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Robert Beverley Herbert Papers, 1879-1974   

| Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Front Page 2006 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |

In the 23 April 1974 issue of the Congressional Record South Carolinaís senior United States Senator Strom Thurmond published a three-page panegyric on the life of R. Beverley Herbert which included Thurmondís own statement, plus reprinted articles from The State, The Record,and The Fauquier Democrat. Earlier in their careers, Thurmond and Herbert had opposed each other in the courtroom - as well as during the 1960 senatorial race - but on this occasion Thurmond enthusiastically declared, "[Herbert] was an outstanding citizen whose eloquence and understanding made him an invaluable part of his time in history. Mr. Herbert was truly a man of dedication to high principle and diligence to fairness and constitutional government."

Nearly a full century earlier, on 25 July 1879, Robert Beverley Herbert was born to a family of modest farmers in The Plains, Virginia, a small town in northern Fauquier County, not far from Warrenton. As Herbert described in his autobiographical Life on a Virginia Farm (1968), his father, William Pinkney, "had failed in business in Baltimore and so our family came to live on the farm given to my mother by her father." Although he descended from noted Virginia families - Robert Beverley is considered Virginiaís first native historian, and John Carlyle Herbert was the subject of a C.B.J.F. de Saint-Mťmin portrait (1807) - Herbertís rural childhood was anything but cozy. One freezing winter night, he was later to recall, he rode a blind horse miles through the woods to get milk for his family - only to have all the jugs break upon his arrival home.

Herbertís primary education was at the behest of a one-room school maintained by a Virginia Military Institute graduate. His mother died when he was thirteen, whereupon Woodside Farm was closed down. Herbert and his brother were subsequently sent to the Locust Dale Academy boarding school in Madison County, Virginia. There Herbert happened upon a tattered copy of Plutarchís Lives in a trash heap; he randomly selected a chapter - on one of the great orators, "either Cicero or Demosthenes" - and from that moment knew he "wanted to be an orator."

R. Beverley Herbert later attended Rock Hill Academy in Rock Hill, Maryland, and spent his holidays and summers with his grandparents on their farm, Avenel, located near his fatherís closed farm at The Plains. In 1897 Herbert uprooted himself and moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he settled permanently. He studied law at the University of South Carolina (then South Carolina College) and graduated in 1899. Soon thereafter he married Georgia Rucker Hull, of Augusta, Georgia. The couple became the parents of four children.

Herbert began practicing law at the turn of the century and never formally retired from a legal career that spanned seventy-five years. Letterheads dating from the 1900s suggest that Herbert practiced law by himself for several years, then in the 1910s as a partner in the firm Elliott & Herbert. He later founded the law firm Herbert & Dial (which became Herbert, Wyndham & Dial). Herbert was legal counsel to some of the largest corporations and institutions in South Carolina, including the South Carolina National Bank (formerly Bank of Charleston, now Wachovia Bank), the Columbia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and the American Agricultural Chemical Company.

Attorney Herbert represented many individuals and smaller companies as well. One is particularly drawn to a matter in which he pursued a seemingly meager $44 claim for seven years on behalf of an African-American teacher owed money by the Lexington school system. Herbertís reputation as an equitable and upright attorney made him a natural leader in the South Carolina legal system. He served as a Special Circuit judge; as president of the Richland County Bar Association; as chairman of the South Carolina Bar Association Committee on the Parole, Pardon & Probation System and the South Carolina Bar Association Executive Committee; and was a member of the South Carolina Bar Association Committee on Unauthorized Practice of the Law.

During his first two decades of legal practice, R. Beverley Herbert forged many relationships with future South Carolina and national power brokers, including W.E. Gonzales (editor of The State newspaper); W.H. Gibbes (Columbia mayor); Wyndham Manning (South Carolina legislator and gubernatorial candidate); John J. McSwain (United States Senator); Henry Breckinridge (Assistant Secretary of War during the Wilson Administration, attorney to Charles Lindbergh, and Presidential candidate in 1936); James F. Byrnes (United States Senator); Burnet R. Maybank (South Carolina Governor and United States Senator); Harry Flood Byrd (United States Senator from Virginia and Presidential candidate); Olin D. Johnston (South Carolina Governor and United States Senator); and James H. Hammond (South Carolina Senator).

