[logo of university of south carolina]
SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
Fifty-Eighth Annual Meeting Address

On Becoming a South Carolinian

John Hammond Moore

This is, of course, not a discourse on how to become a South Carolinian. Any such inquiry would be truly superfluous, even audacious. Those born here need no such advice (nor should they accept it), and most non-aboriginals probably have achieved the same elevated status...or nearly so, as close to the genuine article as any "outlander" can hope to get. No, this is more of a personal journey. How I got here...not once but three times...and, as you know, I had farther to travel than most of you.

These three shades of enlightenment occurred in 1944, 1962, and 1985. In the first instance, I was nineteen and dressed in a Navy blue uniform with funny-looking trousers. Following training at various schools, in September 1944 I and over a hundred fellow crew members arrived at the Charleston Navy Yard to take charge of a new LSM (landing ship medium), a 200-foot mass of welded steel plates designed to approach beaches during an invasion, swing open its big bow doors, and disgorge men, tanks, and equipment. However, it turned out that a dozen of these craft, including ours, were being converted into something else and, as a result, we hung around Charleston for several months. That something else was a rocket ship...not the Buck Rogers-25th Century sort or a space-ship Endeavor of today but one that shot rockets (5" shells), lots of them, at the enemy shoreline prior to an invasion, softening it up so GIs and Marines could walk ashore without fear of land mines and booby traps. So, the bow doors of those twelve LSMs, rechristened LSMRs, were sealed, cargo space filled with rockets, and four to five hundred rocket launchers erected on the deck. The result looked somewhat like a steel thicket that a strong wind had tilted forward at a 45-degree angle. These weird-looking vessels always attracted attention whenever we sailed into port, especially because ours flew an admiral's pennant.

This was a new type of warfare and the Navy assigned considerable significance to the experiment, hence the admiral, who was in charge of the entire flotilla. About ten days after we were commissioned, had a hurried one-day shakedown cruise, and were heading for the Pacific and Okinawa, he informed me in casual conversation: "Did you realize, Moore, this ship is obsolete?" That is how fast rocket warfare was changing. He also told me that each LSMR had more firepower than anything else afloat...for about ten minutes, I should add, then we had to withdraw and reload by hand...deckhand, that is. We were not a present-day, automated wonder.

Charleston in the fall of 1944 was exciting, vibrant, turbulent, too, different from anything I ever had seen, jam-packed with sailors, soldiers, shipyard workers, and assorted civilians. Yet, except for one incident, I can't say that the "Holy City" made a distinct impression upon me. One Sunday a fellow seaman, a signalman named Dick Mills—a bit older, experienced in the ways of the world, a Boston suburbanite with considerable flair—suggested we get dressed up, go to a socially correct church, and get invited to lunch. We did and we were. It was either St. Philip's or St. Michael's, but of greater importance were our hostesses—three charming ladies who quickly informed us they were DuBose Heyward's aunts. This meant nothing to two young New Englanders, though I presume we smiled and said something appropriate.

Lunch was delicious and then the ladies took us on a very proper afternoon tour that included the Huguenot Church, a joggling board, and the home and studio of artist Alice Huger Smith, a personal friend of theirs. But for me the high point came near the close of the day when the three matrons were showing us the Dock Street Theatre, rebuilt in the 1930s under the auspices of the New Deal. One was telling us how the job was done, while the other two were about twenty feet away close to a plaque dedicating the reconstruction to Mrs. Harry Hopkins, wife of the WPA administrator. Suddenly, without warning, one of the aunts reached out her hand, struck the plaque with her diamond, and said, quite audibly: "That bitch!"

I hope I was too polite to laugh, but this scene obviously has stayed with me. Like a sharp knife it cut through the quiet charm and gentility of the afternoon, pleasant as it was, and revealed that these folks, despite the funny way they talked, had spunk and spirit after all. And it immediately reminded me of home where anti-Roosevelt sentiment also flourished beautifully. In 1936 I plastered my father's truck with Landon stickers and asked him to show me a Democrat. (As you may recall, Alf Landon of Kansas carried only Maine and Vermont that year.) We made several trips to town before the postmaster walked across the street and Dad said, "There goes one!" I was very disappointed. He looked just like a Republican. In addition, my grandfather viewed FDR and his crowd with disdain fully as well developed as that of DuBose Heyward's aunts. He often got so disgusted as he listened to the news (no TV then) that he would snap off the radio, storm out of the kitchen cursing Roosevelt, slam the door to the porch...only to open it a moment later and say firmly, "But I don't mean Teddy, not Teddy!" He was a Bull Moose Republican until the day he died.

