African Americans Vote in South Carolina

A report from Charleston, South Carolina, describes heavy voter turnout at the state's primary election on August 10, 1948. For the first time since the Reconstruction era, African-Americans were permitted to vote in a Democratic primary, after a federal judge ruled their exclusion unconstitutional.

South Caroliniana Library

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The Works Progress Administration (WPA) launched the Federal Writers’ Project to employ white-collar workers left jobless by the Great Depression and to create a comprehensive guide to the states, cities, and regions of the United States. The Federal Writers’ Project gathered information on American life and interviews with “ordinary” Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds. The bulk of interviews, articles, and notes contained in this collection paint a portrait of African-American life in South Carolina. These interviews with former slaves, notes on folklore, and articles on prominent African Americans and African-American organizations were compiled at the height of the Project in 1936 and 1937. Though they are products of their times, these materials provide us with one of the richest sources of information on African-American life in South Carolina at the time.

In 2005, Jody H. Graichen of the University of South Carolina submitted a history master’s thesis about this collection of African-American narratives from the South Carolina Federal Writers’ Project.

Black History Timeline: 1700 - 1799

Black people experienced many hardships throughout the 1700s including enslavement and oppression, but the end of this century marks a slow shift toward equality for Black Americans. Here is a timeline of Black history in the 18th century.

New York Slave Codes Passed: The New York Assembly passes a law making it illegal for enslaved Africans to gather in groups of three or more and granting enslavers permission to use violence to punish the people they enslave as they see fit as long as they do not kill or dismember them.

Elias Neau Opens School for People of Color: Elias Neau, a French colonist, establishes a school for free and enslaved Black people as well as Indigenous people in New York City.

Virginia Slave Codes Passed: The Colonial Virginia Assembly determines that indentured servants brought into the colony who were not Christian when they were captured should be considered enslaved. The law also applies to Indigenous people. The assembly defines the terms of this enslavement by specifying that enslaved people are to be the property of their enslavers. This code also prohibits interracial marriage.

Kean Collection / Getty Images

New York Opens Market for Trading Enslaved People: A public market trafficking enslaved people opens in New York City near Wall Street on June 27.

  • New York City Revolt of Enslaved People: On April 6, the New York City revolt of enslaved people begins. Armed enslaved people attack their enslavers. An estimated nine White colonists and countless Black people die during the incident. For their role in the uprising, an estimated 21 enslaved Black people are hung and six die of suicide.
  • New York Slave Codes Become Stricter: New York City establishes a law preventing formerly enslaved Black people from owning land. This act also requires enslavers to pay the state when they want to emancipate the people they enslave.

Asiento de Negros Signed: The Spanish government awards the British crown exclusive rights to trade enslaved people under the Treaty of Utrecht, this agreement referred to as the Asiento de Negros. England now has a monopoly on transporting captured African people to Spanish colonies in the Americas for enslavement.

French Bring Enslaved People to Louisiana: French colonizers bring an estimated 2,000 enslaved Africans to present-day Louisiana.

French Begin Trading Enslaved People: The French establish the city of New Orleans and begin trading enslaved people. Many enslaved people imported from overseas contract illnesses and diseases and die shortly after or before arriving in Louisiana. New Orleans is not considered to be a desirable trade port due to Louisiana's geographical location inland.

South Carolina Passes Voting Laws: South Carolina passes legislation requiring voters to own property equivalent to ten enslaved people. Only Christian White men who meet these requirements are eligible to vote.

  • Boston Curfew for Black Occupants: A curfew is established in Boston for non-White occupants, with a special watch patrol ordered to apprehend any non-White people out past 10 p.m. It's one of several similar curfew laws passed in the colonies: New Hampshire instituted a 9 p.m. curfew in 1726. Even earlier than that, Connecticut had a 1690 curfew law that authorized any White citizen to apprehend a non-White person (specifically, a slave or servant) out without written permission from their masters, and Rhode Island passed a 9 p.m. curfew in 1703 for any non-White person who lacked permission from a master or an "English" person.
  • Code Noir Created: The Code Noir is created by the French colonial government in Louisiana. This code prohibits people enslaved by different people from gathering, outlaws enslaved people from trading or selling anything without permission from their enslavers, and prohibits enslaved people from marrying other enslaved people without permission from both enslavers. Under these codes, no enslaved people may own property. This legislation also requires enslavers to teach the people they enslave about religion. All suitable punishments for various offenses enslaved people may commit are outlined in these laws as well.

South Carolina Negro Act Passed: The South Carolina Negro Act is passed. This legislation specifies what type of clothing enslaved people may wear. Enslaved people are only permitted to wear certain inexpensive and low-quality fabrics or clothes given to them by their enslavers. If an enslaved person is found wearing anything other than these fabrics, an observer may take their clothes by force.

Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose Established: A group of freedom seekers establishes Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose), a settlement in St. Augustine, Florida. This is considered the first permanent Black American settlement.

Stono Rebellion Occurs: The Stono Rebellion or Cato's Rebellion takes place on September 9 in South Carolina. With roughly 50 enslaved people participating, led by a man called Jemmy, this is one of the first and largest revolts of enslaved people in history. An estimated 40 White and 80 Black people are killed during the revolt by stolen weapons and in fires set to buildings.

