georgetown.

Rice and Davis

Congressman and Wrenzie Rice tour our exhibits.

Rice, like most current members of Congress, makes efficient use of technology. He has his own YouTube channel, a Facebook account followed by over eight thousand friends, and a Twitter account which often features messages for his constituents. After South Carolina experienced torrential flooding, he tweeted, My district offices will serve as bottled water donation locations for South Carolinians in need.

We are hopeful that Mr. Rice may soon join the ranks of SCPC donors and entrust his papers to our care. If he does, it will be quite different from the collections of earlier congressmen like Bryan Dorn and Floyd Spence. They dealt with thousands of letters from constituents and voluminous files of paperwork relating to issues before Congress. Current members see little actual paper, instead their offices chiefly work with electronic records. That is the great challenge presented to congressional archivists and one which we hope our new Digital Initiatives Archivist Laura Litwer will help us solve.

Rice and Wilson

Rice’s associate Joe Wilson has donated some of SCPC’s most interesting ephemera, including this life-size cardboard stand-up (which Rice seemed to want for himself) and a voting machine. Both of these items are prominently displayed in our processing area.

Rice and Wilson


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In Memoriam: Martha Edens

Martha Edens

Martha Edens in 1982

Martha Edens was laid to rest yesterday. Among her many achievements, she played an important role in the rise of South Carolina’s Republican Party. Ms. Edens took an interest in South Carolina Political Collections soon after we were created in 1991, and was a source of support and counsel.

Perhaps the single most important political development in South Carolina of the 20th century was the rise of the Republican Party, and Martha Edens was an important activist in Republican Party affairs at the local, state and national levels beginning in the late 1950s. Her distinguished Party service included two terms as National Committeewoman. Her brother, J. Drake Edens, Jr., is considered by some to have been the father of the Republican Party in South Carolina for his organizational efforts and service as Party Chairman in the early 1960s.


Ms. Edens (in blue) on a bus with Governor Carroll Campbell and State Representative (later U.S. Ambassador to Canada) David Wilkins

In a memorable oral history interview we conducted, Ms. Edens noted, “the Republican Party looks for people with ability and the gender doesn’t bother them at all. I was never denied the opportunity to do anything I wanted to do in the Republican Party because I was a woman. We (she and her brother) never wanted to run for political office. All we wanted to do was create a situation where other people that were qualified could offer for elective office. We preferred to help candidates organize campaigns and raise money. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to be a part of something that began with such a small number of dedicated people that has grown to its present day position of prominence. Our party has made an impact on our State as well as our Nation. I have loved every minute of my involvement, the good and the bad.”

Ms. Edens was generous with her time and always seemed happy to hear from me, even though I most often called on her for advice on how best to approach a prospective donor. As one of South Carolina’s Republican elders, her early support helped raise our visibility and demonstrated SCPC’s acceptance as a non-partisan repository.

Edens and Spence

Ms. Edens with her good friend Floyd Spence

Politics was just one of Ms. Edens’ interests and she helped with innumerable charitable endeavors benefiting organizations like Richland Memorial Hospital and the United Way. I noted many young women at her memorial service and assume these were just some of the ladies Ms. Edens influenced through her leadership in her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, which she served as Province President, Vice President, National President for three terms, and Extension Director.

edens children

Drake and Martha Edens

When I think of Martha Edens, I always think of two things. First was her gentle and kind reaction to a student assistant who accompanied me for our oral history. As we were packing our equipment at the conclusion of the interview, the student, who had been enchanted by the many miniature elephants in Ms. Edens’ home, naively asked, “What led to your interest in elephants?” Of course, the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party. The only collection I have seen that rivaled hers was that of her good friend Floyd Spence. Second, was her drive and work ethic. After we both attended a planning meeting for a Republican history group, Ms. Edens shared with me her frustration that the meeting had produced nothing tangible. She felt that each attendee should have left the meeting with a clear task. She truly wanted to do something, not talk about doing things.