That chance remark in the lobby of the Dock Street Theatre opened a window, just for a moment, indicating that, strange as it may sound, growing up in Maine might be fine preparation for life as a South Carolinian. And in decades since, as a faculty member at Winthrop College in the 1960s and writer with Thomas Cooper Library and the University in the 1980s, research into South Carolina's past has convinced me of the validity of this observation. I should note, perhaps, that when I decided to come to Winthrop, I had finished graduate school in Charlottesville and taught for one year at the University of Virginia. Many of my associates, especially native Virginians, looked upon the move south as tantamount to joining the Peace Corps.

But back to the real beginning. A bit of genealogy seems in order. How on earth did my forebears end up 1200 miles northeast of here smack dab against the Canadian border. As a youngster I assumed everyone had an international boundary in their backyard and was especially intrigued by a "line" store near by home. Built right on the border and intentionally so, it had big double doors that met at that spot. The lady who ran this emporium cooked her meals in one country, ate them in another, and also slept head in USA, feet in Canada. I thought it all very fascinating. This was nothing less than a big country store with Canadian goods on one side, American on the other. No one quibbled about such things as duty charges, that is, until 1938 when an international treaty put an end to such commerce.

The earliest of my crowd that I know anything about were caught up in the Salem witchcraft trials of the 1690s, not as witches, but as accusers. A little over a century later, some of their progeny joined a party that left the Boston area to carve out homesteads in the wilderness of northern Maine, then part of Massachusetts. As you may remember, Maine became a state in 1820, part of the famed Missouri Compro- mise—Maine free, Missouri slave. To get there, these folks had to travel up the St. John River of New Brunswick. In 1806, there was no road to the remote corner that would become Aroostook County and there would be none until the so-called Aroostook War of the 1820s. Actually, that border dispute, which rates only a line or two in any History 101 text, if that, was not much of a war. Only one soldier died, probably of pneumonia, but that fracas finally gave these pioneers access to the rest of the United States. Some years ago, I discovered that, until that road was cut through—roughly 120 miles from Bangor to my hometown of Houlton—no federal census was being taken there, which is not surprising. Even today, you drive through vast stretches of nothing but woods.

But why did these folks go way up there in the first place? You don't hear much about the eastward movement in American history, but here it is. I suspect they were drawn by several factors—cheap land, lumber (which could be floated down river to the coast where shipbuilding was big business and Bangor of those days was a boom town where fortunes could be made and were), and perhaps these people had Tory leanings. Please do not tell the Daughters of the American Revolution I said so, but New Brunswick was full of families who fled there from our thirteen colonies in the 1780s. And, as the Aroostook War demonstrates, the boundary obviously was vague and unclear.

In any case, that inland kingdom is still largely wilderness, as any of you know who have visited there. Aroostook County, which covers much of northern and eastern Maine, contains 6800 square miles...about one-fifth of the state (Maine and South Carolina, by the way, are virtually the same size, although this state has nearly three times as many people). Aroostook, slightly smaller than Massachusetts but larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, contained only 87,000 people in 1990, fewer than the city of Columbia, and the trend is downward from 91,000 in 1980.

Growing up there one could not help but develop a sense of county; in fact, most Mainiacs refer to that region as THE COUNTY. Now this word is common enough in the South, but not throughout much of the northeast quarter of the nation where town is the premier entity. Frontier regions of that area and the upper Mississippi Valley—thanks to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787—were divided into townships six miles square. True, townships are collected into counties; but, unlike the South, the county is of minor importance compared to the town.

Today a hundred or more of Aroostook's townships still have only trees, no people. They exist silently, row on row, all neatly labeled on a map: township number 2, row A, number 6, row B, and so it goes. Yet an occasional township has a few folks in residence and, under a Maine law of 1861, if there are at least 200 of them, they can set up a form of local government known as a "plantation." Seen, I am sure, as a step toward eventual town government, a plantation, by law, now can act much like a town—operate libraries, parks, and playgrounds, regulate motor vehicle traffic on icebound lakes, i.e. snowmobiles, and even employ a historian.

The plantation nearest my home when I was growing up was known simply as "B" for row B on the map. But it was better known as the only source of legal beer within some thirty or forty miles. So perhaps "B" stood for beer as well. South Carolinians grappling with riverboats, off-shore gambling, and Catawba casinos should get the picture: a minority using the letter of the law to its own economic advantage—in this instance, to sell beer. The Maine plantation thus operates more in the colonial sense of the word, meaning a settlement, and possesses a secure legal status denied the South Carolina plantation...and, of course, there are no white columns, but lots of white birches.