New York Slave Conspiracy Takes Place: An estimated 34 people are killed for their participation in the New York Slave Conspiracy, which resulted in fires across the city thought to be started by enslaved people seeking freedom. Out of the 34, 13 Black men are burned at the stake and 17 Black men, two White men, and two White women are hung. Also, 70 Black and seven White people are expelled from New York City, the Black people sold into enslavement in the Caribbean.

South Carolina Places Restricts the Rights of Enslaved People: South Carolina bans teaching enslaved people to read and write. The ordinance also makes it illegal for enslaved people to meet in groups or earn money. Also, enslavers are permitted to kill the people they enslave if they deem this necessary.

Bars Fight Is Published: Lucy Terry Prince composes the poem "Bars Fight." For almost one hundred years, the poem is passed down through generations in the oral tradition. In 1855, it is published.

Anthony Benezet Opens School for Black Students: Quaker Anthony Benezet opens the first free day school for Black children in Philadelphia. He teaches them out of his own home.

Benjamin Banneker Builds One of First Clocks in America: Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man, creates one of the first clocks in the colonies. It is made entirely out of wood.

First Black Church in U.S. Founded: The first known Black church in North America is founded on the plantation of William Byrd in Mecklenburg, Virginia. It is called the African Baptist or Bluestone Church.

Briton Hammon's Personal Narrative Published: Briton Hammon publishes the first narrative of an enslaved person. The text is entitled "A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon."

Jupiter Hammon's Poetry Collection Published: Jupiter Hammon publishes the first collection of poetry by a Black person. Enslaved from birth in New York, Hammon writes about his experiences as a Black man and formerly enslaved person.

Virginia Changes Voting Requirements: Property ownership requirements for voting are lowered, making it easier for most White men in the colony of Virginia to meet them, but Black people are still prohibited from voting.

Crispus Attucks Dies: Crispus Attucks, a self-liberated formerly enslaved person, is the first resident of the British American colonies killed in the American Revolution. His death at the start of the Boston Massacre is mourned by many.

Archive Photos / Getty Images

  • Phillis Wheatley's Book of Poems Published:Phillis Wheatley publishes "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." This is the first book of poems written by a Black woman.
  • Silver Bluff Baptist Church Founded: Silver Bluff Baptist Church is founded near Savannah, Georgia, on Galpin Plantation.
  • Enslaved People Petition Massachusetts Court for Freedom: Enslaved Black people appeal to the Massachusetts General Court arguing that they have a natural right to freedom. They compare their situation to that of colonialists seeking independence from British rule. They are denied.
  • Black People Allowed to Enlist in Army: General George Washington begins to allow enslaved and free Black men to enlist in the army to fight against the British. As a result, at least five thousand Black men enlist to serve in the American Revolutionary War. Notable among them is Peter Salem. He famously kills British Major John Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • First Abolitionist Meeting Held: The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage begins hosting meetings in Philadelphia on April 14 at the Sun Tavern. Many in attendance are members of the anti-slavery Friends of Pennsylvania, a group of Quakers. This is considered the first meeting of abolitionists.
  • British Emancipate Enslaved People in Exchange for Service: On November 7, Lord Dunmore declares that any enslaved Black people fighting for the British Flag will be freed. This announcement, called Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, does lead many freedom seekers to fight for the Crown but also serves to anger colonists and create further opposition to British rule.

Enslaved People Liberate Themselves: An estimated 100,000 enslaved Black men and women self-liberate during the Revolutionary War.

Enslavement Abolished in Vermont: Vermont abolishes enslavement on July 2. It is the first state to ban the practice.

  • Cuffee Brothers Refuse to Pay Taxes: Paul Cuffe and his brother, John, refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that Black people cannot vote, are not represented in the legislative process, and are not afforded as many opportunities as White people to earn a sufficient income. The council denies their petition and the two brothers are jailed until they pay.
  • 1st Rhode Island Regiment Established: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment is established. This unit recruits Black soldiers as well as White soldiers to fight for the colonies, earning it the nickname the "Black Regiment."
  • Enslavement Abolished in Massachusetts: Enslavement is abolished in Massachusetts with the passing of the Constitution of 1780. Some enslaved people not freed after this legislation is passed sue their enslavers, including Mum Bett. In Bett v. Ashley, Bett challenges Colonel John Ashley for enslaving her. The court rules that Bett's enslavement is unconstitutional and grants her freedom.
  • Free African Union Society Founded: The first cultural organization established by Black people is founded in Rhode Island. It is called the Free African Union Society.
  • Pennsylvania Passes Gradual Emancipation Law: Pennsylvania adopts the gradual emancipation law called the Abolition Act. The law proclaims that all children born after November 1, 1780, will be freed on their 28th birthday but that all other enslaved people will remain enslaved.
  • Connecticut and Rhode Island Pass Gradual Emancipation Laws: Connecticut and Rhode Island follow Pennsylvania's suit, adopting gradual emancipation laws.
  • New York African Society Established: The New York African Society is established by freed Black people in New York City.
  • First Black Masonic Lodge Established:Prince Hall founds the first Black Masonic lodge in the United States. It is called the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons.
  • New York Emancipates Enslaved Veterans: New York frees all enslaved Black men who served in the Revolutionary War.
  • New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves Established: John Jay and Alexander Hamilton establish the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves. This society fights to prevent Black people from becoming enslaved but does little in support of ending enslavement completely. For example, Hamilton suggests that all members of the society themselves liberate the people they enslave but many refuse.
  • U.S. Constitution Drafted: The U.S. Constitution is drafted. It allows the trading of enslaved people to continue for the next 20 years. In addition, it proclaims that each enslaved person counts as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of determining the country's population for the House of Representatives. This agreement between those in favor and those against the practice of nslavement is part of a larger plan known as the Great Compromise.
  • African Free School Established: The African Free School is established in New York City. Men such as Henry Highland Garnett and Alexander Crummell are educated at the institution.
  • Free African Society Founded: Richard Allen and Absalom Jones found the Free African Society in Philadelphia.

