SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
MODERN POLITICAL COLLECTIONS
J. Drake Edens, Jr., PapersJ. Drake Edens, Jr. (1925-1982) is recognized by many as the father of the modern Republican Party in South Carolina. Born in 1925 in Blythewood, Edens spent his entire life in the Columbia area. His father had developed the family farm into a supermarket chain, and Edens moved naturally into a management position within the chain--Edens Food Stores. When his career was interrupted by World War II, Edens enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1943 to 1946, seeing action in the Pacific Theater. On his return to private life, Edens married Ferrell McCracken (1923-1982), a North Carolina native whom he had met while both were serving in the Marines. Edens enrolled at the University of South Carolina and in 1949 graduated with a degree in Business Administration. In 1955, Edens Food Stores merged with Winn-Dixie, and the following year Edens founded the Edens-Turbeville Agency, which he served as president from 1956 to 1964, when he sold his interest in the company to W.L. Turbeville.
Edens' political interest surfaced in 1960 when he organized a Republican club in his precinct during an exciting campaign year in which John F. Kennedy, to the great surprise of most political observers, carried South Carolina over Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Stimulated by his entry into the world of politics, Edens helped elect Charles E. Boineau, Jr., to the General Assembly in 1961, serving as campaign co-chair. Boineau became the first Republican member of the General Assembly in the twentieth century. Reflecting in 1976 upon his entry into politics, Edens wrote Strom Thurmond--"The major concern that caused me to become active in the Republican Party years ago was the question of deficit spending by the Federal Government. I am still deeply concerned that deficit spending will be the cause of the eventual downfall of our country."
In 1962, Edens enlarged his political universe, working the entire state as chair of W.D. Workman's Senate campaign against incumbent Olin D. Johnston. By polling a surprising 43 percent of the vote, Workman proved the viability of the Republican Party in South Carolina. In February 1963, Edens was elected chairman of the Republican Party of South Carolina. The following year, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, Edens, as chair of South Carolina's sixteen- man delegation, cast South Carolina's votes for Barry Goldwater, putting Goldwater over the top and ensuring that he would oppose Lyndon B. Johnston in the presidential campaign. Edens chaired the Goldwater effort in South Carolina, where Goldwater proved wildly popular and received 59 percent of the vote.
During an eventful 1965, Edens sold his interest in Edens-Turbeville to work for himself in a variety of enterprises involving real estate, farming, timber management, and investments. He also chaired Albert Watson's campaign for Congress. Watson had been elected to the House in 1962 as a Democrat. A vigorous Goldwater supporter in 1964, he was stripped of his seniority by the House Democratic leadership. Watson resigned from his seat in Congress and from the party and ran as a Republican to succeed himself. Watson won the election with approximately 70 percent of the vote. Finally, Edens resigned as state party chair and was elected Republican National Committeeman for South Carolina, gaining an important voice in Republican affairs at the national level.
In 1966, Edens played an important role in Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. He became the first member of the Republican National Committee to publicly declare his support for Nixon's 1968 bid. During the campaign, Edens served on the national Nixon for President committee, the national Nixon Finance Committee, and chaired South Carolina's Nixon Finance Committee. The public first became aware of the health problems that plagued Edens throughout the remainder of his adult life in 1968, when Edens, who suffered from chronic ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis, was forced to curtail his energetic and effective activities on behalf of the future president.
In 1972, Edens stepped down as vice-chair of the Republican National Committee, writing to his friend Leonard W. Hall--"this was a hard decision for me to make, but I simply felt that the time had come for me to slow up a bit and let somebody else step into this position for the period immediately ahead" (5 January 1972). In 1976, Gov. Richard W. Riley, in a widely popular move, appointed Edens to the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Commission. Edens became chairman of the Commission in 1979. He drowned while swimming in the summer of 1982.
Robert McNair summed up Edens' role in the state's political affairs in a letter, 6 December 1979, to Edens' daughter, Jenny--"In my judgment, Drake Edens is responsible for the existence of the Republican Party as a strong and viable entity in South Carolina. Only because of his perseverance and credibility does the party exist."
The J. Drake Edens collection consists of one linear foot of papers, composed predominantly of correspondence. It also includes a copy of a December 1979 University of South Carolina research paper by daughter Jenny Edens Padgett on her father's role in the Republican Party.
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