It seems, then, that a northern Maine boyhood gave me an understanding of two key ingredients of southern life: county and plantation, although the latter, it turned out, had a quite different meaning below the Potomac. It actually gave me much more—a rural, farm heritage based upon potatoes, barrel after barrel of them, an economy that knew little else until quite recently. And most South Carolinians, even a handful of south-of-Broad Charlestonians, are certain they have a farm, excuse me, a plantation somewhere in their background. I should note for those of you who know New England only as a land of small, hard- scrabble farms with sturdy rock walls guarding each field that the Aroostook landscape is quite different. Instead, it is reminiscent of our Midwest, especially parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. There are no rock walls, the land is flatter, fields larger, operations more extensive. My father's farm was about 400 acres, slightly more than half in pasture and woodland; and, when I was in high school during the opening years of World War II, parents of a friend of mine were operating fifty-two leased farms from a central office. This was tenant farming, pure and simple, but we never called it that.

This land also gave me, not surprisingly, a sense of both isolation and deprivation. By way of example, the hometown post office long had two lovely brass mail slots, sadly now changed, labeled "local" and "outside." Although one does not divide Maine into distinct parts other than coast and inland—no lowcountry, midlands, and upcountry—we who lived in Aroostook were certain we were not getting our share of state tax dollars. Someone somewhere "down state" was getting much more than he and his friends deserved, which is, I am sure you'll agree, an attitude not foreign to South Carolina.

There is yet another wrinkle of similarity between my old home and my new. For half a century or so, say 1850 to 1900, both were economically depressed and out of the mainstream of American daily life. South Carolina could blame the Civil War; Maine, geography and a changing national economy. Wooden shipbuilding was on the ropes, the lumber industry was moving westward, and so were millions of people. During these years the population of Maine rose, on average, only five percent each decade. In fact, in the 1860s it actually declined. Some of those boys in blue apparently didn't want to go home once they saw the "outside." During the same fifty years, South Carolina's population grew on average nearly sixteen percent each decade. Although this state never registered an absolute loss, other parts of the nation were growing much faster.

But by the turn of the century, wealthy Bostonians, New Yorkers, and Philadelphians were discovering how very quaint and picturesque the villages of coastal Maine really were, relics of an earlier and simpler age. Perhaps this was merely an overflow from Newport...rich upstarts not welcomed warmly at that Rhode Island retreat. Soon the Rockefellers, Morgans, and others were building grand "cottages" on Bar Harbor Island, which until 1930 had no auto traffic. And in the wake of millionaires came hordes of tourists. Sound familiar? It should. Much like Maine, until Florida began to stir, South Carolina was off the beaten path. Then new millionaires discovered old plantations and the quaint folk of the lowcountry, followed by less affluent tourists, development of the Grand Strand, and things such as a country music pavilion. Same story in a warmer clime.

Maine, of course, has made much of the summer trade. For generations license plates have borne the word "Vacationland," and I have two brief tales illustrating the effect. Maine people are supposed to be taciturn; don't waste words. A tourist once tried to badger an old fisherman into explaining what he and his friends did when the summer season ended. He gave a terse and obvious answer: "fish." No, the tourist said, pressing on, "What do you really do?" Pushed to the wall, the old gentleman finally blurted out one more word: "Fumigate." Then there was the little girl in Massachusetts who, at Christmas time, was introduced to a lady from Maine. "But you can't be from Maine," she replied. "It's closed in the winter." That is, as I recall, essentially true.

So, the Pine Tree State and especially Aroostook County provided me, I believe, with some of the essentials needed to become a South Carolinian: rural background, a sense of alienation from the rest of the country, firm conviction that other parts of my state were being treated far better than my community, and an ambivalent attitude toward tourists. As a Richmond dowager once remarked when told of their economic benefit: "But why do they have to come here? Can't they simply mail in the money instead?"

My years in South Carolina, not as a tourist but a bona fide, tax-paying citizen, have provided unique opportunities. Twice I have roamed freely from one end of the state to the other meeting all sorts of people. In the 1960s my goal was a guide to research, a primitive attempt—long since superseded by the work of Allen Stokes and others—to get a handle on what's out there...what sort of records and where are they...in which libraries, museums, and newspaper offices. Two decades later, my focus narrowed to just newspapers.

As noted earlier, in 1944 I really saw only Charleston, but as an observer of the passing scene in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, I am able to make random comparisons. In the 1960s the interstate highways were just beginning to take shape. Hilton Head and Lake Wylie were merely drawing-board dreams and Rock Hill was in South Carolina, not part of Charlotte. One still could park on the Horseshoe in front of the South Caroliniana Library, and when this Society had its annual meeting—reception, dinner, speech, the whole works was held in the reading room of that historic structure.

Race relations were, of course, a hot topic. Freedom riders and bus burnings made headlines. York County blacks still were holding their own fair in the fall of 1962, I recall, and the lunch counters of Rock Hill dime stores were closed and covered (perhaps in funereal fashion) with things such as fake flowers. That autumn also was memorable because of the Cuban missile crisis. Winthrop girls—the fairest flowers of the Southland, to quote their alma mater, which I presume has changed—were in panic. Class work was forgotten in favor of current events. "Those crazy, mixed-up Cubans," one girl remarked, "with those jet planes they'll simply miss Greenville's Donaldson Air Force Base and there goes our dorm up in flames!" Upcountry coeds were certain Donaldson was the most important target in all of the United States, while lowcountry girls favored some spot closer to their hometown.