Brown Fellowship Society Founded: The Brown Fellowship Society is established by freed Black people including Samuel Saltus, James Mitchell, George Bedon, and others in Charleston, South Carolina. This organization helps arrange for the burials of Black Americans in a designated cemetery. Membership is restricted to lighter-skinned Black men with few exceptions.

Banneker Chosen to Survey Federal District: Benjamin Banneker assists in surveying the federal district that will one day become the District of Columbia. He works with Major Andrew Ellicott.

Banneker's "Almanac" Published: Banneker publishes "Almanac" in Philadelphia. This text is the first book of science published by a Black American.

  • Fugitive Slave Act Passed: The first Fugitive Slave Act is established by U.S. Congress. This legislation makes it a criminal offense to help freedom-seeking enslaved people. Offering freedom seekers shelter and safety instead of capturing them and returning them to their enslavers now carries a $500 fine.
  • Cotton Gin Patented: The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, is patented in March. The cotton gin's manufacture boosts the economy and increases the demand for cotton. This leads to more enslaved people being forced to harvest cotton.
  • Mother Bethel AME Church Founded:Mother Bethel AME Church is founded by Richard Allen in Philadelphia. This is the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the country.
  • New York Passes Gradual Emancipation Law: New York also adopts a gradual emancipation law, abolishing enslavement entirely in 1827.

Bowdoin College Established: Bowdoin College is established in Maine. It becomes a major center of abolitionist activity, taking part in both Underground Railroad activity as well as hosting many civil rights activists over the years.

African Americans Vote in South Carolina - HISTORY

There was extraordinary fraud throughout South Carolina on election day. At one poll in Edgefield, armed Democratic horsemen surrounded the polling place. Allegedly their purpose was to prevent more than ten voters from approaching the poll at a given time, but the effect on blacks was obvious. At another Edgefield poll, armed men blocked access to the ballot box.

In other locations, election officers were intimidated. In Abbeville County, armed Democrats attacked several polls. In Greenville, an armed mob of Democrats tore down a fence built to control the crowds and rushed the ballot box. In Barnwell, Democrats fired on the polling place, driving off both voters and managers. The ballot box was then stolen.

An English observer reported the use of "gossamer" paper for ballot tickets. Several ballots were folded inside one ticket, which was shaken as it was placed in the ballot box. This forced loose the inner "tickets" so that a single voter might deposit a dozen or more votes. This may explain why some counties – such as Edgefield and Laurens – had more Democratic voters than total registered voters!

The Democrats also capitalized on the illiteracy of black voters. Thousands of tickets were printed with the heading "UNION REPUBLICAN TICKET" – but which listed only Democratic candidates. Laura Towne, the noted Penn Center teacher on St Helena Island, commented in her diary that more than a hundred such rigged ballots were confiscated at one poll alone.

When the initial count came in it appeared that Hampton had won the election by a very slim margin of 92,261 to 91,127 (a difference of only 1,134 votes). Then the county commissioners for Edgefield and Laurens reported fraud – in both counties the Democrats received more votes than there were voters. For several months South Carolina was in turmoil. Hampton was locked out of the State House while two different houses were seated – a Republican House in the State House and a Democratic House in nearby Carolina Hall. After much legal wrangling and even more threats of violence, United States military troops, which had initially been called in to maintain order, were removed. This ensured that Hampton would take office.

The Republican governor David H. Chamberlain wrote to the black and white Republicans of the state:

Thus, Wade Hampton was elected governor through intimidation and vote fraud.

Document Description:

The 1868 state constitution for South Carolina was revolutionary because it embodied many democratic principles absent from previous constitutions. The new document provided for population alone, rather than wealth or the combination of wealth and population, as the basis for House representation. It also continued popular election of the governor. Additionally, the 1868 constitution abolished debtors&rsquo prison, provided for public education, abolished property ownership as a qualification for office holding, granted some rights to women, and created counties.

The popularly elected governor was given a veto that required a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly to override. A two-thirds legislative vote was also required to issue any bonded debt. In 1873 an additional amendment required that two-thirds of the voters confirm an increase in the general obligation debt of the state.

