South Carolina Council on Human Relations





Although the image of the South through much of the twentieth century is one of conflict and strife between the races, one organization in South Carolina acted as a moderating force during this period. Organized in 1919 as the South Carolina Commission for Interracial Cooperation, it was one of a number of state and local groups organized under the auspices of the region-wide Commission on Interracial Cooperation. This biracial group conducted research and gently reminded South Carolinians of all colors of the need to communicate with each other. According to Alice Spearman, who was a later director, Kirkman G. Finlay, an Episcopal bishop in Columbia, founded the state organization. It was one of a number of similar organizations found in various Southern states. Although not an activist group, it represented a small step forward in race relations. Before World War I  no statewide interracial organizations existed in South Carolina with the exception of Reverend Richard Carroll's Race Conference. Reverend Carroll held an annual conference, beginning in 1907, attended by black leaders as well as some whites, where many important racial topics were discussed.

The organization arose during a period in the early part of the twentieth century when African-Americans were beginning to realize that by joining together they could find the key to begin the process of entering the mainstream of American life. Change was in the air. This was due in part to the growth of the national Republican Party, which became a political "home" for African-Americans. But perhaps even more important is the role that African-Americans had played in the war effort, both at home and abroad, and their impatience with continuing discrimination both in and out of the military. Racial tensions began to increase immediately after the end of the war. Black soldiers had not found the same discrimination in Europe that existed in the U.S., and many had received some education in the military. Returning home was difficult because nothing had changed. Whites feared what would happen as these soldiers returned, and white politicians did not hesitate to communicate those concerns to southern voters. Many blacks had moved North, looking for a better life, and some whites feared there would be a shortage of cheap labor. Other whites  wished to encourage the exodus. As a result of these tensions, there were a number of lynchings in the South in 1918 and 1919, including several soldiers in uniform. Rumors of black revolts were rampant among whites in the South. Rumors also ran through the black community, rumors that whites were preparing to disarm all blacks and that there would be bloodshed. In 1919, in what was known as the "red summer," there were twenty-six race riots around the country that left both blacks and whites dead.

During this period and in the years that followed, black leaders began to take an active role in the beginning of a century-long struggle for civil rights. The NAACP, founded in 1909, was revitalized, and the National Urban League, founded in 1911, began to grow. Marcus Garvey used his Universal Negro Improvement League as a platform to demand freedom for blacks and to give blacks a sense of pride. Black culture flowered in the Harlem Renaissance and in its South Carolina counterpart in Charleston in the 1920s. Blacks in the North, many of whom had emigrated from the South looking for a better life, had few good job opportunities and lived in a climate of increasing racism. They were ready to listen to the voices of those who told them they were people of worth. Black leaders in the South were ready to join with their northern counterparts in the struggle to improve the lives of African-Americans. Progressive leaders, black and white, began to realize the need to work together and feared what would happen if they didn't.

The Commission on Interracial Cooperation played a conciliatory role. A group of ministers, educators and businessmen met in Atlanta in January of 1919 to found this organization with the goal of encouraging interracial cooperation among community leaders in the midst of all the turmoil. This was not the first organization created in the South to improve race relations. Several groups, all white, had been in existence since the early 1900s. Atlanta had even had a local interracial group since a 1906 race riot. But the Commission on Interracial Cooperation  was the first such group organized on more than just the local level  that provided a role for blacks as well as for whites. Will Alexander, a former Methodist minister who had done war work with African-Americans, served as director for the twenty-five years that the Commission existed, working closely from the loosely organized central committee to help state and local committees that were set up to solve racial problems. The organization was not highly structured in its early years and did not incorporate until 1929. The original group of eight men, which included two-non Southerners, was all white. They formally organized the Commission on April 9, 1919. By the time of their July meeting, the group, now numbering sixteen, had decided to include blacks. They asked Robert R. Moton, president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, for recommendations. Many black leaders were suspicious and were reluctant to participate, but when the committee met in January of 1920, it included two African-Americans, Moton and Bishop R.E. Jones of North Carolina.  Bishop Jones, the only African-American bishop in the Methodist Episcopal church, had an outstanding reputation. In June of 1920, the committee met again. Twenty-one African-Americans attended that meeting. The committee was now truly interracial, a great accomplishment in that day. That same year, women were included in the organization, with the creation of a Women's Committee. Most of these women were associated with various women's church groups, with the Methodist churchwomen providing much of the leadership. Among the early members was South Carolina native and Florida resident Mary McLeod Bethune.

State and local committees mushroomed, with more than five hundred in existence by 1920 and more than eight hundred by 1923. The Commission had gone to work quickly, organizing conferences for social workers with the help of a grant from the National War Work Council. They placed one white and one black temporary staff member in each of the thirteen Southern states to help in the communication process between blacks and whites, although they did not originally plan to set up separate state committees. Alexander felt that it was important for white and black leaders to have as much contact with each other as possible. State committees were loosely affiliated with the Commission, choosing their own officers, hiring their own staff, and handling their own memberships. Initially, there were separate women's divisions in each state, but each state committee developed its own separate organizational structure. The state committees were to report in detail to the Commission, and the hope was that in time they would become self-supporting. The Commission's plan was to organize interracial committees in each of the eight hundred and five counties in the South where the population was at least ten percent black. The local committees were also expected to be somewhat independent of the state committees and the Commission, but to report regularly to the central Commission. After the first few years the central Commission did not concentrate its energies on the local committees, although it continued to see them as an important part of the picture.

At least in theory, all three levels would operate somewhat autonomously but would work together. Theory did differ somewhat from practise. The reality was that the central Commission, initially a small group of interested individuals, became a structured organization with a paid staff that existed until 1944, when it was replaced by the Southern Regional Council. The Commission also set up five self-governing subsidiary organizations in the 1930s, three of which were interracial and two of which were all-white. A key focus of several of these organizations was the prevention of lynchings. As early as the mid-1920s the Central Commission had begun to award medals to local sheriffs in a number of states, including South Carolina, who stood up against mobs or defended black prisoners. The Commission also played an educational role, and gathered hard data on the race problems of the day. Mrs. Jesse Daniel Ames, a key figure in the organization, conducted a study of South Carolina's election laws in 1942.