At the service yesterday, her minister noted how much she did throughout her life to help people, often making her gifts anonymously. To me, that is the hallmark of her inspirational life – the drive to make a difference, without the need for acclaim and recognition.

By Herb Hartsook

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Top Ten Books on Government and Politics: Recommendations by Historian Jack Roper

booksThe other day, SCPC friend and historian Jack Roper and I began to discuss “must reads,” and I challenged Jack to list his ten “must reads” on government and politics. He graciously suggested the following titles, and provided a brief comment on each. We hope that this will be the first of a number of these lists suggested by other friends. I may even venture a list at some point.

Enjoy!                                     Herb Hartsook


Dr. Jack Roper

Dr. Roper writes:

I got hung up between classics that affect how I think and do research, and works that really affect my specific understanding of process. So I mixed the two kinds of things up. Omissions that are important for you to know: I initially listed Vann Woodward, Reunion and Reaction; Tindall, Disruption of the Solid South; and Blum, The Republican Roosevelt, but reluctantly left them as nos. 11, 12, and 13.

There is one dog that doesn’t bark: As great as Merrill Peterson and other authorities are, no one has written a book that captures Jefferson’s genius in building the Democratic Republican party, the way he found regional and subregional leaders in Virginia and New York, but also the backcountry. We need such a book.

Here is a list, in cardinal order:

1. Aristotle, Ars Politica, trans. Jowett. There is wisdom in Aristotle about all things, and especially the political. I review what he sees as principles and watch for them in actors.

2. Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. and ed. Constantine. Machiavelli is denser and more complicated than many think; I especially like the way he understands that there are serious limits to what anyone can do as leader no matter the system. I find many of his examples of how people will react to actions to be especially good. I remember that the Founding Fathers and Lincoln all regarded Machiavelli as extremely important.

3. John Caldwell Calhoun, Collected Works, ed. Wilson (primarily on concurrent majorities). He is certainly wrong on slavery and race, but his description of concurrent majorities is a wonderful way to understand how power blocs work in our federalist system.

4. James Madison with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, The Federalist Papers. Ed. Bosch and Smith (University of Wisconsin) I think it is useful to see what Madison in particular thought the republic would be all about. Obviously I read this in dialogue and dialectic with Calhoun.

5. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. Hobbes has ripe observations about motivation and insights into how people act, with or without power. Like Machiavelli, he understands the limits of power even and especially for the Leviathan. The way our Commander in Chief Leviathans are often hamstrung is already forecast there in Hobbes’s work.

6. Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy. Although there is some cheer-leading, Sorensen really details Kennedy’s actions while Senator and President and accurately reveals a Liberal’s thinking in another era. In particular, he reminds us how limited was Kennedy’s vision on civil rights despite the soaring rhetoric.

7. James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt, 2 volumes (especially The Lion and the Fox). I think Burns, using Machiavelli’s template on the lion and the fox, does a great job showing how our most successful president got things done, whether admirable or not.

8. Gordon S. Wood, Creation of the American Republic. Such a careful and close reading of the thinking of the Founding Fathers, with a deft transition from the fervor of radical revolution to the checks and balances and judicious governance of the Constitution.

9. William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War. South Carolina starts the War, and the start of the start is the crisis with Nullification. An excellent study of the men and the forces who could not be reasoned with—and a reminder of how badly Calhoun wanted to prevent disunion.

10. Robert Caro, Lyndon Johnson, 3 volumes. Caro does not understand Texas and does not try very hard to understand it, but he surely follows LBJ as he makes his remarkable climb to power. It’s a corking narrative and with a clear moral vision concerning a great man with a tragic flaw.

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Congressman, Gentleman, Friend: Remembering Floyd D. Spence


Congressman Floyd Spence in his office

Politicians are typically “people persons.” They like people and want to serve, to do good things that help their constituents. That constituent base might take the form of a neighborhood, a city, a congressional district, a state, or the nation. Good politicians use every meeting with their constituents to work towards building a personal relationship.