The 1868 constitution&rsquos Article X provided for a uniform system of free public schools. Although not implemented until decades later, the constitution mandated that the schools should separate for at least six months each year and that all children had to attend school at least twenty-four months (four academic years) as soon as enough facilities were available. Provisions for the deaf and blind were also ordered. Schools were financed by a poll tax, and an 1878 amendment added a property tax to increase support for public education. Maintenance of the state university was made mandatory, and the creation of a normal school and an agricultural college was also required. The status of the newly freed African Americans was also solidified in the 1868 constitution. Race was abolished as a limit on male suffrage. Disfranchisement could be only for murder, robbery, and dueling. The Black Codes that had passed under the constitution of 1865 were overturned. There was no provision against interracial marriage, and public schools were open to all races.


Constitutional Convention (1868). Constitution of 1868. S 131081. State Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.


We, the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention &ndash assembled, Grateful to Almighty God for this opportunity, deliberately and peaceably of entering into a explicit and solemn compact with each other, and forming a new Constitution of civil Government for ourselves and posterity, recognizing the necessity of the protection of the people in all that pertains to their freedom, safety and tranquility, and imploring the direction of the Great Legislator of the Universe, do agree upon, - ordain and establish the following Declaration of the Rights and Form of Government as the - Constitution of the Commonwealth of South Carolina.

Section 1. All men are born free and equal &ndash endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are the rights of enjoying and &ndash defending their lives and liberties, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Section 2. Slavery shall never exist in this State neither shall- involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

Section 3. All political power is rested in and derived from the people only therefore they have the right, at all times, to modify their form of government in such manner as they may deem expedient, when the public good demands.

Section 4. Every citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina&rsquos role in these events.

Indicators 3-4.5 Summarize the effects of the Civil War on the daily lives of people of different classes in South Carolina, including the lack of food, clothing, and living essentials and the continuing racial tensions.

Indicators 3-4.7 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction in South Carolina, including the development of public education, racial advancements and tensions, and economic changes.

Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

Indicators 8-4.3 Summarize the events and the process that led to the ratification of South Carolina&rsquos constitution of 1868, including African American representation in the constitutional convention the major provisions of the constitution and the political and social changes that allowed African Americans, Northerners, &ldquocarpetbaggers,&rdquo and &ldquoscalawags&rdquo to play a part in South Carolina state government.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.4 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the southern states and the roles of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in that era.

Civil Rights Movement

South Carolina heralds the moderation of its leadership during the civil rights era, especially when compared to the actions of leaders in other Deep South states. Moderate leaders put accommodation over confrontation and worked within the legal framework. But these same leaders also did all they could to manipulate the government and the legal system to forestall civil rights.

During Reconstruction, South Carolina experimented briefly with interracial democracy. African American males voted and participated in government on the local, state, and federal level as officeholders and appointed officials. A new state constitution of 1868 expanded civil rights and women&rsquos rights, and instituted public education. Reconstruction in South Carolina lasted longer than in any other state, and South Carolina&rsquos black Republicans achieved as great a degree of political power as did African Americans elsewhere. These circumstances evaporated, however, following the overthrow of Republican rule in the state elections of 1876. With the reestablishment of conservative white rule, legislators spent the next several decades undermining the gains of Reconstruction. In education, they resegregated the University of South Carolina and drastically cut support for black schools. On the economic front, because so many white and black landless families became sharecroppers and tenants after the Civil War, Democrats repealed laws favorable to tenants and instituted lien laws to favor landowners and merchants. Politicians went beyond custom and wrote employment discrimination into South Carolina law. The textile industry, a major employment opportunity for the landless and the jobless in the postbellum South, developed as a whites-only labor enterprise.

The Democratic Party&rsquos white elite also worked to disfranchise black voters in South Carolina, beginning with the notorious Eight Box Law of 1882, which reduced the number of black voters from 58,000 in 1880 to less than 14,000 by 1888. In the 1890s Benjamin Ryan Tillman gained control of the Democratic Party, with a regime that was as racist and as committed to white supremacy as any in the South. Tillman forces avowed their intention to disfranchise African Americans by rewriting the state constitution, which they did in 1895. The following year the State Democratic Executive Committee prohibited all African Americans from voting in the primary, which was, in a one-party system, the only election that mattered. African Americans were effectively disfranchised for the next sixty-five years. As late as 1940 only 3,000 African Americans in South Carolina were registered to vote.

During the 1930s and 1940s African Americans such as the journalist John McCray, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader I. DeQuincey Newman, the activist Modjeska Simkins, and others encouraged sustained activism as a means of effecting racial change. Esau Jenkins, a black businessman from Charleston, with help from the NAACP activist and native Charlestonian Septima Clark, the Highlander Folk School founder Myles Horton (white), the beautician Bernice Robinson, and Guy and Candie Carawan (whites who moved to Johns Island) began citizenship schools in the late 1940s and early 1950s to help African Americans obtain the right to vote, learn about legal rights and strategies for civil disobedience, and fight white supremacy. These schools became an effective tool of the civil rights movement, encouraging thousands to take part in demonstrations.