Within two years of its organization, what some had seen as a temporary organization that was designed to solve the problems resulting from a crisis situation had become permanent. Funded for the first two years by the National War Work Council, the central Commission now developed a base of support from church groups, foundations and other sources. Once the immediate emergency had passed, the state committees began to concentrate on documenting and removing many grievances. These included seeing that African-American welfare agencies received support from the local Community Chest funds, getting services provided in black neighborhoods, and even occasionally educating whites to see that blacks wanted to be addressed respecfully as "Mr." and "Mrs." just like whites. By keeping track of potential trouble spots and stepping in, the committees were sometimes able to avert lynchings and even to get lynchers indicted and sometimes convicted. The central Commission and its subsidiaries, such as the Association of  Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, attempted to change attitudes and create a climate where lynchings would no longer be acceptable to the average person. Many women's organizations tooks stands against lynching. In South Carolina, these included the Baptist Women's Missionary Union, the Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Methodist Women's Society for Christian Service, South Carolina Conference and Upper South Carolina Conference (Burrows, 1954). Sometimes race riots could be avoided. In Columbia, blacks and whites acted together to prevent a race riot in 1926 (Burrows, 1954).

However, the Commission and its state and local organizations worked within the system, rather than attempting to end segregation. For this reason, some have dismissed the work of the commissions. Scholar I. A. Newby describes the local commissions as "...dominated by well-meaning, paternalistic whites whose concern was to make white supremacy as palatable as possible for blacks without altering the existing racial equilibrium..." (Newby, 1973). He points out, for example, that in the early 1930s the committee in Charleston helped to establish a public library branch in the black section but refused to fight for black membership on the library board. And some Southern governors, hardly champions of equal rights, expressed approval and support of the commissions. However, scholar George Brown Tindall points out that "The Inter-racial Commission secured a remarkable diversity of support," including Joel Spingarn, who sponsored the Spingarn Awards celebrating African-American achievements, and most of the black press, as well as white politicians. According to one source, even some members of the KKK supported the Commission, with the expectation that it provide only lip-service to proposals for change. This may have been a false hope. But by enlisting the support of "opinion-making groups," the Commission believed it could improve life for blacks (Tindall, 1967). Mary McLeod Bethune, an African-American educator and advisor to the Roosevelt administration on Negro affairs, stated in 1939: "No agency has contributed more to the establishment and maintenance of tolerable relations between the black and white races in the South than has the Interracial Commission..." (Burrows, 1954).

By today's standards, the accomplishments of the Interracial Commission and its state and local subsidiaries may have been modest. The Commission conducted studies, issued publications, and tried to influence the white press, which was generally hostile on race issues. Some newspapers did publish materials sent to them by the Commission and reported positively on their meetings and activities. Thousands of women in South Carolina and elsewhere signed resolutions opposing lynchings in the years of the Commission's existence. About one thousand educators throughout the South attended race conferences over the years. Some opponents of the day saw the Commission as too radical, with its opposition to lynching and its efforts to bring about change. Others saw it as too conservative, too unwilling to challenge the status quo. Given the context of the times, the commissions represent a first step toward black-white communication and mutual respect.

Little information is available about the state and local commissions during the 1920s. We do know that commissions in a number of states, including South Carolina, held somewhat informal annual meetings on a regular basis in the 1920s. Generally women held separate additional meetings during this period. State meetings became more structured in the 1930s. But little is known about how the local commissions were organized and what they did. Records either weren't kept or have been lost. A hint at their accomplishments can be gleaned from a black publication of the day: "The activities carried on by State and local committees, as reported by the ten field secretaries, showed a very wide range. The provision of better educational facilities for Negroes was everywhere a major objective, and general and encouraging progress in this regard was reported. Efforts in behalf of better housing, sanitation, streets, parks, swimming pools, libraries, railroad facilities, and other public utilities had been made in many cities, many of them successful..." (Eleazer, 1924). According to an article published in 1922 in McClure's, a mainstream white publication, about 40% of eight hundred committees in eight hundred southern counties were functioning well. "Many of these county committees have already shown their value in bettering their communities. Their activity has not sprung from any outside [italics in original] pressure...The work of these cooperative committees is not work for colored people, but work with colored people for community betterment. Since the committees are without authority they must rely upon the various organizations already functioning, and which are, or should be concerned with race relations..." (Martin, 1922). It is clear that white southerners feared the influence of non-Southerners in resolving racial problems and bringing about change!

Records of the central Commission give us an idea of some of the activities of the state and local commissions in South Carolina. In Aiken, the interracial committee spearheaded a bond drive to raise $25,000 for a black school in 1923-24.  The state provided very little in the way of education for African-Americans. Around the same time, a local committee in Charleston helped to obtain a tuberculosis camp, a playground and an athletic field for African-Americans. Tuberculosis was a major killer, and there were few recreational facilities for black children. The state commission reported in 1929 that it had been instrumental in obtaining passage of a law designed to reduce mob violence. While others also played a role in these accomplishments, the commissions certainly provided much of the leadership (Burrows, 1954).

From what we do know, state commissions worked to prevent lynchings and provide legal assistance to African-Americans. In 1926 the South Carolina commission issued a statement at its annual meeting deploring a lynching which had occurred. This was a courageous position in a time when many white politicians supported lynching as a way to control blacks. In 1930, following two well-publicized lynchings, Cole L. Blease, who was in the middle of a political campaign, raised the mantle of the protection of white Southern womanhood to justify his support of lynching (Tindall, 1967). Some South Carolina newspapers did take him to task because they perceived his "to hell with the Constitution" stand as an invitation to anarchy (Everett, 1969). A number of white churches also spoke out against lynching for the same reason. In July of 1930, Mrs. C.P. McGowan, a Charleston socialite and chair of the South Carolina commission, spoke out publicly against lynching and against Blease's position, framing her statement in terms of what we would see today as a law and order position (Everett, 1969).

