This past summer I had to the pleasure of completing an internship in the South Carolina Political Collections at the University of South Carolina. My project for the summer was processing the Tom Turnipseed papers, and it was a marvelous learning experience.
Before working on this project I had not heard of Tom Turnipseed and his fascinating and remarkable journey from the Old South rooted in racism to being an advocate for social justice. It is such an inspiring story. His papers show his journey from being George Wallace’s 1968 National Campaign Director to one of the loudest voices against injustice in South Carolina.
Turnipseed has been in the public eye since the late 1960s when he was the head of the Independent School Association. From there he went on to be George Wallace’s campaign director in the 1968 Presidential election. After leaving Wallace in 1971 to focus on his law practice in Columbia and his family, he began his own political journey running for office six times in 25 years. Though he was not always successful in winning elections he was able to bring issues to the forefront for public discussion. The amount of effort that Turnipseed has put into causes such as global peace,
homelessness, mental health, racial justice and equality is staggering. He has helped slash utility rates for South Carolinians, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, fought for those who do not have a voice and challenged the deep-seated prejudices of others through discussion.
Some of the most interesting items that I found in the collection were the campaign memorabilia from Turnipseed’s various campaigns. There are belt buckles, pins, different slogans and – the most humorous and effective – packets of actual turnip seeds. I just found the campaign seed packets to be so clever.
This collection has a significant amount of clippings, much more than I have ever worked with, dating from the late 1960s to the present. Many of those clippings were still a part of an entire newspaper. The most tiresome part of the entire process was searching for relevant articles and cutting them out of newspapers. There are a lot of clippings.
Though this blog post is delayed, my gratitude for this opportunity from the South Carolina Political Collections has not diminished in the slightest. The experience of working through an unprocessed collection on my own was a terrifying prospect at the beginning of the summer. It has been the largest archival project I have been given that much autonomy over to date. I am so thankful for the chance to work with Herb Hartsook and the rest of the South Carolina Political Collection team and for the opportunities that they offer students to work with them. Every day I worked there I learned something new about the archival field. My advice to those who are interested in processing and have not had the practical experience yet would be to ask questions and don’t get bogged down in the small details. These are lessons I know that I will use in my future career in the field.
Contributed by Erin Patterson