In the 1940s both supporters and opponents of segregation stepped up their efforts to maintain or challenge the racial status quo in South Carolina. During World War II the state did not allow absentee ballots for those in the armed services because they wanted to exclude African American soldiers from voting. In 1944 the South Carolina legislature passed a resolution denouncing any &ldquoamalgamation&rdquo of the races. It further resolved an affirmation of &ldquoWhite Supremacy as now prevailing in the South&rdquo and pledged &ldquolives and our sacred honor to maintain it, whatever the cost, in War and Peace.&rdquo At the war&rsquos end, the brutal beating of the U.S. veteran Isaac Woodard in South Carolina spurred President Harry Truman toward civil rights and influenced Truman&rsquos 1948 order to end the segregation of all military facilities. This executive order had an extensive impact in South Carolina, with its numerous facilities.

In 1942 a small group of African American activists organized the South Carolina Negro Citizens Committee to raise money to challenge the white primary. When in 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the white primary, South Carolina led the way in devising other means to keep African Americans out of the Democratic primary. When the NAACP challenged the &ldquoprivate&rdquo primary in federal court, Judge J. Waties Waring of Charleston ruled that because the Democratic primary was the vehicle through which all public officials were chosen, it remained a state action and that excluding some citizens from primary elections violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Democratic Party then extended the literacy test required for general elections to the primary. Furthermore, they would allow qualified African Americans to vote only if they swore an oath: to support &ldquothe social, religious, and educational separation of the races.&rdquo In 1948, in Brown v. Baskin, Waring overturned that allowance and issued a court order that voting &ldquobe opened to all parties irrespective of race, color, creed or condition.&rdquo

By 1944 a statewide African American protest organization had been organized: the Progressive Democratic Party led by John McCray. This group unsuccessfully challenged the seating of South Carolina&rsquos all-white delegation at the 1944 Democratic National Convention it also sponsored Osceola McKaine as a candidate for the U.S. Senate against the Democrat Olin Johnston. The Progressive Democrats and the NAACP mounted a registration drive that increased the number of black voters on the rolls to 50,000 by 1946. Despite Ku Klux Klan marches and cross burnings, 35,000 black voters went to the polls in the 1948 primary, the same year that Governor Strom Thurmond headed the &ldquoDixiecrat&rdquo Party in protest of the civil rights plank of the Democratic Party. In 1950 African Americans provided the margin of victory for New Dealer Olin Johnston over Strom Thurmond for the Senate.

At this time Governor James F. Byrnes began to move the state toward a sophisticated, &ldquomoderate&rdquo approach in resisting racial integration. During his campaign for governor, he recommended gerrymandering school districts according to segregated residential patterns. To forestall integration, Byrnes used a significant portion of a new sales tax for the education of African American children, and white leaders throughout the state began equalizing the facilities of white and black schools in an attempt to maintain segregation. Byrnes went so far as to recommend that South Carolina eliminate from its constitution the provision for public schools, which it did. Byrnes also created the so-called segregation committee, chaired by state representative L. Marion Gressette. This special school committee coordinated efforts to maintain the racial status quo. The South Carolina legislature even passed a resolution that gave itself the right to nullify or overrule federal laws. This technique of bending a little to prevent larger changes gave the state another decade of segregation. By 1963 only Mississippi and South Carolina had not even token integration of schools.

Believing that education was a key to freedom, African Americans made separate and unequal education the foremost target of the civil rights movement in South Carolina. In the early 1940s the NAACP brought court cases to equalize teachers&rsquo salaries. Black South Carolinians&rsquo most dramatic and influential success against institutionalized white racism involved the Briggs v. Elliot case against the Summerton School District of Clarendon County. In his ruling on this case, Judge Waring was the first federal judge to render an opinion that segregation was unconstitutional when he dissented in favor of the African American plaintiffs. This case culminated in the Brown decision, which eventually outlawed segregated schools. The South Carolina parents who brought this suit, who wanted a decent education for their children, suffered mightily for their efforts, and their leader, the Reverend Joseph Alfred DeLaine, had to flee the state as a fugitive. In 1974, the year the exiled DeLaine passed away, the school district where he started that lawsuit had three thousand black children and one white child attending public schools. In response to integration, the state allowed students to attend schools in any district where the parents owned any amount of property. Most school districts did not integrate until 1971, and in some areas private segregation academies continued to attract white students into the twenty-first century.

South Carolina heralds the moderation of its leadership during the civil rights era, especially when compared to the actions of leaders in other Deep South states. Moderate leaders put accommodation over confrontation and worked within the legal framework. But these same leaders also did all they could to manipulate the government and the legal system to forestall civil rights. Just as the South Carolina attorney general&rsquos office had adamantly defended the principles of public school segregation before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, the South Carolina congressional delegation resolutely and unanimously opposed every civil rights bill proposed to Congress into the 1960s. Senator Thurmond mounted a record filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. South Carolina also led the challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act in South Carolina v. Katzenbach. In denying that challenge and affirming the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that South Carolina&rsquos history of white supremacy and racial discrimination at the ballot box justified the intrusive measures provided by the act.

