I. DeQuincey Newman

The Reverend I. DeQuincey Newman was one of the states's most important leaders during the civil rights revolution. He led the NAACP through the turbulent 1960s and capped his long and distinguished political career when he came out of retirement in 1983 to be elected as the state's first African-American state senator since 1886.

Born on a Darlington County farm in 1911, Newman learned about the precarious life of African-Americans in the South at an early age. When Newman was eight his family lived near Kingstree.One night the Klan set fire to a wooden train car that was housing an African-American convict who was working on a chain gang near Newman's home. Young Newman remembered the screams of the man and remembered running into his father's bedroom and saying, "Daddy, aren't you going to help him?" Knowing the certain danger of offering help, Newman's father simply told his son to go back to bed. I. DeQuincey would later run many risks of danger himself.

I.D., as his friends called him, worked hard as a young man to obtain an education and become a preacher. In the 1920s he worked as a shoeshine boy, sometimes shining the shoes of Senator Edgar Brown, one of the most powerful men in the state. In 1933 he graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, and later attended Gammon Theological Seminary and became an ordained minister. His first position was as a student pastor to a congregation of sharecroppers in Red Oak, Georgia, who were bound by the harsh system of peonage to the plantation at which they labored. When he tried to convince the owner of the plantation to put an extremely sick sharecropper in the hospital, the owner threatened him with a shotgun and told him to never set foot on his land again.

After developing his preaching skills and marrying, Newman returned to South Carolina in 1937. In 1943 he was one of the leaders in organizing the Orangeburg branch of the NAACP. He was active in the organization at the state level, holding several leadership positions. Finally, just as the civil rights movement was hitting the headlines all over the nation, Newman became field director for the state NAACP. This made him responsible for tactics and strategy in challenging the institutions of segregation in the state. His leadership forced change, but did so in a manner that minimized the violence that characterized change in so many other states. Former Governor Robert McNair remembered Newman as someone with whom he could calmly and deliberately discuss problems. Jack Bass, a newspaperman who covered the civil rights movement in the state, recalls that Newman was a gentlemanly diplomat, who "knew when to push and how far to push," and "understood that good manners is at the heart of doing business in South Carolina." While some more militant advocates for change felt he did not push hard enough, he was willing to run risks. He attempted to stage a "wade-in" at Myrtle Beach State Park in 1961, but was arrested by the local police and escorted to the county line. After his release, a mob of angry whites chased him all the way across Marion County at speeds up to 120 miles an hour. He eventually outran them, but was certainly frightened by the experience. Vernon Jordan, who also served as NAACP field director in the South and who later became executive director of the Urban League, called Newman his mentor, and defended Newman's record, saying that "anybody who says that I.D. Newman is not sufficiently tough is either lying or a fool."

In 1968, after decades of struggle to fully participate in Democratic Party politics, Newman sat as a delegate at the national party convention in Chicago. He joked with long-time delegate Edgar Brown, a state senator who had legendary power in state politics and who had long opposed African-American participation. In speaking to the delegation, Brown asked Newman how he should address him, as reverend or preacher. Newman responded, "Well, senator, in polite company, I couldn't say what." Brown and the rest of the room laughed and Brown replied that "Yes, I've been called some of that too." Only a couple years earlier, Brown had had to be restrained from physically attacking Newman as he led a demonstration opposing voter registration regulations on the street outside Brown's law office in Barnwell.

Newman led the state NAACP until 1969, when he returned to preaching and a wide variety of volunteer and state positions. For example, he was a founder and then president of the Statewide Homes Foundation from 1970 to 1974. Then he was an organizer and Director of the Office of Rural Development, and a Commissioner of the South Carolina Housing Authority.

In 1983 Newman ran for a state senate seat in a special election following the resignation of Sen. Alex Sanders, who had become the chief justice of the state appeals court. Shortly after Newman entered office, one of his oldest and most powerful foes, Sen. L. Marion Gressette, asked him if he could have his picture taken with Newman for posterity. Once known as "Mr. Segregation," Gressette then posed for a picture with the man who, as much as anyone else in the state, ended segregation and was now a colleague in what had been a bastion of white power for nearly a century.

Suffering ill health, Newman resigned from the state senate in 1985, and died a short time later. Since his death the people of the state have remembered his contributions in a number of ways, including the creation of an endowed professorship at USC in his name, the first endowed chair at USC named for an African-American.

Sources

Bass, Jack, and Walter DeVries. The Transformatin of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequence Since 1945. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

1985 South Carolina Legislative Manual.

Stucker, Jan Collins. "Did You Know I.D. Newman Kept You Safe During Desegregation?" The State Magazine (March 25, 1984), 8-11.

"USC Fills First Endowed Chair," The State (February 18, 1994).

last updated 2/24/97

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