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Joseph Raleigh Bryson Papers, 1917-1953

Joseph Raleigh Bryson (1893-1953) represented the Fourth District of South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1939 until his death in 1953. A conservative Democrat, Bryson is perhaps best remembered for his unwavering opposition to alcohol. In 1941 Bryson wrote—"Personally, I have always been sober and never have taken a drop of intoxicating beverages. I have never voted for or otherwise approved of the sale of liquor either legally or otherwise. I promise you, here and now, that I shall fight liquor as long as I live, both publicly and privately."

In addition to his strong stand on prohibition, Bryson was "a champion of states rights, of the farmer, of the common man, and was called `Mr. Textiles' for his work in the interest of the textile workers in the South." In a campaign address from 1946, Bryson said, "I favor labor...I know far more about the viewpoint of the actual worker than many parlor pinks who always are shedding crocodile tears over labor. I think labor should have a living wage and more. I think workers should have security."

Bryson was born on 18 January 1893 near Brevard, N.C. Before he was ten years old, he moved with his family to Greenville, S.C., where he worked in a textile mill and attended public schools. He graduated from Furman University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1917, served in the U.S. Army during World War I, and held a commission in the Infantry Officers Reserve Corps from 1919 until 1934. Following the war, Bryson entered the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Bryson graduated in 1920, began practicing law in Greenville, and won election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served from 1921 until 1924. In 1928 he was elected to the State Senate, where he served on the Judiciary and the Commerce and Manufactures committees. In the General Assembly, Bryson actively supported the interests of textile workers and sponsored legislation calling for biennial sessions of the Legislature, improved educational facilities, and highways.

In 1938, Bryson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Among the House committees on which he served were Education, World War Veterans, and Territories and War Claims, but he was noted primarily for his work on the Judiciary Committee. He served as chairman of the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights, as well as of committees on Claims and on Naturalization and Immigration. One of the first issues Bryson addressed following his election to the House was the sale of alcohol to U.S. servicemen. In a 1941 speech he announced—"My purpose...is to oppose to the utmost the liquor traffic which serves to destroy national strength and unity." Throughout World War II Bryson viewed alcohol as one of the biggest threats to national defense and security.

In 1948, along with members of the House Armed Services Committee, he represented the House Judiciary Committee on a tour of Europe. He returned to Europe in 1949 to examine the plight of Eastern European refugees. As in the General Assembly, Bryson continued to focus on matters affecting textile workers and cotton farmers, as well as on prohibition.

In his private life, Bryson was an avid collector of rare books, especially those which dealt with religion and philosophy. His personal library contained more than three hundred Bibles, and he sold and traded books throughout the United States.

Bryson suffered a fatal stroke while attending a dinner given by the Cotton Textile Manufacturers' Association on 10 March 1953. He was remembered by his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee for his "scholarly devotion to his work, his Christian charity, his kindly and unfailing sense of humor, and his humanity, [which] made him dear to all who came in contact with him." He was succeeded in office by Robert Ashmore of Greenville.

The Joseph R. Bryson collection consists of eight and three-quarters linear feet of papers dating from 1917 to 1953. The papers chiefly document Bryson's congressional service between 1947 and 1953. The records are divided into four series: public papers, personal papers, clippings, and photographs.

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