South Carolina whites bitterly opposed federal court decisions on integration. As demands for justice grew in the African American community, white backlash inexorably followed. In 1957, in the Orangeburg County town of Wells, seventeen white men attacked a sixty-year-old black farmhand. The Holly Hill magistrate fined the leader of the white mob $50 for disorderly conduct and charged the farmhand with assault and battery for trying to defend himself. Freedom riders confronted their first problems in South Carolina. In 1961, when the freedom riders first headed south to test compliance with the Supreme Court&rsquos 1959 ruling on the integration of interstate transportation facilities, trouble occurred in Rock Hill. There, the seminarian John Lewis (later a congressman from Georgia) entered a &ldquowhite only&rdquo waiting room at the bus terminal, and white youths beat both Lewis and his white traveling companion.

In the 1950s African Americans formed another organization to promote civil rights in South Carolina, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). James McCain, the former head of the Black Teacher&rsquos Association in South Carolina, organized seven CORE groups throughout the state to work on voter registration. CORE later proved instrumental in the South Carolina sit-in movement. Despite the urging of CORE&rsquos national leadership that he enlist as many whites as possible, McCain found that joining an interracial civil rights organization, or even supporting a black voter registration drive, was unthinkable for most white Carolinians. CORE and the NAACP had some rivalry, but the two organizations eventually worked out a tacit division of the state.

At the same time that organizations were working in the educational and political arenas, the civil rights movement developed a third agenda: integration of day-to-day services. The student sit-in movement that began in Greensboro, North Carolina, moved next to South Carolina, where students sat-in at lunch counters in Rock Hill in February 1960. Students in South Carolina engaged in demonstrations for the next three years and went to jail throughout the state. Charleston retained segregated lunch counters as late as June 1963, refusing to change until after it suffered through turbulent rioting.

White Citizens&rsquo Councils, most active in those parts of the state where African Americans were the majority, tended to focus their animosity on the NAACP, the catalyst for most African American lawsuits in desegregation cases. Dedicated teachers such as Septima Clark lost their jobs and their retirement benefits when they would not forgo their NAACP membership. Other NAACP members and their relatives were also fired, and in some cases African American leaders had to flee the state to avoid violence and legal prosecution. In 1956 the General Assembly adopted laws making NAACP members ineligible for state employment, requiring investigation of NAACP activity at the traditionally black South Carolina State College, and revising the state&rsquos barratry laws for use against NAACP attorneys who fought for civil rights litigation. CORE organizer Frank Robinson was also a target, forced out of his real estate and home-building business when local banks cut off his credit because of his voter-registration activities.

Despite the insistence of some Carolinians on white supremacy, some progress occurred during the 1960s. In January 1963 Harvey Gantt peacefully desegregated Clemson University, and in the fall of that year African American students desegregated the University of South Carolina. By 1965 every public and many private colleges had admitted African American students. Under court order in August 1963, eleven African American children entered previously all-white schools in District 20 in the city of Charleston, the first school district in the state to desegregate. Through freedom-of-choice plans and other stalling mechanisms, it was not until 1971 that most public schools in the state integrated.

Nor was violence from angry whites entirely eliminated. In 1968 in Orangeburg, law enforcement officers shot thirty African American students, killing three. These students from Claflin College and South Carolina State College had been protesting a segregated bowling alley. Two year later, in Lamar, two hundred white men armed with ax handles, chains, and stones stormed three school buses transporting African American students to the high school.

South Carolina whites continued efforts to keep black registration down and sometimes did not count all the votes cast by African Americans. South Carolina had no elected black officials in 1965. Yet, thanks to earlier civil rights activity, thirty-seven percent of eligible African Americans that year were already registered to vote. The passage of two landmark federal laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the enforcement of the one- person, one-vote rule in redistricting dramatically changed the face of the civil rights movement in South Carolina. The Voting Rights Act eliminated literacy tests and allowed African Americans to register in record numbers. By 1967 black voter registration had climbed to fifty-one percent of the age-eligible population. These voters demanded more progressive leadership and politics. Almost immediately the white-supremacist rhetoric that had been a hallmark of the state&rsquos political leaders for more than a century was eliminated. By and large, South Carolina&rsquos white officials grudgingly conceded, as in the rest of the South, that the Voting Rights Act made it impossible to prevent African American citizens from registering and casting their ballots.