Floyd Spence represented South Carolina’s Second District in Congress from 1971 until his death in 2001. He was a masterful politician. Over the years in developing his collection and through an extended oral history I conducted with Mr. Spence, I certainly came to view him as my friend.


Spence at the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City

I often tell of his response when, shortly after Political Collections was established, I wrote him soliciting his collection. He called the same day he received my letter and asked what he could do to help. I responded that he could pledge his papers to the University. I remember his response as though it was yesterday. “Done. What else can I do?”

When he passed away, the outpouring of grief was overwhelming. An amazing number of people across his district and the nation described an intensely personal loss of a close friend. To this day, I have not witnessed anything like the personal identification his constituents felt with Mr. Spence.


Spence at home working in his garden, 1989

Tomorrow Lexington County, Spence’s home county, holds its celebrated Okra Strut festival. Mr. Spence loved to ride in the parade and wave to his friends. It will be an occasion when I will particularly miss my friend, Floyd Spence. I thought it would be appropriate today to share some favorite Spence quotes:

Since 1970, the year of my first election to Congress, I have made only one campaign promise: that I would be a voice of reason and responsibility among Washington politicians who put their own special interests above the public interests. I believe I have kept that promise…you are my special interest.

Getting along with people is the best way to get along in life. I work hard at getting along with people.

I’ve got a lot of people who . . . believe in me and stay with me. Philosophically, the district and I agree. I guess that’s the biggest thing. The main thing is that you’re suited to your district and that your district is suited to you.

In Congress, my duty is service to all the citizens of South Carolina. So I’ve worked hard to represent everyone – – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.

spence taekwondo

Spence met twice a week with congressional colleagues to study the Korean martial art Taekwondo.

By Herb Hartsook

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The Passing of a Giant


The huge crowd outside the Spartanburg church where Johnston’s funeral was in progress; he was interred at Barkers Creek Baptist Church, Honea Path, S.C

Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston (1896-1965) served as S.C. Governor (1935-1939 & 1943-1945) and U.S. Senator (1945 until his death in office).  Shortly after he died, his family donated to the University an extensive collection of personal papers and memorabilia.  Johnston’s was the University’s first major congressional collection and it remains one of SCPC’s largest collections.  Years later, we received the papers of his daughter, Liz Patterson, who has devoted her life to public service, including three terms in the U.S. House.

Gladys Johnston

A grieving Gladys Johnston at her husband’s funeral

Recently, Mrs. Patterson and her family have donated substantial additional materials for both collections.  Johnston’s original collection included few photographs.  The new material includes a treasure trove of images.  It quickly became apparent that both Olin and his wife Gladys were very fashion conscious.  Johnston is shown in any number of beautifully tailored suits, matched with fashionable shoes, and wearing an array of hats, as men of his generation did.  Mrs. Johnston is pictured in beautiful outfits, each emphasizing her slender frame and stylish eye.

During his life, Olin Johnston was a giant on the South Carolina stage.  In processing his collection, I was impressed by his devotion to the people of South Carolina and his bravery in opposing Senator Joseph McCarthy in his attacks charging broad Communist leanings among the ranks of federal employees.  As chair of the Senate committee charged with oversight of federal employees, Johnston’s stance was notable.  Always the champion of the common people, Johnston was unwilling to be steamrollered by the McCarthy phenomenon.


President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson attended the funeral with Mrs. Johnston.

One of the great joys of working with contemporary collections is that we typically get to know our donors, some very well. I have always regretted that I did not have a chance to meet the Senator and his wife.  The photos illustrating this blog come from a photo album on the Senator’s funeral, kept by Mrs. Johnston.  The scrapbook touched me and I imagine the image of Mrs. Johnston’s grief will stay with all who see it.

Herb Hartsook

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Oh, for a Rose by ANY Other Name!

You never know what may show up in political collections.  Among some recently-acquired material, we discovered evidence of one organization’s rather optimistic effort to shake up Congress.

The box it came in

The box it came in

As a response to the news that only 14% of Americans in 2013 approved the performance of the United States Congress, the National Rose Garden in Sunnyside, New York, is offering The Congressional Disapproval Rose Commemorative Plate.  For $75 you can sponsor a plate and have it sent to the Senator or Representative of your choice.

