Five linear feet of manuscripts and one hundred seventy-eight photographs document the life and career of Rosslee Tenetha Green Douglas (b. 1928), a nurse, health administrator, and two-time presidential appointee during the administration of Ronald Reagan. The Douglas papers include photographs, scrapbooks and memoriam information of Anglin Green, her father, Rozenia Green, her mother, Blondell R. Green Padgett, her sister, and Anglin Green, Jr., her brother. Douglas’ husband, Earl Walton, a syndicated newspaper columnist in the 1970s, is also represented here with a small unit of writings and booklets.
A native of Florence County, Green spent her youth in Charleston. She attended the high school division of Avery Institute, graduating in 1948. Rosslee Green initially focused on a nursing career, completing her training at Dillard University, New Orleans, La., in 1948 and the Lincoln School for Nurses, New York, in 1952. While studying at Lincoln, she met and married Earl Walton Douglas in 1952. After graduating, Mrs. Douglas worked at various hospitals and home services nursing jobs while furthering her nursing education at New York University. The Douglas family eventually relocated to Mt. Pleasant in the late 1960s. For a decade, beginning in 1969, Douglas was an administrative supervisor for Outreach and Home Health at Franklin C. Fetter Health Center in Charleston. During her tenure there she initiated regulations to license home health care agencies in South Carolina. Concurrently, Douglas attended the Medical University of South Carolina to study nursing, and in 1972 she became the first African-American woman to graduate with honors from MUSC.
Residence in South Carolina provided the Douglases opportunities to establish political connections with Governor and Mrs. James B. Edwards, and over time these associations would evolve into a lifelong friendship. As chief executive, Edwards appointed Rosslee Douglas to the State Industrial Commission in 1978. In that capacity she adjudicated workman’s compensation cases in six Congressional districts and functioned as a hearings officer for contested cases. Edwards also named Earl Douglas to the South Carolina Consumer Commission in 1977 and awarded him the Order of the Palmetto in 1978.
Earl Douglas, a staunch Republican and mentor to a young Armstrong Williams, became a conservative columnist whose editorials “The Earl of Charleston” and “The Freedom Factor” were nationally syndicated. William Loeb, publisher of The Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader, and conservative yet controversial Republican, who reportedly objected to the increase of the minorities in his own state, proudly ran Douglas’ columns and ultimately befriended Earl and Rosslee. In June 1979,at the height of his writing career, Earl Douglas succumbed to complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system.
Included with the collection are letters of condolence from Edwards, Loeb, and another supporter of the Douglases, Strom Thurmond. In a sympathy letter dated 6 June 1979, Thurmond wrote—“Earl was a public spirited, fine citizen and outstanding journalist. He was truly a great American and will long be remembered and greatly missed by a host of friends.”
Earl Douglas’ premature death left Rosslee with an opportunity to undertake a different career path, one which would carry her to the heart of the nation’s capitol. Soon after the death of Earl Douglas, William Loeb began to take an active part in finding employment for Rosslee Douglas, whose state board appointment would soon expire. In a letter of 24 June 1980, Loeb wrote—“I am trying to help, but my contacts in the publishing business, outside my own newspaper, are just about nil.” He recommended Max Hugel, a Reagan staffer, and enclosed a copy of the letter sent to him on 24 June 1980. Encouraging Hugel to consider Douglas, Loeb wrote, “¼I am very anxious to see the Reagan campaign...involve itself with some sensible, down to earth blacks in this county. This is a group that has been terribly neglected by cheap Democratic and Republican politicians.” “I have some very good black friends who make a great deal of sense and are on the same side of things as we are,” Loeb went on to say, further describing Rosslee Douglas as someone who could “assist in the Reagan campaign, then fit into the Administration afterwards.”
Loeb’s efforts on Douglas’ behalf continued with a request to Senator Strom Thurmond. Writing on 18 December 1980 he solicited Thurmond’s assistance and suggested that “the new administration should be able to make use of such an able individual as she is.” Loeb also offered his congratulations to Thurmond on his new position as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee—“I still think it is going to be a great deal of fun for you....How you are going to make some people suffer, and deservedly so.”
