SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
MODERN POLITICAL COLLECTIONS 2002
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Joseph O. Rogers Papers, 1954-1992
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"When I ran for Governor four years ago, it was because of the feeling that the people of South Carolina deserved to have a choice when they went to the polls" (Manning Times, 14 September 1970). Joseph O. Rogers (1921?1999) was the first gubernatorial candidate of the modern Republican Party in South Carolina. Rogers, who would later serve as United States Attorney for the state, based his 1966 campaign on twelve years of service in the General Assembly and a promise to be "a man who stands up for South Carolina." Joseph Oscar Rogers, Jr., was born in Mullins on 8 October 1921 to Joseph Oscar and Lila McDonald Rogers. He graduated from Charleston High School and entered the College of Charleston in 1938. Rogers worked as a clerk at the Charleston Naval Shipyard from 1939 until 1943, when he volunteered for the United States Army. He was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers and served in Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, and Southern France.
Following his discharge in March 1946, Rogers returned to Charleston, resumed his work in the Navy Yard and entered The Citadel in September with the aid of the G.I. Bill. Rogers entered the University of South Carolina Law School in the fall of 1948 and graduated in September 1950. In 1949 he married Hemingway native Kathleen Brown. Rogers and his wife moved to Manning in 1950, where he practiced law with the firm of DuRant, DuRant & Rogers. Rogers became a respected member of the community, serving as a lay leader in the Manning Methodist Church. When Clarendon County experienced what The State termed "agitation in the county for younger men in the legislature," he was a natural candidate (The State, 25 September 1966). Rogers was elected as a Democrat to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1954 to represent Clarendon County. He was a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the Education and Public Works Committee, and served three times as a member of the Conference Committee on State Budget. Rogers also served as vice-chairman of the South Carolina School Committee (popularly known as the Gressette Committee), a fifteen?man committee appointed by the governor to seek legal means to avoid forced integration of the state's public schools. While the original intent and historic role of the committee have been issues of debate for historians and journalists, Marion Gressette observed in 1984 that "The committee's real accomplishment was in preventing violence such as occurred in some other southern states" (3 March 1984). Rogers also was involved in both the Reapportionment Study Committee and the House?Senate conference committee on reapportionment of the Senate. Rogers served in the General Assembly for six consecutive terms, 1955 to 1967.
Over the course of his legislative service, Rogers became discouraged with what he viewed as a lack of resolve on the part of South Carolina Democrats to resist federal encroachment into the affairs of state government. The proposed transfer of the state's Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center to the State Agency of Vocational Rehabilitation in order to qualify for federal funds particularly galled Rogers. He led the floor fight that stopped the transfer and later told The State that "he could not accept an attitude of 'If you can get it, it doesn't matter what you have to give up to get it'" (The State, 25 September 1966). On 7 March 1966 Rogers formally announced that he would switch to the Republican Party and seek its gubernatorial nomination, which he received at the party convention on March 26. Rogers, the first Republican candidate for the office in the Twentieth Century, challenged incumbent governor Robert E. McNair with a platform that stressed local control of schools and strong state leadership. Both of these positions stemmed largely from the efforts of the federal government to desegregate public schools in South Carolina. "We oppose them on both grounds that they are an unwarranted and unwise invasion by the Federal Government of the education function of the state and that they injure education by making education secondary in its own field," Rogers wrote in a 1966 statement. In his first formal speech as a candidate, Rogers said, "It is my opinion and conviction that we should move voluntarily in separate columns toward a common goal, I believe that the expression and hopes and dreams of both races are better realized through this voluntarily social agreement."
Rogers was unable to defeat the popular incumbent, but did poll 188,000 votes to McNair's 255,000. He returned to his law practice in Manning and remained active in the Republican Party, giving speeches and helping to plan for the 1968 Republican convention. Rogers served as a delegate to that convention and as manager for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign in South Carolina.
Rogers was nominated to succeed Klyde Robinson as the United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina in 1969. Rogers' nomination was supported by most South Carolina newspapers, but opposed by South Carolina's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Rev. I. DeQuincey Newman, a former field secretary for the NAACP, observed that U.S. Attorneys played a "definite role in carrying out the Civil Rights Act" and that Rogers' appointment in that capacity "would not enhance the black minority" (The State, 20 June 1969). The Rev. A.W. Holman, president of the South Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches, declared that confirming Rogers' nomination would be comparable to appointing "a fox to stand guard over a chicken house" (Columbia Record, 8 July 1969). Rogers countered this accusation, saying that while he had worked to change laws, he had never broken them and that, as United States Attorney, he could be trusted to enforce laws impartially. His nomination was confirmed on 22 July 1969 and at his swearing in, 11 August, he said he planned to enforce the law "fairly and impartially without regard to race, color or creed" (The State, 12 August 1969).
Rogers had served for little more than a year when he was recommended for a federal judgeship by Senator Strom Thurmond. The nomination stalled and on 18 December 1970 Rogers resigned as United States Attorney and withdrew his name from consideration for the judgeship, saying, "It's obvious that the major blame for inaction on my nomination lies with the current [Nixon] administration" (Manning Times, 24 December 1970). Rogers returned to his law firm and practiced actively until his 1990 retirement. He served as a Special Circuit Court Judge on numerous occasions into the 1990s, on the Clarendon County Development Board, and was named an Economic Ambassador for Clarendon County in 1993. Rogers was active in the Manning United Methodist Church, serving as a lay leader and as chairman of the official board. He was a Mason, Rotarian, member of the American Legion, and director of the Bank of Clarendon. Rogers died in April 1999. The Rogers papers consist of one and one-quarter linear feet of material, 1954 to 1992. The collection has significant material relating to Rogers' 1966 bid for governor and his work with the Republican Party. The papers are arranged in five series: public papers, personal papers, audio?visual records, clippings, and ephemera.
Public papers, 1955-1993, largely pertain to Rogers' work in the General Assembly and as U.S. Attorney. Much of the U.S. Attorney material is correspondence from associates of Rogers congratulating him on his nomination and expressing dismay at his resignation. General Assembly material includes correspondence, speeches, and programs for various events. The general folder includes papers related to public positions such as appointments to the State Commission on Higher Education, the State Development Board, and special circuit court sessions.
Personal papers, 1942-1992, concern the 1966 governor's campaign and the Republican Party. Campaign material consists of general papers, press releases, speeches, and schedules. General papers include correspondence, memoranda, and newsletters. Speeches and press releases are generally handwritten and undated. Republican Party papers relate to activities such as Rogers' role as a delegate to the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. These files include newsletters, programs, agendas, speeches, and membership lists. Materials specifically related to the Nixon campaign are composed of similar material and have been assigned a separate folder. Other files regard Rogers' service on the Clarendon County Development Board and activities with the Manning United Methodist Church.
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