The program is non-partisan; as the Garden’s website explains:  “Hand-crafted in an edition of 535 sets, for each plate purchased another will be sent to a representative of your choosing…. We are attempting to acknowledge the shared landscape and shared responsibility that exists in our representative bodies. For that reason our goal is to place one plate with each member of the 113th Congress. We ask that you choose a representative who has not been sent a plate.”

A letter accompanying the plate reads: “While we admire and respect all service in the public realm, this gift is sent as an acknowledgement of the growing distance between the American public and its representative body.”  They hope the gift “will encourage thought on effective representation and our shared role in that process.” The letter closes with “We earnestly thank you for your public service and we hope that this brief intervention will illustrate our overlapping desires for a successful system of governance.”

The project is ongoing so the results are not yet known, but it’s probable that such an unusual endeavor will catch the eye of more than a few of our Representatives.

The Plate

The Plate

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South Carolina’s Nuclear State


Exhibit poster

As you may have seen, at the end of May we installed a new exhibit in our galleries entitled “Nuclear Carolina: Energy and Waste in the Palmetto State.” When Dorothy Walker, SCPC’s Associate Director, first approached me with the idea of an exhibit on nuclear energy in South Carolina, I put on a brave face; but I panicked. I knew next to nothing about nuclear energy period, let alone in this state. One of the great things about working in the archival field, though, is that you can to learn so much about all sorts of things you never expected to know about. It’s all a matter of what surprises you can find hidden in the collection.

It turns out we have a lot of material related to nuclear plants in our collections, because South Carolina has at least eight reactors currently active throughout the state! I was worried at first that I would be scraping for materials to make a proper exhibit on this topic, or that I would have to change topics altogether, but as it turns out, we have more than enough information in our collections on nuclear power, nuclear waste, and other related concerns.

Ellenton sign

The towns of Ellenton and Dunbarton were leveled to make way for the Savannah River Plant.   (photo: W.D. Workman Papers)

If you’ve seen the exhibit, you’ll notice that the two plants I focus on the most are both located on the southwest edge of the state: the Barnwell Waste Disposal Facility and the Savannah River Site. Although these sites are far from us here in Columbia, I cover them the most extensively because they caused the most controversy over the years. The Savannah River Site in particular had dozens of political cartoons and a host of speeches and other materials created by politicians and a variety of citizens.

Though as a nuclear processing facility particularly focused on weapons and research it differs widely from the other plants in the state, the environmental concerns surrounding the site ring true for other nuclear facilities in the state as well.

From the Savannah River Site and the Barnwell Facility to the numerous power plants elsewhere, South Carolina truly is a nuclear state!

Contributed by grad assistant Clara Bertagnolli 

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A Great Scholar and a Big Man — Bob Moore & Ike Williams

bob moore

Dr. Bob Moore

We are currently at work arranging and describing the papers of retired Columbia College history professor Robert Moore. Bob is one of South Carolina’s premier scholars on the Civil Rights movement. He has focused particularly on Matthew Perry’s leadership in the movement. Years ago, Bob and Judge Perry donated to SCPC recordings of an extensive life history Bob had conducted with the Judge. SCPC transcribed the interview and, with their permission, added the transcript to our website. There, it is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Recently, Bob donated the research he developed in working on a history of Perry and the movement, a book that he has decided he will never complete. Included are cassettes of over twenty interviews he conducted with a variety of major players including many friends of SCPC such as Hayes Mizell, Chief Justice Jean Toal, and former governor John West.

book signing

SC Chief Justice Jean Toal, Dr. Cleveland Sellers, and Ike Williams at a book signing event at U of SC, 2006

We are in the process of transcribing those interviews and ultimately hope to make them available universally by putting them on our website. We are having to reach out to several of the interview subjects seeking their authorization to do this. That and the labor intensive transcription process assure that this project will require over a year to complete.