The women's committee in South Carolina worked to gain state training schools for African-American juvenile delinquents in the 1920s, using data gathered by the Commission. In the 1930s state commissions attempted to create a climate in which public opinion would be positive toward inclusion of African-Americans in the New Deal programs.

State and local commissions also contributed to the financial support of the central Commission, which received much of its limited financing from foundations. From time to time, South Carolina's state commission contributed between one and six thousand dollars, although like most of the other states, its state and local commissions were unable to help during the Depression years. The Community Chest in Charleston was one of a number around the South that added the central Commission to its list. The central Commission also provided financial support to state and local commissions; in 1940, South Carolina received the sum of $600. Many state committees, including South Carolina, were charging membership dues by the early 1940s in order to cover their expenses. In South Carolina, the amount required to join was one dollar (Burrows, 1954). By the mid-1940s, the membership fee had been raised to two dollars, with half of that going to the state and half to the Southern Regional Commission (Clay, 1946).

Like many of the other state committees, the South Carolina committee waxed and waned. Dependent to some extent on the central Commission for staff and leadership, state and local committees had their ups and downs. By the early 1930s few field secretaries, described as "the fighting edge of the organization" (Burrows, 1954) worked in the states. Despite much continuity over the years, in the 1930s the central Commission reduced its staff. The director was away on leave during much of the period although volunteers of both races were always in the central office. Perhaps there was a lack of direction from the central office. Active in the early years, South Carolina was no longer among the states listed in the Commission's annual report in 1932. In that same year, the report listed only twenty-three local committees in the South, including Greenville and Charleston, although others may have existed. By 1937 only three active state committees remained. But the organization revitalized itself. Staff resumed field work that same year and the field secretaries worked to develop state and local committees over the next several years. In 1938 South Carolina was one of three states with newly active state committees. The South Carolina committee was reorganized in February 1938 at Benedict College in Columbia by Clelia McGowan, who previously had served as chair. Two black women, Marian Wilkinson and Marian Paul, were elected officers, first vice chair and secretary, respectively. Women played a larger role in the re-organized state committee, comprising over one-third of the membership (Aba-Mecha, 1978).

Some of the states, including South Carolina, began to hold annual meetings again. Race relations was a key topic at those meetings. The states began to hold area conferences on special topics like housing or education, where they invited guests and tried to develop the interest of the local community. Conferences were held in South Carolina in early 1941. In addition, the central Commission held special work conferences for the state leaders in 1940 and 1941, addressing the state and local role in resolving various problems. Many problems had yet to be resolved. In a letter to the South Carolina Committee dated June 24, 1941, fourteen African-American leaders laid out some of the most pressing problems: needs for equal educational facilities, equal pay for teachers, the right to vote, tax-supported hospitals for blacks, better wages for domestics and laborers.

The South Carolina Committee engaged in what a modern reader might see as relatively modest activities during this period, such as efforts to provide recreational facilities for black soldiers, discussion groups at colleges and giving speeches about improving race relations. Correspondence of the period shows continuous efforts to link up with other organizations interested in improving racial conditions and education for blacks. Some of the more active black members like Marian Paul and Modjeska Simkins felt that the white members did not take a strong enough stand on such issues as the right of blacks to vote. Another complaint was that the white members felt that they knew best when it came to making decisions. The Committee maintained a conciliatory tone, as evidenced by a 1939 letter from the Committee chair, F. Clyde Helms, to the membership. The letter read, in part: "The primary function of the Interracial Council or Committee is to preserve the spiritual values which arise in human relationships. We must first deepen and broaden our spiritual understanding of each other before we plan or think of the many things that comprise our Interracial programs..." (Helms, "Letter," 1939).  Despite this moderation, many whites still saw the South Carolina Committee's efforts as threatening. Whites who were involved with the Interracial Committee were threatened and verbally attacked by other whites. Eventually the meetings had to be held at Benedict College because Governor Timmerman would not allow them to meet in public buildings. Many whites were afraid to join the organization (Aba-Mecha, 1978). The Committee was walking a fine line.

The central Commission was involved in organizing the Durham Conference, a meeting of black leaders held in October of 1942, which issued a strong statement concerning the poor conditions under which blacks lived. At a meeting held in April of 1943, a group of whites, many of whom belonged to the central Interracial Commission, issued a statement supporting most of the Durham Statement except for the demand for desegregation. These two groups provided a core that merged to form the Southern Regional Council the following year.

World War II marked the end of the interracial movement and its replacement with the concept of regionalism. Regionalism was the idea that all the problems in a given region like the South, whether economic, political, etc., are related and must be examined together. As early as the mid-1930s some members of the central Commission raised the idea of a regional council. Grants were expiring and finances became an issue in the late 1930s. Staff had to be reduced and the Commission's work cut back. Some friction had developed among some of the staff. Members disagreed over the organization's future role. With the war effort, some felt that race relations must take a back seat. A study conducted by a social scientist recommended development of a regional council which would continue the work of the Interracial Commission. In January of 1944, the Southern Regional Council was incorporated in Georgia "to promote a greater unity in the South in all efforts toward regional and racial development" (Burrows, 1954). In February of 1944, the central Commission met and agreed to transfer its assets to the Southern Regional Council. All members of the Commission would become members of the Southern Regional Council. The hope was that the Southern Regional Council would take a broader focus to the problems faced by the South. It took a different approach to racial problems than more activist organizations such as the NAACP. For example, the two groups disagreed about the best means to obtain graduate education for blacks. According to the executive director of the Southern Regional Commission, the NAACP was "playing for high stakes in this matter..." with its efforts to get blacks admitted to the white graduate schools. He felt that the states would instead fund separate but inferior graduate schools for blacks. He advocated having the Southern states, which didn't provide even top quality programs for whites, pool their resources and provide regional schools for blacks (Johnson, 1945).

