“...my big idea in life is that I should experience as much of developing history as it is possible for me,” wrote William King to Fay Ball on 31 May 1946. One and one-quarter linear feet of the papers of William Bulluck King and Fay Cornelia Ball King document King’s experiences as he did just that. The collection, which is divided between those materials pertaining to Fay and those pertaining to William, also includes a small unit of papers relating to William’s sister, Margaret “Mary” Langston King (1907-1978), a World War II WAC captain and Florence educator.
Materials relating to Fay King consist of articles, a baby book with photographs and an engraving of Beaufort Watts Ball, a journal and scrapbook covering the years 1920 and 1921, photographs, playbills, and miscellaneous items. Materials relating to William King are comprised of articles by and about King, correspondence, and photographs. Correspondence is divided into three files of letters: those exchanged among various family members, those written to Fay, and those written to Bill’s mother, Margaret Rives King.
This collection supplements the larger collection of William Bulluck King papers, and while that collection contains letters written by Fay to William during their courtship, this unit consists of William’s letters to Fay during the same period. Letters to his mother are found in both.
Florence native William B. King studied journalism at the University of South Carolina and worked as a reporter for the Columbia Record and the Associated Press before being sent overseas as a foreign correspondent in 1940. Often having cause to decry the wartime loss of literary freedom, the young journalist wrote to his mother on 12 July 1942 that the “greatest hardship for a newspaperman in London—or anywhere else in this current-day world—is the censorship. Twice last week I got good stories that would have made the front page of practically every newspaper in the United States. They took all the meat out of one and stopped the other entirely.” He traveled extensively yet admitted in a letter of 11 January 1943 that he had “not seen a German in this war—except for prisoners—even with the strongest field glasses. I might add: so far as I know, no German has seen me—which may be more important.” King covered the trial of Gen. Draja Mihailovich in Belgrade after Marshal Tito won control of Yugoslavia and described the dictator in a letter of 13 May 1945 as “a pot-gutted little peacock” who invariably made him think of Mussolini. The following April, King wrote Fay a letter detailing his thoughts about Tito and communism in which he stated that he believed in “all of the aims of communism and none of their methods.”
Despite his wide travels, King never lost his affection for the South and for South Carolina in particular. In a letter to his mother, 5 September 1942, he noted that before a fellow correspondent informed him that “at a certain place in Britain ‘just about half of South Carolina’ is serving” he had “begun to wonder where all the South Carolinians were, because I knew instinctively that when the war broke out they probably had to beat them away with sticks to keep them from mobbing the enlistment officers.” Throughout his time overseas, King kept abreast of developments in his native state, writing to Fay on 8 March 1945 that he was interested to hear that the Columbia Record had been purchased by The State— “ It is not exactly the sort of thing that I expected to happen. Also it is not such a good thing for Columbia, I shouldn’t think. The State has gotten to be a pretty rotten newspaper, and I suppose the Record will follow suit under the able mismanagement of good ol’ Sam [Samuel Lowry Latimer, Jr.].”
Returning to America in 1946, King married William Watts Ball’s daughter Fay. A letter of 28 April 1946 to Margaret Rives King bespeaks his respect for his future father-in-law— “I’ve known Fay’s father for a number of years and always have admired him very much. He is probably the most reactionary editor in the south, and that’s saying a lot, but he has a wonderful mind and a fascinating manner.” King was less enamored, though, of South Carolina’s favorite son, presidential candidate Strom Thurmond. On 7 October 1948 he wrote his mother that Thurmond had appeared as a speaker at the Overseas Press Club—“Frankly it broke my heart to see that small brain as the spokesman for the part of the country that I call home. It would seem that the south has at last succeeded in seceding from the rest of the world—seceding, that is, from all ideals and ideas by which the world might possibly be made a decent place to live in. There is nothing I would like more than to return to the south to live, but I don’t see how I could. I would feel more out of place there than I did in Bulgaria.”
Part of King’s growing problem with the South was what he saw as its refusal to overcome racial barriers. Several times in his correspondence he addresses issues of race. He wrote to his mother from Rome on 19 November 1944— “I visited a negro unit that is fighting in the line. I have a lot of respect for those boys and I think they should get full credit for what they are doing. Many of the white officers are southerners and they are wonderful the way they behave in such a fashion that there can be no complaints from agitators back home.” On 9 February 1945, in a letter to Fay, he wrote—“Florence, South Carolina, would have buzzed with disapproval—and perhaps you too – if they could have seen me last night. I was having drinks at the bar with a lieutenant from the 92nd division—a damned nice colored boy from Blacksburg, S.C. He was very intelligent and very reasonable and we discussed the race question—but of course. Seriously...it is a most revealing thing to talk to an intelligent negro without the barrier of a crystalized social point of view. They have a lot to say. They say it well. And when you escape the feeling of horror that a negro should have an opinion it makes a lot of sense.”
From 1949 to 1951 King served as head of European Public Relations for UNICEF and was headquartered in Paris. The United States Information Agency appointed him as an officer in 1951. He would work with the USIA until his retirement twenty years later. His first assignment was as Press Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. There he had charge of the information service’s library, news bulletins, and other literature available to the Yugoslavs. Combating communism with American information became King’s duty, and one to which he was well-suited. This is demonstrated in a letter written to his mother on 10 May 1953. “I don’t get upset with Senator McCarthy’s rough-and-tumble fight with communists and near communists who may have infiltrated the government,” King wrote. “I have hated the communists and their methods with a bub[b]ling passion for so long, that nobody can do anything to them that will make me mad.”
Charleston native Fay Ball King had moved as a child with her family to Columbia and later became involved in the local theatre community. In the early 1920s she wrote in her journal— “The Stage Society has a theatre which is made over from a house. Danny Read [Daniel A. Reed], the director, named it The Town Theatre, which is a very good name for a community theatre, I and many others think.” In 1927 she graduated from the Theatre Guild School in New York and thereafter appeared in several Broadway productions. She briefly returned to South Carolina in the 1930s, where she worked in script continuity and radio announcing for WIS in Columbia. By 1938 Fay was back in New York to study dramatics. After that she dabbled in stock and entered television, where she played leads in NBC television plays. Around this time, Fay was married briefly to Robert Alexander. During World War II she served as Assistant to the Director of Public Relations and Publicity in the American Theatre Wing’s Stage Door Canteens. In addition, she acted as editor of Furniture World trade magazine in 1944 and 1945 and as Press Assistant in the New York office of British Information Service. From 1947 to 1949 she served as Publicity Assistant to Broadway Press Representative Isadora Bennett. While her husband was headquartered in Paris as head of European Public Relations for UNICEF, Fay worked as Press Representative for Schiaparelli. Following William B. King’s death in 1973, Fay was again active in local theatre until her own death in Charleston in December 1986.