With so many political connections, Herbert had little difficulty making the crossover from attorney to politician. By 1912 he had risen to be president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and simultaneously served as an Executive Committee member with the South Carolina Conference for the Common Good. During the 1910s and 1920s Herbert also served as trustee of the Columbia Hospital; Assistant Chief of the Columbia Division of the American Protective League (a nearly-forgotten, controversial private citizen intelligence organization); chairman of the Columbia City Board of Health; Vice-President of the South Carolina Council (devoted to "reestablishing [South Carolina] civilization"); and Director of the South Carolina National Bank.

In the late 1920s Herbert aspired to major public office and was elected to represent Richland County in the Seventy-eighth South Carolina General Assembly (1928-1930). His political viewpoints - particularly on race relations - were not universally welcomed, however; during his unsuccessful 1930 gubernatorial campaign, Herbert was the target of Ku Klux Klan death threats. In 1932 he was reelected to the General Assembly. After two more years of legislative service, he retired from politics for nearly thirty years; then, at the age of eighty, ran against, and lost to, Strom Thurmond in the 1960 senatorial race "because his conscience would not let him do anything else."

Though R. Beverley Herbertís commitment to civil rights and race relations may be viewed as moderate today, they were liberal by mid- twentieth-century South Carolina standards. As he explained in a 19 January 1946 letter to James H. Hinton, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, "I am entirely in harmony with you in wishing that something more could be done in the matter of race relations and something especially to relieve against the injustices which I think are being done your raceÖ. In all these things there is a question of how far we can go and still retain any influence at all."

Herbert was vehemently opposed to widening the divide between Northern and Southern states, as evidenced by his 12 December 1946 letter to Walter White, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "What they need is real statesmanship just as my people need real statesmanship," he wrote.

In the 1940s Herbert served as the chairman of the South Carolina Committee on Interracial Cooperation. Among his duties, he headed an investigation into the beating of African-American prisoners at Reid Farm State Prison. In 1948 he published a pamphlet entitled What We Can Do about the Race Problem (the South Caroliniana Libraryís copy of which is inscribed to Elizabeth Finley Moore, "You have encouraged me in these things & so I am - Valentine like - throwing this in at the door & running away, fearing you & other friends will not like it."), and in 1957 he contributed an essay to the widely-distributed booklet South Carolinians Speak: A Moderate Approach to Race Relations. Herbert concludes the former title with words that seem to harken back, as it were, to his youthful oratorical aspirations:

?let us all recognize the fact that we have a great sociological problem to deal with and not a mere petty prejudice; a problem that has done infinite harm and one that will require our greatest qualities to solve. Let us try to remember that in America race and sectional hatred and jealousy have no proper place and that we must have faith that our fellow Americans are innately as generous and patriotic as we are and that if we work together we can solve the problem.

A better day for both races in the South is coming fast. It will come faster and more surely if there is better understanding of the issues involved.

There is no irreconcilable conflict but a point where all men of good will can meet.

Beverley Herbert spent much of his adult life helping to maintain the family farm in Virginia and was also a longtime member of Columbiaís Trinity Episcopal Church, where he served as a vestryman. Formerly a boy who ran barefoot through the woods of Virginiaís Fauquier County, for three-quarters of a century R. Beverley Herbert left an indelible stamp on the face of South Carolina legal practice and politics. Upon his death on 10 March 1974 even his most ardent political opponents were compelled to laud him.

The R. Beverley Herbert papers consist of thirteen and three-quarters linear feet of materials spanning the first half of the twentieth century, but also including some nineteenth-century items. They are arranged into six major series: general materials, personal correspondence, legal materials, original writings, published materials, and photographic materials.

General materials include ephemera related to the 1916 construction of Herbertís Edisto Avenue residence in Columbia, South Carolina, and an interesting grouping of examples of stationery exemplifying the nearly lost art of engraved letterheads. Of singular note are letterheads of Terminix and Columbia Hatchery, featuring large images of a termite and chick, respectively, centered on each sheet. There are also letterheads of prominent businesses (General Motors, Coca-Cola, Hupmobile, and etc.), government institutions, hotels, and organizations as well as letterheads on which R. Beverley Herbertís name appears. Often overlooked as a source of cultural archaeology, these artistic letterheads demonstrate the care shown in epistolary matters before the dawn of the Information Age.