The South Carolina Committee became the South Carolina Division of the Southern Regional Council in 1944. An examination of existing correspondence and documents of the period indicates that its goals had not changed. It still sought to improve race relations but was reluctant to challenge the status quo. Around the time that the transition was taking place, in March of 1944, the South Carolina Division issued a statement  acknowledging that blacks experienced discrimination in public education, denial of equal opportunity, and that their treatment by the courts was "not always...unbiased."  The long list of members signing the statement asked to have blacks serve on juries, for provision of better schools and teachers for blacks, and that whites should "take a serious interest in the race problem."  Cautiously, they raised the issue of suffrage, stating: "We do not believe that disenfranchisement of all Negroes in South Carolina can endure indefinitely." At the same time, they disavowed social equality and saw social relationships as something to be handled on an individual basis rather than through any formal government action (South Carolina Division, "A Statement on the Race Problem in South Carolina," 1944).  In a resolution the following year, they urged the General Assembly to provide to "...State College annual appropriations sufficient to maintain and to improve an accredited college on the undergraduate level for the negro youth of the state" as well as providing graduate and professional programs for African-Americans (South Carolina Division, "Resolution," June, 1945). The organization continued to collect information about lynchings and other problems which it could disseminate in its publications and at conferences (Guzman, 1947).

Local commissions made the decision about whether to affiliate with the Southern Regional Commission on an individual basis. The Richland County Commission affiliated in 1945 and the Charleston Commission affiliated in 1947 (Hinton, "Report..."; John A. Harris, letter to Alice N. Spearman).  The Richland County Commission was one of the most activist of the local commissions. Organized in 1941, this group examined the problems of bus transportation for African-Americans, treatment of African-Americans by police, conditions in court, and prison brutality. Black women convicts had been put to work on the streets. The Richland County Commission succeeded in bringing an end to this practise.  African-American children needed recreational facilities. The group succeeded in persuading the city of Columbia to buy land for such facilities, and having it cleared for softball and baseball (Hinton, "Report...").

By the late 1940s the South Carolina Division had program committees operating in four areas: law enforcement, education, recreation and health (Dabbs, 1947). In the area of law enforcement, they hoped to increase the number of black police officers and continued to push to have blacks serve on juries. Hiring black police officers was controversial. The South Carolina Division and the Southern Regional Commission studied the experience of cities that had black police and disseminated data demonstrating that it worked. A memo published by the Southern Regional Council stated: "In the Southern cities which are using Negro police, there is almost unanimous agreement by mayors and police chiefs that Negro policemen are satisfactory..." (Southern Regional Council, "Have Negro Police..."). In 1946 the South Carolina Division sent a memo to all South Carolina mayors that included an excerpt from an October 6 article that had appeared in The State.  The article described the positive experiences of Summerton and Clover, which used black police officers in black sections, and quoted statements of praise by the police chiefs (South Carolina Division, Memo, 1946). At least one member of the organization was willing to challenge the white establishment. At a July 1947 meeting of the Law Enforcement Commission, Modjeska Simkins, secretary of the South Carolina Division, questioned SLED chief Joel Townsend about criminal assaults committed by whites on blacks that had been reported in the newspaper. Townsend defended SLED from accusations by Mrs. Simkins and others that whites and blacks received different treatment in the criminal justice system, but finally admitted that blacks did receive longer sentences for the same crimes (South Carolina Division, Minutes, Law Enforcement Division, 1947). In 1953, the Southern Regional Commission cited the data from its annual survey of police departments in the South that had hired blacks. Typical were the comments from South Carolina cities. From Conway: "Negro policemen have proved to be of great help in the Negro section of the city." From Spartanburg: "These men work in colored section. Have done a very good job" (Southern Regional Commission, "Have Negro Police Been Satisfactory?" 1953). It was hoped that a more positive public attitude toward blacks in law enforcement would be created with such kudos. However, no one suggested that black policemen patrol in white neighborhoods.

In the area of education, the South Carolina Division's stated goals included developing an adequate tax base to fund the public schools, having school districts supplement teacher salaries, adequate transportation for all children, training for veterans, library services for everyone, and more books for school libraries on black life and culture (South Carolina Council, "Education Goals").  In 1947, the South Carolina Division successfully lobbied Governor Thurmond for his assistance in getting the General Assembly to pass a bill establishing three trade schools (Spearman, 1947). Nevertheless, the South Carolina Council moved cautiously after the Supreme Court issued its controversial school desegregation decision in 1954. A newspaper article of the day stated that the president, the Reverend J. Claude Evans, described himself as a "moderate" and quoted Executive Director Alice Spearman as saying that she felt that the Council contributed more by stressing " 'processes' rather than panaceas..." (Workman, 1955). A later article stated that the Council doesn't take "a public position favoring or opposing racial integration" (Workman, 1957).

In the area of recreation, the South Carolina Division sought more city parks and playgrounds for blacks. State parks were segregated, and they sought the creation of state parks for blacks or separate sections of the same parks so that blacks too could enjoy  at least some part of these facilities. The state closed its parks for a period of about nine months in 1963-64 when a federal court ordered them desegregated. The parks reopened on a "restricted basis" in 1964. In June of 1966 the state opened the parks "at full operation." Subsequently, the parks were integrated (Dawson-House). In the area of health, the South Carolina Division supported better health education for blacks and facilities where  black doctors could see their patients. Facilities for blacks were extremely limited and of very poor quality.

