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Latimer Papers Offer Inside Scoop
on The State Newspaper
The career of Samuel Lowry Latimer, Jr. (1891-1975) made him the authoritative source on Columbia's leading newspaper, The State. He spent fifty-four years with the paper, serving as its editor from 1941 until 1960. Indeed, his personal memories went back to 1907, when he answered a want ad for "office boy" under publisher Ambrose E. Gonzales. Latimer's papers have been arranged as part of a recent grant project and are now available for research in the Library's Manuscripts Division.
Samuel Lowry Latimer, Jr., circa 1930s.
Latimer served as editor of The State newspaper from 1941-1960.
Latimer joined the Columbia (S.C.) paper in 1907,
as a sixteen-year-old "office boy."
The heart of the collection consists of Latimer's correspondence during the time he ran The State. Correspondence provides a look at the inner workings of the newspaper business as well as the idiosyncrasies of The State and its readers. Sensitive topics include policies relating to stories about African-Americans, libel issues, and opposition by church groups to liquor advertising. Business relations with competitors like the Columbia Record involved arguments over timing of wire service releases and bans on free publicity for advertisers. Even the evidence of day-to-day business is of historical interest: an in-house style sheet Latimer compiled as managing editor reveals that as late as the 1940s, the paper (which had been founded by Cuban-Americans) required its reporters to spell the capital of Cuba as "Habana."
A 1938 letter
to Latimer from
General John J. Pershing (1860-1948).
The paper's editorial content sparked praise and complaints from readers as varied as Roy Wilkins and Mrs. William F. Buckley, Sr. An editorial on national defense that appeared in the June 25, 1945 issue brought a complimentary letter from General George S. Patton, Jr. "Owing to my unfortunate capacity to produce arguments," Patton wrote Latimer, "I trust that you will not directly quote this letter, which is only written out of sincere appreciation of what you wrote."
Extensive files of syndicate and feature service correspondence reflect American popular culture of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. In 1941 a nationally-syndicated columnist offered a lovelorn South Carolina reader advice contrary to the state's divorce laws. The following year libel problems forced the paper to drop Drew Pearson's gossip column. In 1948 Dr. Frederic Wertham's crusade against comics prompted King Features Syndicate manager Ward Greene to publish a circular letter defending his company's editorial decisions and describing Wertham as a "very prejudiced and badly informed psychiatrist."
Latimer's files include not only his own papers but material he collected and used to write his historical narrative The Story of the State (1970). Twenty-four folders of Gonzales family papers extend as far back as the founding of the paper in 1891. There are documents relating to the Tillman-Gonzales feud of the 1890s and the later trial of Lieutenant Governor James Tillman for the murder of editor N. G. Gonzales.
Original manuscript page from a Kiwanis Club booklet of member profiles, circa 1930s.
Latimer's activities outside the newspaper office make this collection a treasure trove of unexpected finds. His papers document the South Carolina American Legion, the Columbia Housing Authority, Fort Jackson, and Columbia's First Presbyterian Church. His voluminous correspondence as a second lieutenant in the United States Army's "Wildcat Division" is a significant source for World War I research. And his interest in history led him to preserve nineteenth century ancestral papers from York County including Witherspoon, Williams, and Deal family papers.
The twenty-two cartons of documents that comprise Latimer's papers are supplemented by two cartons of photographs, making this an addition to the Library's visual records as well as its written records.
--Terry W. Lipscomb
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