We have just mounted to the web Bob’s interview with Isaac W. “Ike” Williams (1945-2008). In the interview, which lasted a bit over an hour, the former NAACP field director and close associate of both I. DeQuincey Newman and Congressman James Clyburn discusses his experiences as a Civil Rights leader, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s.

ike williams

Ike Williams

Ike was a big man in many ways. He had a real presence and played an important role in the movement and on South Carolina’s governance. Talks about creating an Ike Williams collection here at SCPC were cut short by his untimely death in 2008, but I, like all who knew him, will never forget his zest for life, desire to make a difference, and inherent kindness. We are grateful to his widow Evelyn for authorizing us to make his story available to posterity.

By Herb Hartsook

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A Judicial Temperament: Donald S. Russell

For July and August, SCPC has mounted in our Brittain Gallery a small exhibit celebrating the life of Donald S. Russell (1906-1998). As I have written in the past, few individuals achieve the success that Donald Russell enjoyed, fewer still succeed in such a wide range of arenas, and even fewer have active careers of the duration of Russell’s.

Byrnes and Russell

Donald Russell (right) worked with with fellow South Carolinian James F. Byrnes at the Office of War Mobilization under Roosevelt and later at the State Department under Truman.

Donald Russell held important positions in the Roosevelt administration during World War II. He served as President of the University of South Carolina from 1952 until 1957. He was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1962. On taking office in January, 1963, the Russells hosted a barbeque on the mansion grounds where they welcomed over 11,000 people, both black and white. Later that month, Russell oversaw the desegregation of higher education in South Carolina when Harvey Gantt was admitted to Clemson University.

Upon the death of U.S. Senator Olin Johnston in 1965, Russell was appointed to the Senate until a special election could be held. Russell gained an excellent reputation for his good and significant work but was defeated by Fritz Hollings in the 1966 special election to complete Johnston’s term.

Russell and Johnson

Governor and Mrs. Russell greet President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson

Shortly thereafter, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Russell to the U.S. District Court. Four years later, Russell was appointed a judge of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Russell seems to have been destined for the bench and served as an active appellate court judge right until the time of his death, in 1998, on his 92nd birthday.

The exhibit is timed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Russell’s 1965 appointment to the Senate. To learn more about this great South Carolinian, please enjoy the electronic exhibit, Donald S. Russell: A Life of Public Service.

Russell barbeque

Russell’s inaugural barbeque (from Russell inaugural booklet, McKissick Museum)

I had the opportunity to interview Judge Russell late in his life. It remains among my most memorable interviews, chiefly because I clearly bored the Judge. But after I turned off the recorder, Russell began to talk about court cases he was currently hearing and cases he thought might end up before him. He hadn’t felt it appropriate to discuss these on the record. And he grew animated. And that is what I will always remember. This man had led a full and remarkably accomplished life, but rather than dwell on past glories, in the twilight of his life Donald Russell lived in the present, for the future.

By Herb Hartsook

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Running Up the Flag, or, How John Amasa May Thumbed His Nose at JFK

battle flag

The crowd on the State House grounds watched as the battle flag was lowered this morning.

This morning, at a few minutes after 10:00, the controversial Confederate battle flag was removed from its position beside the Confederate monument on the State House grounds.

Historian John Hammond Moore researched and drafted an article on the history of the Confederate Flag atop the State House in 1999 and shared his information with Governor Hodges during the debate that ultimately led to the removal of the flag from the dome and its repositioning on the State House grounds. John had hoped the article might be published, but it was not. I have known John for over thirty years and have always admired his scholarship. I believe the following account is the definitive history of the effort in 1961 that led to the flag flying over the State House dome.

Herb Hartsook

“Running up the Flag…”, by John Hammond Moore

John H Moore and Ernest Hollings

John Hammond Moore (seated) with Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings at SCPC, 2003

Throughout the first four decades of this century, the so-called Confederate flag—now a source of considerable public anguish and protest—was consigned to discreet obscurity. As veteran ranks dwindled, banners were furled and, much like the brave men themselves, enjoyed quiet repose. During World War II, southern white boys often displayed the Confederate Navy Jack as a good-natured reminder of home and, upon return to college life, waved it gleefully at football games. The Navy Jack, with the blue Cross of St. Andrew and white stars on a red field, is a rectangular version of the Confederate Army’s square battle flag. It is not the “Stars and Bars” and never was a national standard, merely a pennant flown from the bow of a vessel.