Shortly after former South Carolina Governor James B. Edwards was appointed Secretary of Energy by President Reagan, Loeb communicated with Douglas on 23 December 1980—“Now that your old friend Governor Edwards is Secretary of Energy, presumably your job troubles are over.” As predicted, Edwards promptly selected Douglas to head the Office of Minority Economic Impact (OMEI) in 1981, making her the first African-American female appointee in the Reagan Administration and one of the highest ranking black women in the executive branch of government. An undated draft captures the flavor of Douglas’ remarks at her confirmation hearing—“This day in this auditorium, to say that I am young, gifted and black may not be appropriate. The first two adjectives are subject to dispute, but what I feel is appropriate to say is that as Director of OMEI, I am now multi-hue; multi-linguistic; multi-custom and culture, all genders and all ages.”
As Director of OMEI, Douglas sought to establish educational and economic opportunities for African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities by encouraging their equal participation in energy programs. Douglas and her team developed and implemented programs to “provide assistance to minority business through loans and through help in gaining participation in departmental research and demonstration projects.” During her tenure with OMEI, 1981-1985, she developed a minority bank development program and provided financial assistance to historically black colleges and universities.
Douglas and Edwards maintained their professional relationship and friendship after his resignation from the Department of Energy in 1982. Writing on 21 September 1984, Edwards responded to Douglas’ comments on a manuscript draft of “Republican Presidents and Black America.” While he approved of the text, he questioned Appendix B, stating that “the Appendix is correct in that that’s the way Democrats and Republicans are perceived, but that is not the way they are.” And regarding income, Edwards remarked—“Democrats are described as relatively low wage earners, debtors, and have-nots. All across the South, you know very well that the big fat cats and the high rollers and the money changers are, for the most part, Democrats.” Edwards suggested that Douglas write an addendum for South Carolina “outlining what Strom Thurmond, and a certain former Governor (who we both know very well!) have done for Blacks in South Carolina. We could fold it into the book as we distribute it around the State.”
On 24 September 1984 Douglas received her second presidential appointment as a member of the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission, which was established to plan the January 1986 celebration. Senators Strom Thurmond (15 October 1984) and Ernest F. Hollings (26 March 1985) expressed congratulations on Douglas’ appointment. The following year she was the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from her alma mater, the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. James B. Edwards, who was appointed the President of MUSC after resigning from the Department of Energy, presented Douglas the degree.
Douglas developed lower back problems as a result of the extensive airplane travel her position required, and these health problems ultimately forced her to resign in 1985. Her letter of resignation, 2 December 1985, expressed appreciation to President Reagan for the “unique opportunity to be an integral part of designing workable programs and initiatives to undergird the economic development of minority Americans to become fully participatory and contributory in our Nation’s growth, progress and prosperity....I am honored to have been able to communicate the Reagan Agenda for sustained economic development directly to thousands of minority Americans.” President Reagan, in turn, acknowledged Douglas’ contributions—“When I took my oath of office in January 1981, it was with a determination to bring a lasting change of direction to American politics and government. But I knew that we couldn’t achieve that fundamental change without help of capable ‘members of the team’ like yourself. By communicating our goals for economic development to minority Americans, you have greatly assisted this Administration.”
The papers of Rosslee Green Douglas include an extensive photographic series, including many images documenting her years with the Reagan administration. There are photographs of Douglas with President and Mrs. Reagan, Vice-President and Mrs. George Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, James B. Edwards, Strom Thurmond, and Coretta Scott King, along with public personalities, Ed Bradley, Ossie Davis, and Tony Brown, among others. Of particular interest is a photograph of Douglas shaking hands with President Reagan the morning of his attempted assassination, 30 March 1981. Rounding out the collection are magazine and newspaper interviews of Douglas and numerous invitations and programs to White House and federal government functions.