The South Carolina Division changed its name to the South Carolina Council on Human Relations in 1954. That same year, Alice Spearman, a former New Deal activist who had held several positions within the organization, became Executive Director of the organization, holding that position until her retirement in 1967 when Paul Matthias replaced her. The South Carolina Council on Human Relations (SCCHR) had only 78 members at this time, two full-time workers in the central office and six local councils. The most active of these was Rock Hill, led by an activist priest (Workman, "South Carolina Council,"; Bass, "Progress in Race Relations..."). Under Mrs. Spearman's leadership, the number of members soon rose to 500 (Bass, "Progress in Race Relations..."). In an interview, Mrs. Spearman later commented on the turbulence of the 1950s. Although she never felt "really threatened," resistance to desegration was so strong in the late 1950s that it was hard to plow new ground. "We could only tread water," she said ("Progress Continues..."). The SCCHR continued its efforts to educate and inform. A 1957 SCCHR letter describes the "climate of public opinion" as one where whites opposed school desegregation and changes in the status quo. Indeed, the white community was often paranoid in this era of change. A 1955 editorial described the parent organization of the SCCHR, the Southern Regional Council, as "...largely supported and operated by northern agitators" (Workman, "SC Council...", 1955). These attacks continued into the 1960s. A 1964 editorial referred to the Southern Regional Council as "an interracial propaganda agency in Atlanta...though it is labeled "Southern," the organization is a carbon copy of ultra-radical groups..."("Mandate for Mobocracy," 1964). The SCCHR had dropped its affiliation with the Southern Regional Council the previous year, perhaps in part to disassociate itself from such a "radical" organization. The organization was frequently attacked in articles that appeared in the Charleston News and Courier, perhaps the "most adamant opponent of change..." (O'Neill, 1990).

The SCCHR saw its role as helping to coordinate blacks and whites into "an effective working whole..." and acting "...as a clearinghouse" for organizations and individuals involved in biracial work. Money was a problem and resources were limited ("SCCHR, "Request for Financial Aid...").  The Ford Foundation's support, which had gradually been phased out over a period of years, ended in 1957. The position of associate director, held by James T. McCain, had to be eliminated as a result (Workman, "Human Relations Group...").  But the organization did what it could within those constraints. The 1957 program objectives included networking with other organizations and distributing articles and information to a wide range of people, organizing more local inter-racial groups, and holding educational meetings at the state and local level (SCCHR, "Present Program Objectives..."). In 1959, the SCCHR described in a report a series of conferences it had held at the Penn Center, exploring the economic and educational needs of African-Americans and how to solve the problems (SCCHR Program 1958-1959).

Despite the unfavorable political climate in the 1950s, the Council also began to focus more heavily on the issue of black voting, an area it would later aggressively pursue. At a 1959 meeting, members discussed the problems involved in getting more blacks to vote and suggested a long range program that included fact-finding, adult education, and programs to train citizens and leaders (South Carolina Council, "Quarterly Report" September 1959 - November 1959). They continued to network with other organizations, putting together a mailing list of black organizations and leaders and making contacts. Members of the SCCHR agreed that the process would be a lengthy one.

While the number varied from time to time, about ten local councils were active during the 1960s and early 1970s. A 1961 report indicated that the Greenville council did a "survey on merit opportunities in South Carolina," Beaufort-Jasper held informal discussions in conjunction with a workshop on nonviolence at the Penn Center, Sumter had a speaker from India who discussed democracy, and Rock Hill held meetings related to "helping to effect negotiation of the sit-in controversy" (SCCHR, "Perspective," June 1961). In a 1962 report, the SCCHR indicated that it had prepared kits of material to help local councils in Columbia, Greenville, Jasper County, Beaufort, Rock Hill and Sumter (SCCHR, "News and Views," March 1962). In 1964, a report mentioned that local councils in Rock Hill, Columbia and Sumter had held meetings where the topic was civil rights. There was a new chapter in Aiken (SCCHR, "SCCCR Review," January 1964). Later that year, the Aiken chapter held a panel discussion for students at the local high schools concerning their views on human relations. The Columbia chapter held a meeting about the National Council of Churches and the Rock Hill chapter had a meeting about the federal Office of Equal Opportunity (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," November-December 1964). A new chapter was established in Charleston in 1965 (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," April 1965). In 1972 the Tri-County Human Relations Council, centered in Florence, focused on police harassment, traffic arrests, and harassment of customers of black businessmen (Hite, 1972).

Through the 1960s and into the early 1970s,  the SCCHR gradually became more activist, while still maintaining its traditional role. In 1961 a local newspaper described the SCCHR as follows: "The Council conceives of its role as a public opinion catalyst. It seeks to stimulate creative discussion on inter-racial problems. It also fosters lines of communication between the races" (McMahon, 1961). The organization continued to gather and disseminate data. It collected data on the administration of criminal justice, including public attitudes toward law enforcement (Cole, June 18, 1971), the attitudes of lawyers in South Carolina toward "procedural and legal safeguards" ["inadequate..."] (Toliver, July 10, 1972), and capital punishment ("Information on Inmates..."). Data collected on executions found that from 1912 to 1962, nearly 90% of those executed in South Carolina were black. By the late 1960s, the organization included within its structure units on criminal justice and welfare. Change was on the way. The SCCHR was grappling with controversial issues that were at the heart of society. At its meetings and conferences held during the 1960s, desegregation was a regular topic.This topic is only mentioned occasionally in the reports of meetings held in the 1950s. The organization wrote letters and challenged public officials to account for their failure to follow federal law. In a March, 1966 letter, Executive Director Alice Spearman wrote to the Fairfield County school board, asking in part: "What is the plan for using white teachers in previously Negro schools and/or Negro teachers in previously all-white schools for the coming school year?" (Spearman, March 4, 1966). The organization worked with many other groups in the battle for desegregation in the mid-1960s.