Then in 1948, the Dixiecrats and rising civil rights rancor transformed this increasingly familiar banner into a stark, pro-segregation symbol beloved by a re-born KKK, hordes of good ole boys, and countless far-right politicians. In time, it became the logo of rock bands, skinheads, motorcycle gangs, and similar disparate fringe elements. What these groups seem to have in common is rebellion against authority—a far cry from the sacred legacy handed down by Wade Hampton and Robert E. Lee and clearly out of step with any constituted entity such as a state government.

Georgis flag 1956

Georgia’s state flag designed in 1956 in response to the 1954 Brown decision, and flown until 2001

A major turning point in this tale is the Brown v. Board of Education decision (May 1954) that struck down segregated public schools. Southern reaction was predictable, but that of Georgia is especially pertinent because it presaged what would follow in South Carolina. A fine article in the Georgia Historical Quarterly (Summer 1998) “An Act of Defiance—Georgia’s Flag Change of 1956” by John Walker Davis describes how county commissioners decided to add the now-familiar Cross of St. Andrew to the state flag.

In February 1956, state legislators agreed to do the same, despite stern opposition from the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans distressed by the “theft” of their icon and its increasing use for commercial purposes, while hundreds of puzzled citizens asked why change was necessary. No explanation was forthcoming nor, at the time, was anything said about the Civil War or honoring Confederate dead. In fact, when signing the flag bill, Governor Marvin Griffin vowed it represented determination to maintain “Georgia’s two greatest traditions—segregation and the county-unit system.” The latter, a complex scheme assuring rural dominance in statewide elections, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963. As John Davis stressed, this change was “an act of defiance,” a knee-jerk reaction to the Brown decision of 1954.


Calhoun County Senator L. Marion Gressette, who chaired the Education Committee, 1951 to 1955

The same year that Georgia got a new flag, Senator John D. Long of Union County [S.C.], once private secretary to Gov. Coleman Blease, persuaded his colleagues to display the Navy Jack (now widely accepted as “the Confederate flag”) in their chamber [at the State House]. In 1956, they also passed Act 927 bestowing permanent status upon a school study committee headed by Senator Lawrence Marion Gressette of Calhoun County. This group, established by concurrent resolution in 1951, was asked to chart what course the state should take to thwart integration.

Yet another body, also created by concurrent resolution, was a key player in this saga. Born in February 1959, this was the “Commission to Commemorate the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Participation of the State of South Carolina in the American War Between the Confederated States of America, South, and the Federal Union of the United States of America, North, and for Related Purposes.” As constituted, there would be nine members—the governor (ex-officio), two senators, two representatives, and four citizens selected by the governor. The prime force, it turned out, would be the chairman, Representative John Amasa May of Aiken: lawyer, World War II veteran, commander of the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a keen student of local history. For several years, legislative journals stated (correctly) that this body was established in 1959. By 1962, however, its birth was pushed back to 1956 and erroneously linked to Senator Gressette and Act 927.

US Grant III

Grandson of the Civil War general and U.S. president, General U.S. Grant, III, served as chairman of the national Civil War Centennial Commission from 1957 to 1961.

Even before May and associates sprang into action, a federally funded national commission came into existence in 1957, headed by Brigadier General U.S. Grant, III. Most states soon fielded similar bodies that held three annual planning sessions and, at the suggestion of South Carolina, agreed to convene the fourth meeting (appropriately enough) in Charleston on April 11-12, 1961, the one hundredth anniversary of the attack upon Fort Sumter.

