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Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations

The South Carolina Council on Human Relations played a key role in promoting racial harmony within South Carolina and the South generally and fostering better living and social conditions for African-Americans. Its archives document the movement for civil rights within South Carolina during the twentieth century.

The Council evolved over time, responding to changes in South Carolina society and the perception by Council's leadership of its role and mission. The Council's history dates to the formation in 1919 of the South Carolina Committee on Interracial Cooperation. This committee later became affiliated with the Southern Regional Council, a national organization formed to promote civil rights.

In 1963, the Council severed its formal affiliation with the Southern Regional Council and became an independent body. The bylaws adopted at that time stated its mandate--"to carry on...an educational program for the improvement of educational, economic, civic, and racial conditions in the state in an endeavor to promote greater unity in South Carolina...." It was a small but vigorous organization engaged in a number of programs. An undated descriptive flyer notes--"The Council serves as an alert `seeing-eye' and information and distribution center, and provides sounding-board, clearing-house, and rallying-point functions."

By 1974, Council had witnessed dramatic change both in South Carolina and in the work Council was attempting. Council's new role was to attack "the unfair and discriminatory distribution of income, wealth and privilege" and to promote basic human rights such as "health, equal opportunity, a decent standard of living, dissent, effective and progressive education, freedom of information and protection from political oppression." This platform did not generate the support necessary to maintain a viable organization, and in 1975 the Council was dissolved.

The Council was a true statewide organization. Its headquarters were located in Columbia. Local affiliates existed at various times in Aiken, Charleston, Clemson, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Rock Hill, and other smaller communities. A council involving college students was established in 1960. At its peak, membership numbered approximately three thousand persons.

The organization sought to carry out its mission through a variety of programs. Criminal justice, education, economics and employment, welfare, and voter participation were all studied through long-term programs. Council also made a significant contribution as a resource center, liaison for persons interested in human rights, and proponent of, and recruiter for, human rights. An early impact was achieved by its hosting of bi-racial annual meetings.

The history of the Council is also the history of its membership and officers. From 1955 to its dissolution in 1975 the Council had only three executive directors. Alice Spearman led the Council through the crucible of civil rights. She served as Recording Secretary, beginning in January 1954, and became Executive Director in January 1955. She held that position until her retirement in September 1967. Spearman's successor, Paul Mathias, was a young Methodist minister. His tenure lasted from 1967 to 1974. Mathias guided the Council through a difficult period of transition in which it attempted to adapt itself and its mission to the changing climate of racial relations in South Carolina.

In June 1973, the Council adopted the name South Carolina Council for Human Rights to better reflect the new role and mission which was being developed. In a news release, Council president Theo Mitchell stated that this action was intended to "reflect a fundamental change that had already taken place in the nature and direction of our organization" and noted that the Council was directing its "efforts toward the elimination of social and economic injustice in our state." New Council programs emphasized the study of the criminal justice and penal systems, welfare programs, and other social needs.

By 1974, human rights councils remained active in only five states--Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Mathias resigned in June 1974. Council's leadership split over the selection of his successor. A divisive dispute between the Board and the Executive Committee ensued. Lawrence J. Toliver eventually assumed the directorship. Toliver, an African-American, had previously served the Council as head of its Administration of Justice program. The Council continued to experience difficulties in maintaining its membership and attracting funding. By 1975, the local Columbia council had ceased to function, and membership in the South Carolina Council hovered near five hundred, down almost two-thirds from the 1970 total. In June 1975, Toliver resigned, and shortly thereafter the state council was dissolved. At least one local council continued to operate for a time.

Other principals in the Council included presidents Marion Wright, 1945; James McBride Dabbs, ca. 1947 to 1951; Mordecai Johnson, 1971; Theo Mitchell, 1973; and Ed Beardsley, 1974. Other staff included Leonidas S. James, an African-American who headed the Rural Advocacy Program from February 1963 to December 1969 and was employed jointly with the National Sharecroppers Fund for at least part of that time; Elizabeth Cowan Ledeen, who held a variety of positions in the Council through the 1960s; and Associate Directors James Thomas McCain, whose service began in 1955 and Ed McSweeney, who served during the 1970s and left the Council in 1974. Courteney Siceloff served as Council president from 1958 to 1960 and continued his association with the Council as head of Penn Center.