At a 1961 meeting, the Program Committee laid out three areas of concern: employment, voter registration and higher education. One SCCHR report described 1961 as a "productive year," with six leadership and training conferences held across the state in conjunction with the S.C. Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, and eight statewide workshops, conferences and membership meetings focusing on religion, community development, educational needs, jobs and nonviolence (SCCHR, "News and Views," March 1962). The organization reached out to students. In 1962 and 1963 the SCCHR held two conferences involving twenty colleges, both black and white, under the auspices of the S.C. Student Council on Human Relations (SCCHR, "Progress," November 1963).  In 1963, the SCCHR publicized efforts by military contractors to hire black clericals, machinists and salesmen. That same year, the SCCHR conducted a study of how agricultural agencies were helping black farmers, entitled A Study of Negro Farmers in South Carolina. The SCCHR was beginning to question the establishment. They met twice with Governor Russell and later sent him a letter asking him to appoint African-Americans to "boards of public trust," to "support...public education," and to exercise "executive leadership to improve job opportunities for qualified Negroes" (SCCHR, "Progress," November 1963). Members of the SCCHR visited several counties in 1963 after Governor Russell announced a new job training and education program, entitled Special Training for Economic Progress (STEP). These members helped to overcome resistance by both blacks and whites. By 1967, over 6000 people had completed the program (Bass, 1967). And in its newsletters, the SCCHR provided its readers with information about relevant events and legislation on the national and state levels. For example, a 1963 report described the admission of Harvey Gantt to Clemson University. He was the first African-American admitted there (SCCHR, "Progress," February 1963).

One of the most fruitful areas was that of voter registration. As early as 1960, the SCCHR, along with such organizations as the Palmetto Voters' League, the Congress for Racial Equality, the Penn Center and the NAACP began to push for the black franchise (Siceloff). The battle was on all through the South. By 1962, coalitions of civil rights organizations were working to gain the black franchise in eleven Southern states (SC Voter Education Project, "Voter Education Project Newsletter," August 1963). In 1963, the Southern Regional Council began a formal and ultimately successful push for voter registration, providing much of the initial funding for the campaign. Many organizations, including SCCHR, came in under their umbrella to form the Voter Education Project. It was difficult to even gather information about the number of blacks eligible to vote. In a 1964 letter, Alice Spearman reminded supporters that people were required to give their race when they tried to register to vote. She provided the names of the county voter registration boards, suggesting that the readers form committees to contact the boards and "...find out from them how many Negroes are eligible to vote in your county" (Spearman and James, March 20, 1964). Much of this kind of data was gathered by the Voter Education Project (VEP) and its successor, the S.C. Voter Education Project (SCVEP). The organization disseminated information to citizens through its publications, such as one entitled "Basic Steps for Voter Registration." There was action as well as words. The VEP held a registration drive in Charleston and registered 501 African-Americans during the three day registration period in August of 1963. In Kingstree, in Williamsburg County, they worked with registrars so that more African-Americans would be registered. The county opened its books for registration only one day per month, and most African-American voters were turned away. For example, in April of that year, only 11 of 200 people who had applied had been registered (SCVEP, August 1963). In March of 1964, the VEP reported that with the help of 85 volunteers, 3000 people had been registered in Greenville in December of 1963 and January of 1964. By June of 1967, the SCVEP reported in a newsletter that it had 51 programs and had gotten the registration of blacks in South Carolina over the 190,000 mark. In 1968, the SCVEP reprinted in its newsletter a newspaper article reporting that over half of those who had registered in Charleston since the previous September were black. In other reports that year, the organization noted that in a number of counties, blacks were registering in higher numbers than whites (SCVEP, April 1968). By September of 1968, the organization was able to report that black registration in the state was back to 189,000 - the same number as when re-registration had begun one year ago. White registration had dropped by 143,000 to 587,000 (SCVEP, September 1968). At that time, everyone in South Carolina had to re-register every ten years. Part of the organization's strategy was to get black notaries to run registration, so potential black voters wouldn't feel intimidated, and to publicize registration by printing handbills. With the increased interest, there were even some blacks beginning to run for public office (SCVEP, April 1968).

At the same time, the SCCHR continued its support of a broad range of civil rights activities. Four hundred people attended a joint meeting of the South Carolina and Georgia commissions in early 1964 (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," April 1964). In 1965, the SCCHR held a student conference at the Penn Center. Over 100 students from 14 colleges attended workshops and heard speakers discuss poverty, peace, and capital punishment (SCCHR Review, September-October 1965).  In 1966 the organization reported that it had conducted surveys in four counties to gather information on the low income levels. It had also asked the General Assembly to start a county-wide food distribution program in some areas, encouraged farmers to form co-ops and credit unions, and studied industries in nine counties to see if they had complied with the Civil Rights Act (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," November 1966).

During the 1960s the national government created a number of new programs to help minorities and poor people. South Carolina was still a very poor and very rural state. In its newsletter, the SCCHR explained such programs as the FCC's Fairness Doctrine and its tie-in with racial discrimination (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," February 1965), Project Head Start (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," May 1965), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," September-October 1965). The SCCHR developed a program to help the rural poor, called the Rural Advancement Program. By 1968, it operated in 33 out of 46 counties in the state (SCCHR, "1968 Program Synopsis"). Field representatives worked with rural people, explaining federal programs that would let them get home improvement loans and increase their income. As a result, some families "were able to drill wells and add water conveniences in their homes"  or borrow money to start a small business (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," January-February 1966). The Economic Development Program staff surveyed land ownership in Bamberg County, and conducted a feasibility study of the planned community development corporation.

In 1966, the SCCHR sponsored SPEED-UP, a federal program that allowed students to work in rural areas (SCCHR, "SCCHR Review," March 1966; September-October 1966). The program ran for twelve weeks. The program continued on a limited basis that fall, with college students tutoring high school students in several communities (SCCHR, "Fall Program-SPEED-UP," 1966). In 1968 the organization sponsored Operation Gratitude, a program to help Vietnam veterans of both races find jobs, housing and education ("Operation Gratitude...").