Personal correspondence is organized in chronological and topical units. General correspondence of interest includes items, ca. 1933, celebrating the end of Prohibition; 1918 letters concerning the American Protective League; a number of letters, beginning in 1923, concerning the Saint-Mťmin portrait of John Carlyle Herbert which Herbert permanently loaned to the Corcoran Gallery of Art; and several letters with Hunter D. Parris, of Colonial Williamsburg, on matters of Herbert family genealogy.

In additional, there are letters from and to South Carolina and national luminaries, including William E. Gonzales, Roscoe Pound, Henry Breckinridge, Gen. James C. Dozier, and Harry Flood Byrd. A 4 April 1941 letter from South Carolina Chief Justice Bonham discusses Charles Lindberghís infamous "Letter to America" in the 29 March 1941 issue of Collierís magazine. (Overnight, this essay transformed Lindbergh from national hero to pariah, and Bonhamís indignation is indicative of the reaction to Lindberghís pro-Axis sentiments.) Also present are letters of 25 April 1941 to President Roosevelt and 21 May 1940 from Congressman H.P. Fulmer about Hitler.

Other topically arranged correspondence relates to such subjects as Civil Rights, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, the South Carolina Bar Association, and Woodside Farm. Civil Rights-related correspondence yields letters from Rebecca Reid and Osceola McKaine as well as a 19 March 1945 message from Roger N. Baldwin, director of the American Civil Liberties Union. A number of the Civil Rights items were written or received by Herbert in his capacity as chairman of the South Carolina Committee on Interracial Cooperation. While running for governor in 1930, Beverley Herbert received repeated death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, the first of which is dated 31 May 1930, and there are letters regarding Herbertís investigation into the origin of these threats.

Legal materials constitute the majority of the R. Beverley Herbert papers. These files cover much of his legal career and represent several hundred cases and client matters. Correspondents of note include Christie Benet, Richard I. Manning, South Carolina Chief Justice Eugene B. Gary, Olin D. Johnston, IRS Commissioner David Burnet, and Strom Thurmond. Of interest is Olin Johnstonís protestation of the 1930 gubernatorial election and several letters (beginning 18 August 1942) concerning a World War II conscientious objector case.

There are also client files for the persons, businesses, and institutions that Herbert represented for major time periods, among them Columbia Hospital, Elmwood Cemetery, and one of Beverley Herbertís principal clients, South Carolina National Bank. Among the materials pertaining to the latter institution is a 1 March 1926 announcement issued by bank president R.L. Small giving notice that a charter had been granted by which the Bank of Charleston would become South Carolina National Bank. Of signal note are materials pertaining to a polygraph case involving SCN. In 1936, the bank discovered that over $5,000 had been embezzled and hired Leonarde Keeler, a founding father of lie detection science, to administer polygraph tests to its staff.

Other legal case files in which Beverley Herbert or Herbert & Dial represented litigants concern Depression-era debt collection or personal injury torts. There are a number of interesting "mouse in the bottle" cases, in which Herbert represented Coca-Cola and other local businesses against claims that foreign materials made their way into beverage bottles. The matter of Holly S. Sallie was Herbertís seven-year fight to collect a $44 debt owed an African-American educator by the Lexington, S.C., school system.

The matter of South Carolina Electric & Gas relates to the bankruptcy and purchase of SCE&G during the 1920s. The case United States v. Heyward Bowman is an interesting Prohibition case in which "a negro of 20" was pulled over and the fellow passenger found in possession of liquor. The young driver was fined by the court for Prohibition violation but was not convicted of the charge of trafficking. Beverley Herbert assisted to reclaim the confiscated vehicle for its owner. In Warriner, Bryant and Simpson in re: U.S. v. 31,600 acres of land in Richland County landowners who had been dispossessed of their land by the federal government (for the construction of Fort Jackson) argued that their land had far greater value because of rich deposits of aluminum and kaolin.

Among the original writings are eulogies delivered by Herbert at the funerals of Lewis Wardlaw Haskell and Robert Moorman. Published materials include transcripts, briefs, decisions, and arguments of authority from cases decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

| Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |

 

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