The collection consists of 52.5 linear feet of papers, 1934-1976. Its arrangement reflects the organization and programs of the Council. Six series exist within the collection--Administrative Records, Program Files, Topical Files, Clippings, Audio-Visual Material, and Miscellany. There is, by necessity, some overlap among the records filed in related sub-series.

The general administrative papers are extensive and consist principally of correspondence which chronicles the day-to-day activities of the Council and its leadership. Program files document the main work of the Council. Programs included: Criminal Justice, Economics and Employment, Education, Housing, Operation Gratitude, Institute for Government Officials, Religion, Rural Advancement, Voting, and Welfare.

Criminal Justice files relate chiefly to the Council's program on the Administration of Justice, 1970-1974. Related activities included studies of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA), Parole, Prosecutorial Discretion, and Sentencing. In 1974, the Council published Sentencing and the Law and Order Syndrome , a critical analysis of the sentencing practices of South Carolina judges. The publication was one of the primary achievements of this program, and present in the collection are questionnaires, correspondence, and other records compiled during the study.

Economics and employment was a perennial concern of the Council. Its efforts in this area were linked to the Rural Advocacy Program, whose records are maintained as a separate sub-series described below. Many early job training programs supported by the council were aimed specifically at retraining the rural poor for jobs in an increasingly industrial society. In May 1971, the Council published Black Employment in Selected Agencies of South Carolina State Government. This study documented discrimination in employment and promotion.

Education was another area of grave concern to the Council. It supported the desegregation of South Carolina schools at all levels and also served as a source of information for other desegregation supporters. In 1965 and 1966 the Council was involved in a Head Start program. In Dillon County alone some four hundred pre-schoolers were enrolled. Head Start programs were intended to benefit local economies as well as to help children further their educations.

The Student Program for Educational and Economic Development for Underprivileged People (Speed-Up) was established in 1966 as a joint effort of the SCCHR and its Student Council. Speed-Up was a tutoring and community development program which utilized students from South Carolina colleges to work with the poor for eight to ten weeks during the summer. A one-year demonstration grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity funded the program from June 1966 through June 1967. Students from twenty colleges worked in thirteen counties across the state. Each community was required to solicit the program and provide an advisory committee to assist in the work in that community. Programs included tutoring of children, adult education, recreation, and college preparation.

The Council also concerned itself with fair housing and the provision of adequate housing for the poor. As a result of this interest, the Columbia council published the Columbia Tenants' Handbook, which described tenants' rights under the law.

Operation Gratitude was inaugurated late in 1968 to assist Vietnam veterans returning to civilian life in finding employment and housing and with educational opportunities. Papers dating from 1968 to ca. 1971 document this effort. The Rural Advancement Program (RAP) concerned itself with all aspects of rural life. Its records, of necessity, overlap with some other program areas. RAP was inspired by the perception that this was a transitional period for agriculture, with many small farmers leaving or being forced from farming to move into the industrial labor force. Adult education was viewed as a necessity to train displaced farmers for work in an increasingly industrial society. Farmers also composed a large segment of the poor, and RAP and Welfare records include significant overlap, particularly as regards nutrition and poverty.

Voter registration and participation was critically important to the success of the civil rights movement. In 1963 and 1964, the SRC sponsored the Voter Education Project (VEP) in South Carolina. In 1965 that project was replaced by the South Carolina Voter Education Project, a federation of independent organizations concerned with voter registration, civic education, and participation in voting by South Carolina's African-American population. The Council was an active member of VEP. Voting records document these programs and other Council efforts to further voter participation.

Welfare covers a broad area of social concerns and services. Five linear feet of papers, 1945-1975, document the Council's interest in such areas as food stamps, school lunch and other nutritional programs, health care, and poverty. Many Council publications address welfare issues. Keeping The Poor In Their Place was published in 1972 and concerned food stamp programs in South Carolina. A Legal Labyrinth came out in 1974. It was the result of a three-year study of poverty and public welfare programs in South Carolina. Questionnaires received from sixty-nine welfare workers and officials in fourteen counties responding about the quality and form of their aid are included in the collection.

In 1969, the Council conducted a statewide survey to determine whether school lunches were both universally available and provided without prejudice. The Council was concerned that many schools throughout the state were negligent in not aggressively utilizing the federal funds which the United States Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Education had earmarked for that purpose. The survey responses and results are present in this series.

Valuable topical and clippings files document relevant issues and the work of allied organizations both in and outside of South Carolina.

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