In 1968, the SCCHR  "...shifted its approach and began working full-time for public and private accountability..." (South Carolina Council for Human Rights, "The Public Interest..."). As it became more activist, the SCCHR developed a number of new programs. Its Advocacy Program, described as a "Nader-like"  effort (after consumer advocate Ralph Nader) monitored some state government agencies and programs.  The Citizens's Center for Effective Feeding, established in 1968, worked closely with the welfare division, but focused on "community organizing" rather than research. Staff discovered that lunch programs had low participation, and testified before a state committee on nutrition. They held press conferences and met with state officials, helping to get free and reduced price food for the poor. "The results have been an overall increase averaging 68,800 free and reduced-price lunches a day over where South Carolina was a little over four years ago" (South Carolina Council for Human Rights,"The Public Interest"...)  They helped day care centers do the paperwork required to get funding for food, equipment and salaries. They organized the poor, holding meetings to hear complaints about the Food Stamps program that were attended by over 2000 people in 26 counties in 1972. They published a manual on Food Stamps, and got federal agencies to investigate wrongs. Their report on the program was entitled Keeping the Poor in Their Place.

The Public Assistance Task Force was formed in 1971 to "...investigate the status of public assistance in South Carolina, to document inadequacies in the laws and analyze problems in the adminstration of current programs..." (South Carolina Council for Human Rights, "The Public Interest..."). It examined welfare/work programs and old age assistance. It issued a report on old age assistance in South Carolinain 1972, entitled Amazing Disgrace. After publication of this report, the state increased its assistance to welfare recipients by 10% (SCCHR, "1972 Programs"). Another report issued in 1972, Sick Unto Death, focused on the health needs of the poor.  In 1973, a report entitled The Cheated Children condemned the AFDC program (the major welfare program for families) in South Carolina. Staff held press conferences and made speeches, working with the Litigation Task Force to bring change. As a result, the state eliminated its requirement that mothers applying for AFDC must first find the father or get court-ordered support. They got the Department of Social Services to set up regional offices to standardize program administration, and to ask the legislature to fund prenatal care for women who qualified for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

The Administration of Justice Task Force was established in 1971 to investigate South Carolina's criminal justice system. It monitored the State Law Enforcement Assistance Program, publishing a report. It examined state prisons, and conducted the death penalty study described above. It conducted a study of the S.C. parole system, entitled A Tradition of Abuse, and distributed over 1500 copies. Staff testified before the state legislature on the criminal justice system, gave assistance to black correctional officers with grievances, and assisted with an organization composed of relatives and friends of inmates and parolees. Like the other task forces, it worked with the Litigation Task Force to bring about change.

The Litigation Task Force was established in 1972 to bring lawsuits. They were particularly active in the area of criminal justice. They challenged the procedures for revoking parole for juveniles, procedures for trying and convicting inmates when they break prison rules, the censoring of inmates' mail, "conditions and procedures" for solitary confinement, and they sued to require "adequate medication and safe working conditions for inmates.

The Citizens' Information Service was established in 1973 to find ways to build connections with other groups and to increase the involvement of their own members (South Carolina Council for Human Rights, "The Public Interest...").

Membership peaked in the SCCHR in 1970, at 1600. The organization must have felt that it was on a roll and that the time was ripe to formally change focus. Its budget reached a high in 1973, at $201,000 (Buchan, 1975). By this time, SCCHR officials were taking an active role in lobbying on such issues as the death penalty. Speaking before a committee of the General Assembly that was considering reinstating the death penalty that had been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, Lawrence Toliver stated: "...The racist attitudes of South Carolina jurors and judges were obvious factors in the death sentences levied against blacks...Black lives have been treated cheaply in South Carolina..." (Toliver, "Death Penalty Statement," 1973) In 1973 the SCCHR changed its name for the last time to become the South Carolina Council on Human Rights. It would become an advocacy organization, in accord with the changed needs of the time. President Theo Mitchell stated that it would work "toward elimination of  social and economic injustice in South Carolina as its major purpose" ("Human Relations Council Alters Name," 1973). That may have sounded the death knell of the organization, many of whose members had never favored such an approach and were already unhappy with its relatively new activism. There was a rapid downhill spiral over the next two years.

Perhaps the time for such an organization had passed. Councils in four other states closed their doors in the next two years as well (Buchan, "Civil Rights Group..."). In any case, the organization's final months were troubled and filled with personnel problems. Executive Director Paul Matthias resigned, effective June 30, 1974. He left to head up a new public interest organization in Virginia. The board appointed Lawrence Toliver, the Administration of Justice advocate, acting director. He would hold both positions until a new director was appointed in the fall. He was the first and only African-American to hold the position of Executive Director. Toliver applied for the position of Executive Director. But in late August, the Council's president, E. H. Beardsley, announced that a new executive director had been hired from among four finalists: David Landholdt of Oklahoma (Beardsley, August 23, 1974). Landholdt sold his house and moved to Columbia with his family. In the meantime, Toliver asked for a rehearing. The Board turned him down. A few days later, Calvin E. Harris, a member of the personnel committee, wrote to the Board. He stated that the personnel committee had screened applicants and was supposed to interview the candidates before a final decision was made. They had not had the opportunity to do so (Harris, 1975). On August 31, the board rescinded Landholdt's appointment and appointed Landholdt and Toliver as co-directors. Beardsley, however, stated that the board's action was invalid and that Landholdt was still the director (Beardsley, September 6, 1974). By now, Landholdt had filed a lawsuit for breach of contract.

In the meantime, some of the local chapters had folded. By May of 1974, the Rock Hill chapter had closed down (Patenaude, 1974) and by September, the Columbia chapter was in trouble (Toliver, "Re: Establishing...). It is impossible to say to what extent the problems at the state level contributed to these developments.