The increase in black voters should have delivered more influence in local politics and the election of black candidates, but this did not materialize because political power in South Carolina was not responsive to the local electorate. A system of legislative county government, which the Tillman forces had established for disfranchisement in the 1890s, had abolished county and township elections because conservative whites disliked the association between elected local governments and the African American citizenry. The power of legislative delegations over county government remained largely intact from 1895 until 1965, effectively eliminating the opportunity of African Americans to elect local officials of their choice, even in places where they were an overwhelming majority of the population. In December 1965 a federal court ordered the S.C. Senate to redistrict according to the one-person, one-vote principle. Although conservative white legislators attempted to devise redistricting plans to minimize the chances of electing African American legislators, the Voting Rights Act brought enormous change to South Carolina politics. In 1970 James L. Felder and I. S. Leevy Johnson of Columbia and Herbert U. Fielding of Charleston became the first African Americans elected to the General Assembly since the turn of the century. Between 1974 and 1989 there was an increase in the proportion of African Americans elected to county councils, city councils, and school boards. Most of this increase resulted from the change from at-large to single-member district plans brought about by litigation under the Voting Rights Act. As the civil rights movement shifted from protest to politics and litigation, the major changes in civil rights with an enfranchised black electorate have occurred in the legislatures and in the courtroom&ndashnot as dramatic as protests and demonstrations, but just as significant.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the protest movement attempted to tackle economic issues. Only enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 integrated the cotton mills, although most mill villages remained residentially segregated. In 1969 African American hospital workers in Charleston, mostly women, went on strike for one hundred days. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Ralph Abernathy supported the strike, and the workers won some concessions. The national news media compared the Charleston strike to the sanitation strike in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed the year before.

South Carolina at the start of the twenty-first century was not the South Carolina of turn-of-the-century Jim Crowism or of the civil rights activities of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Legal barriers that minimized African American participation are disappearing, and many younger blacks and whites do not remember blatant segregation. Because of enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans today freely register to vote. The NAACP worked successfully to create a &ldquoblack&rdquo congressional district, and in 1992 South Carolinians elected an African American, James Clyburn, to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives. These gains, however, have come from enforcement of federal laws, not from white leadership within the state. The civil rights movement in South Carolina and the nation also inspired other groups to demand their rights, including people with disabilities, women, and gays and lesbians.

Bass, Jack, and Walter DeVries. The Transformation of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequence since 1945. 1976. Reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Burton, Orville Vernon. &ldquo&lsquoThe Black Squint of the Law&rsquo: Racism in South Carolina.&rdquo In The Meaning of South Carolina History: Essays in Honor of George C. Rogers, Jr., edited by David R. Chesnutt and Clyde N. Wilson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

&ndash&ndash&ndash. &ldquoSouth Carolina.&rdquo In The Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965&ndash1990, edited by Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Newby, I. A. Black Carolinians: A History of Blacks in South Carolina from 1895 to 1968. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973. Quint, Howard H. Profile in Black and White: A Frank Portrait of South

Carolina. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs, 1958. Sproat, John G. &ldquo&lsquoFirm Flexibility&rsquo: Perspectives on Desegregation in South

Carolina.&rdquo In New Perspectives on Race and Slavery in America: Essays in Honor of Kenneth M. Stampp, edited by Robert H. Abzug and Stephen E. Maizlish. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

The Rise of Voter Suppression in South Carolina, 1865–1896

The right to vote, which is enshrined in the United States Constitution, affords citizens the opportunity to express their political views. In post-Civil War South Carolina, however, White conservatives regarded suffrage as a privilege that the state’s formerly-enslaved Black majority did not deserve. The destructive war was followed by a fierce political battle in which conservative and progressive forces wrestled over the fundamental right of suffrage. At the end of this violent and bigoted struggle, the Palmetto State adopted legal barriers that effectively suppressed the political voice of its Black citizens for generations to come.

Voting in twenty-first century South Carolina is a relatively easy and painless activity that we often take for granted. Voter registration, for example, is simple and remains valid for a lifetime unless you change your address or your name. Our polling places are safe spaces devoid of partisan influence. Neutral poll volunteers answer questions politely and guide voters through the process. Electoral candidates are identified clearly on printed or electronic ballots, and we enjoy a moment of physical privacy when we cast our votes. These amenities are common-place today, but that hasn’t always been the case.

The ease of modern voting is the result of more than a century of sustained efforts to eradicate traditions of systemic discrimination and secure free and equitable elections for all Americans. In this national struggle for voting rights, South Carolina was one of the most stubborn offenders. Between 1865 and 1965, conservative White South Carolinians pursued a number of practices and policies to prevent and discourage citizens of African descent from exercising their constitutional right to participate in the political system. To help promote a better understanding of this important legacy, I’m going to divide the long narrative of voter suppression in South Carolina into two contrasting chapters. This week I’ll focus on its rise in the late nineteenth century, and next week I’ll describe its decline in the mid-twentieth century.

Let me be the first to point out that my summary of this very complex story omits thousands of interesting details and compresses a lot of nuanced interpretation. My goal is to provide a useful overview of a long narrative with emphasis on what I believe are the most salient points related to voter suppression. Scores of other writers have examined the events and characters in question with much greater depth that I can here. At the end of this essay, you’ll find a list of sources and titles recommended to anyone who wants to delve deeper into this topic.

While traditions of racial discrimination in South Carolina date back to the founding of the colony in 1670, the history of systematic voter suppression in the Palmetto State commenced shortly after the advent of Black suffrage two centuries later, in the 1860s. Having recently lost a war to preserve the institution of slavery, the conservative White South Carolinians who held elected office in 1865 created new laws to limit the rights and freedom of formerly-enslaved people whom they regarded as non-citizens. The adoption of this so-called “Black Code,” combined with the state legislature’s refusal to ratify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, inaugurated a Federal backlash that became known as Congressional or “Radical” Reconstruction. Between 1867 and 1876, the United States Congress and the U.S. Army applied political pressure to force White South Carolinians to acknowledge the civil rights of the state’s Black majority. This brief and ultimately unsuccessful campaign represented the first era of “Civil Rights” activity in the United States.