After the furor subsided, I learned their true concern was boys, not bombs. Having made excellent contacts during the summer with men at Clemson, Wofford, Davidson, and U.S.C. they did not want to see their social schedule upset by war.

In 1964 Barry Goldwater wound up his presidential campaign here in Columbia at Township Auditorium, which was far from filled. In fact, I remember seeing a solitary black man sitting in an entire section by himself. That same evening, Lyndon Johnson appeared in New York's Madison Square Garden before cheering thousands.

That fall (1964) Winthrop admitted its first black students, and I eventually encountered several of them in an honors seminar. At my suggestion, these students were asked to read C. Vann Woodward's Strange Career of Jim Crow. The first group I met consisted entirely of white coeds and discussion roamed across the landscape in all directions. A week or so later, however, two black girls were present and no one had much to say. I prodded, cajoled, almost pleaded and finally a lowcountry student blurted out, "But, Doctor Moore, we do so much for our Negroes in Charleston and then they stage protest marches, sit- ins, and things like that...why?" Before I could reply—or even think of an answer—one of the black girls leaned forward and asked quietly, "What do you mean, our Negroes?" After that, discussion flowed.

At about the same time, I remember being in the South Caroliniana Library when the first black patron eager to do research on family history appeared. Today this is a commonplace occurrence.

By the mid-80s, integration was a fact of daily life, the interstates were complete, Hilton Head had over two hundred restaurants, this Society no longer could hold its annual cook-out in its historic quarters, and the price of virtually everything seemed to have doubled since 1965. This was especially true of motel accommodations, many of which I found now were being operated by families from India.

Travel in all forty-six counties from Oconee and Pickens to Horry and Jasper and my days as a journalist, teacher, and writer—in addition to Rock Hill and Columbia, I have lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, New York City, Atlanta, Sydney, Australia, and Washington—these experiences have convinced me that our great social divide is not regional north-south (meaning northern and southern hemispheres as well) but urban-rural. This is probably not startling news, for you may have reached the same conclusion. Look, for example, at the way our representatives in Congress split on issues such as gun control. It helps to explain, I think, why the leap from Maine to South Carolina was not so formidable as it might at first appear.

I am certain people of similar age and economic level from Houlton, Maine, Dubbo, New South Wales, and Chester, South Carolina, would get along famously. By the same token, farmers living near those communities and urbanites from Boston, Sydney, and Charleston would do likewise. However, mix up these three groups—small town, rural, city—and they might simply sit and stare at one another in shock and disbelief.

My second truism—and these are the two things I hope you may remember from my ramblings this evening—is that, to paraphrase the late Tip O'Neill, all history is local. Or, put another way, the past has to be given a local or personal focus before it piques anyone's interest. Otherwise you might as well be rummaging through political science, economics, or even sociology. Hence the enormous popularity of genealogy and places such as Charleston, Williamsburg, Henry Ford's Dearborn, and Sturbridge Village. One of my history professors in undergraduate school in central New York State, for example, always opened his survey of modern Europe with an Indian treaty signed at the foot of College Hill in 1750 or so...then moved on to Indian-British-French relations and across the Atlantic to Europe. A Columbia University professor I knew also taught in that institution's prestigious high school. One year, on the opening day of fall term, he tested seniors on yet another European history course they had completed as juniors. After a summer vacation, the only consistent thread among their answers was the fact that Louis Philippe of France carried a purple umbrella. So much for great themes, sweeping generalities, epic battles, and heroic leaders.

The past is a rather dull place until seen through a local or personal lens. Then it comes to life. Gettysburg, the Industrial Revolution, the Populist Movement, the ebb and flow of race relations, two world wars...these things are much too big and amorphous to be grasped in their entirety, but incisive vignettes, bits and pieces with a local or personal flavor breathe reality into otherwise meaningless prose. Thus the true importance of a group such as the South Caroliniana Society, its collections, and you people, its members.

As you perhaps noticed, in each instance I came to our state, South Carolina, to do a job of some sort: win a war, teach a class, write a book. Each time I have met scores of helpful, hospitable people and had countless experiences unrelated to the task at hand. It has been, almost without exception, extremely enjoyable, including this evening's assignment, and both the work and pleasure (they may be inseparable) seem to continue. Besides, it's warmer here than in Maine and this place doesn't close in the winter.

Yet I am sure there are some aspects of my South Carolinian-ness that even the most gracious of you find troubling. Foremost, no doubt, is the matter of accent. All I can say in defense is that I'm trying...I'm working on it.

| 1995 USCS Main Menu | University South Caroliniana Society | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright © 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1995/addr95.html