In the midst of the chaos, money was running out. The SCCHR actively sought state and federal funds for the first time. By February of 1975, the organization had cut staff and stopped publishing newsletters (Buchan, 1975). By March of 1975 the Council only had enough money in its coffers to continue operating for two months. Three foundations had recently turned down its proposals (Hudson, 1975). In an April 1975 letter, Executive Director Lawrence Tolliver pointed out the problems the organization faced. Membership was down, there was no consensus on the organization's mission any longer, some members felt the lawsuit was justified, and some were no longer actively participating (Toliver, April 28, 1975). By June of 1975, Toliver had resigned and had left. No one was running the office. The organization had debts of over $4,400, but only $600 in the bank (Hudson, June 12, 1975). President Samuel B. Hudson was forced to ask the board members to make contributions toward paying the debts (Hudson, June 27, 1975).

For many of the members, the dissolution of the South Carolina Council for Human Rights was painful. In August of 1975, Vice President John Delgado asked the members to vote on a motion to dissolve the organization. In his letter, he stated that the Board of Directors had agreed that any such decision would not affect local councils (Delgado, 1975). There were many despairing comments, as well as angry responses and the remarks of those who were aware of the problems and were resigned to the organization's fate. Typical are the following comments written on returned ballots: "Thanks for the wonderful work you have done. Sorry" [ Mr and Mrs. Ron Crosby]; "I feel that the organization is too vital to dissolve..." [Arnold Williams]; "The communities need an organization to speak out for its needs" [Mrs. Sallie M. ONeill]; "with deep regret. If some desire to affix blame, please give me an equal share. I commend Alice, Paul and Lawrence for trying hard and winning much" [Selden K. Smith]; "From the moment the damage suit was filed...this move became necessary" [Reverend J. P. Lucey] (South Carolina Council for Human Rights, ballots). That same year, the organization closed its doors.

Through most of its existence, a major goal of the SCCHR was to get whites and blacks to talk to each other. With the exception of its last two years, it was never a lobbying organization. The SCCHR once described itself as: "...the major bi-racial statewide organization working for social and economic justice for all South Carolinians" (SCCHR, "The Public Interest..."). A 1961 newspaper article described the organization as follows: "The council conceives of its role as a public opinion catalyst. It seeks to stimulate creative discussion on inter-racial problems. It also fosters lines of communication between the races" (McMahan, 1961). It was never a very big group, with only 1600 members at its peak, and local councils around the state. But it worked to educate African-Americans about civil rights, to help whites and blacks communicate, and to educate the public about the need to improve education, the criminal justice system, welfare, and a host of other problems. The problems were great. What some might see as "baby steps" took great courage.
 

                                                                            Carol Sears Botsch, U.S.C. Aiken,
                                                                            carolb@aiken.sc.edu

The records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations for the period 1934-1976 are held by the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, in the Manuscripts Division.
 
 

Sources:

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South Carolina Division of Southern Regional Council. "A Statement on the Race Problem in South Carolina." March 16, 1944. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

South Carolina Division of Southern Regional Council. "Resolution." June 1945. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

South Carolina Division of Southern Regional Council. Minutes of meeting, Law Enforcement Commission. July 1947. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

South Carolina Division of Southern Regional Council. "Law Enforcement Goals" Memo from Law Enforcement Commission. n.d. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

South Carolina Division of Southern Regional Council. Memo. October 1946. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Southern Regional Council, Inc. "Have Negro Police Been Satisfactory?" Memo. n.d.  Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Southern Regional Council, Inc. "Have Negro Police Been Satisfactory?" Memo. February 18, 1953. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Southern Regional Council, Inc. VEP News. June 1967,  February 1968, April 1968, September 1968, January 1969. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

South Carolina Voter Education Project. "Voter Education Project Newsletter." August 1963, March 1964. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Spearman, Alice N. Letter to Governor J. Strom Thurmond. October 13, 1947. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Spearman, Alice N. and L.S. James. Letter. March 20, 1964. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Spearman, Alice N. Draft letter to school systems. March 4, 1966. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Spearman, Alice N. Letter to D. G. Belton, Jr. March 4, 1966. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

"Summerton Uses Negro Officers on Police Force," The State (October 6, 1946), n.p. Reprinted by the S.C. Division of the Southern Regional Council. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

"The Interracial Commission," The Southern Workman 55 (May 1926), pp. 195-7.

Tindall, George Brown. The Emergence of the New South 1913-1945. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967.

Toliver, Lawrence J. Letter to National Council on Crime and Delinquency. July 10, 1972. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Toliver, Lawrence J. Letter to James A. Wrenn, Supervisor of Personnel, S.C. Department of Corrections. August 14, 1972. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Toliver, Lawrence J. "Death Penalty Statement," read to Committee to Study Capital Punishment of the South Carolina General Assembly. March 1, 1973. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Toliver, Lawrence J. "The Perception of Prosecutorial Discretion by Criminal Lawyers in South Carolina," South Carolina Council for Human Rights, 1974. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Toliver, Lawrence J. "Re: Establishing an effective Columbia chapter of SCCHR." Memo - September 1974. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Toliver, Lawrence J. Letter to Mrs. Dabbs. April 28, 1975. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Walser, Marilyn. "SCCHR seeks improved state programs," The Tiger (October 13, 1972), p. 3. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Workman, W.D. Jr. "South Carolina Council on Human Relations Offers No Panacea, Writer Says," The Item (October 15, 1955), n.p. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Workman, W.D. Jr. "Council of Human Relations Meets in Columbia Tomorrow," News and Courier (March 26, 1957), n.p. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Workman, W.D. Jr. "Human Relations Group On Its Own," News and Courier (September 18, 1957), n.p. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Workman, W.D. Jr. "New Negro Discards Heritage," News and Courier (January 10, 1962), n.p. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

Wright, M.A. Letter to Rebecca Reid. July 18, 1945. Records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.
 
 

Research for this project was supported by a Faculty Exchange grant from the University of South Carolina.
 

last updated 8/12/1999
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