During the opening weeks of the year, the “Holy City” buzzed with excitement. Soon there would be parades, pageants, re-enactments, and fireworks both planned and unforeseen. However, the New Jersey commission voted in mid-March to boycott the proceedings. The problem was that a black delegate, Mrs. Madaline Williams, would be unable to attend functions held at the segregated Francis Marion Hotel. When General Grant failed to resolve this impasse, President John F. Kennedy ordered the national conclave moved to the Charleston Naval Base where facilities were integrated. As a result, the national body and those of most states met there, while the South Carolina Commission and other Southerners met at the Francis Marion as planned, although some of the latter attended business sessions at the base.

ft sumter stamp

Stamp commemorating the Centennial, featuring a Fort Sumter gun

Needless to say, the President’s action was greeted with howls of protest, with Governor Fritz Hollings and others accusing JFK and New Jersey of trying to score political points with blacks and liberals. Amid such chaos, John A. May arrived in Charleston resplendent in top hat, gray suit, and a startling Confederate-flag vest, which, he conceded, was from a New Jersey novelty house. But, May quickly added, it was ordered in December long before the current crisis developed. At his request, April 12 was a state holiday and three flags (national, state, and Confederate) flew for a week from a staff atop the Gervais Street portico of the State House.

Ft Sumter

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor

The meetings that ensued were beset by controversy when Charleston native and Saturday Evening Post editor Ashley Halsey, a featured speaker, pointed a finger at racial prejudice in New Jersey. In addition, at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of April 12th, a “rebel” landing party briefly occupied Fort Sumter and ran up a 4’ by 6’ Confederate flag supplied by (guess who?) John A. May! This band of adventurers, according to the News and Courier (April 13), included several members of the General Assembly and various “prominent” Charlestonians.

Shortly after sunrise, a national park employee hauled down the flag and replaced it with the Stars and Stripes. However, that evening, as hundreds watched a re-enactment of the original bombardment, the newspaper said the landing party received hearty congratulations. And, it seems quite possible that, amid fireworks, backslaps, and bourbon, many talked of a site where state authority, not federal, reigned supreme, namely the lofty dome of the State House in Columbia.

But no flag had flown there for nearly a decade, largely because ascension to that pinnacle was too risky. To get there, one had to mount rickety stairs, pass through two trap doors, and mount a long ladder. However, despite such obstacles, early in 1962 the pace quickened. On January 9, David Hall, a Lexington County steeplejack who had done the job before, climbed up the thirty-foot pole atop the dome, attached a chain to a pulley, and soon the Stars and Stripes and state flag were flapping in a winter breeze.

battle flag

The battle flag flying atop the dome of the State House

At first, as we know, there were only two. But on February 14, 1962, John May and F. Julian LeaMond of Charleston introduced House Bill 2261, a concurrent resolution stipulating that the Confederate flag be flown over the State House. Much like Georgia’s experience in 1956, at the time no one said the intent was to honor Confederate dead or mark the anniversary of the Civil War. The House gave quick approval, and the Senate concurred a month later, returning the measure to the lower body on March 20. The first public notice of what had happened was a picture in Section B of the Columbia Record (March 28) showing three flags atop the dome, a Maxie Roberts photo of the American, state, and “recently added Stars and Bars.”

This strange tale out of South Carolina’s recent past takes curious twists and turns. Sometimes there are no flags, sometimes two, and then three. And, since John Fitzgerald Kennedy plays a pivotal role in this drama—it was his decision in March 1961 that prompted John May and friends to run up what they assumed was the Confederate flag (“in your face, Jack-boy!”)—one might ask what flags, if any, flew over the State House following the young President’s tragic death in November 1963. Were all three aloft…were there only two…or perhaps none?
The answer can be found in the Columbia Record of Monday, November 25th, a day set aside for national mourning. Banks, offices, colleges, and schools were closed, millions watched the sad funeral pageant on TV, and there—on page 1 of Section D—was a photo of Columbia’s Main Street and the State House with three flags at half staff, “an act of defiance” still, even as the slain leader, for over two years a prime target of segregationist scorn, was being praised, eulogized, and laid to rest.

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