Protected by strong federal oversight and the presence of the U.S. Army, thousands of Black South Carolinians registered to vote for the first time in 1867 and instantly formed a numerical majority of the state’s electorate (see Episode No. 172). They affiliated themselves with the liberal Republican Party, in contrast the majority of White South Carolinians who identified with the conservative Democratic Party. Black Republicans, joined by a smaller number of White allies, formed a constitutional convention in early 1868 that crafted a new and very progressive charter for the reconstructed state (see Episode No. 55).

It may surprise some to learn that the South Carolina Constitution of 1868, which was drafted by a Black majority, required every “taxable poll” in the state to pay an annual “poll tax.” “Poll” in this sense meant “head, as in the “capitation” tax levied on poor South Carolinians since 1756.[1] The poll tax was originally a sort of minimum tax to be paid by all citizens, Black and White, to ensure that people who did not own property contributed in some small measure to the public treasury. The state Constitution of 1868 continued this taxing tradition to fund a new system of public schools, but specified “that no person shall ever be deprived of the right of suffrage for the non-payment of said [poll] tax.”[2]

Not everyone appreciated such radical changes to the state’s political traditions in 1868, of course. Across South Carolina, members of the conservative White minority expressed contempt for the new political machinery that empowered the formerly-enslaved Black majority. The combined force of the Federal Reconstruction Act of 1867, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which confirmed citizenship and guaranteed equal protection under the law), and the state Constitution of 1868 upended two centuries of White supremacy and Black subservience in South Carolina. As voters elected more and more Black Republicans to a variety of local, state, and federal offices, White conservative Democrats grew increasingly frustrated and angry. Their desire to re-establish traditions of White supremacy attracted few Black voters as long as Democrats adhered to the rules of law and order. Their solution for regaining political power, therefore, was to circumvent the legitimate political process and to step outside the bounds of civil discourse.

Between 1868 and 1876, the people of South Carolina and other Southern states witnessed a proliferation of illegal activities designed to undermine the political influence of the progressive Republican Party. Under the guise of restoring law and order (in terms defined by a belief in White supremacy), conservative Democrats used fraud, intimidation, violence, and even murder to influence or suppress the votes of their political rivals. Their methods were improvised and sporadic at first, like those of the infamous Ku Klux Klan, but became increasingly organized and efficient throughout the 1870s. At the same time, federal pressure on South Carolina and other Southern States declined after the general election of November 1874, when White Democrats won control of the United States Congress and most of the state legislatures. The Republican civil rights agenda manifest in Congressional Reconstruction rapidly deflated in 1875.

The efforts of White Democrats to regain political supremacy in South Carolina surged forward in 1876 with a two-pronged approach. The most racially-inflamed extremists advocated and pursued a bloody campaign of terror and physical intimidation. Across the state, White paramilitary “rifle clubs” paraded and mobilized to intimidate Black citizens, and legions of armed vigilantes called Red Shirts harassed and murdered both Black civilians and elected officials. South Carolinians witnessed the brutal determination of White conservatives in the Hamburg Massacre that July, the Ellenton Riot of September, and the Cainhoy Riot in October. At the same time, moderate White conservatives expressed their willingness to accept limited African-American participation in local politics, as long as Black voters respected and supported White Democratic leaders and remained in subordinate positions.

If the advent of Black suffrage and civil rights in 1867 represented a revolution in the history of South Carolina, the violent political campaign of 1876 amounted to a full-blown counter-revolution. Conservative White voters represented a minority of the state’s population and its eligible voters, but they succeeded in regaining control of the state’s political landscape in the November general election through the widespread use of violence and fraud. Flushed with success, the state’s Democratic leaders negotiated with Federal officials in early 1877 to withdraw the U.S. military from South Carolina. The twelve-year effort to reconstruct the state’s racist political traditions ended in quiet failure that year, and the future of Black suffrage in the Palmetto State grew dim.[3]

Shortly after the conservative minority gained control of the South Carolina legislature in 1877, the predominately-White lawmakers began considering less violent ways of maintaining their political supremacy. Their goal was to disenfranchise the state’s Black majority, but the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ratified in 1870) specifically prohibited the creation of any voting restrictions based on race or former condition. Although the Federal Constitution explicitly confirmed the right of formerly-enslaved men to vote, it also allowed each state to regulate its own elections. That legal loophole inspired South Carolina’s White conservatives to invent new methods of legally-sanctioned discrimination.

Before investigating the tactics of post-Reconstruction voter suppression, it’s important to remember that there was no such thing as a “secret ballot” in South Carolina at this time. Casting one’s ballot at a polling station was then a very public act observed by anyone and everyone standing nearby. There was no standardization of printed ballots until the twentieth century, and no voter privacy in the Palmetto State until 1950. The use of separate ballot boxes for different political parties and ballots of different colors for each party were methods designed to allow poll managers and interested bystanders to see how each man voted. Under such conditions, observers could and often did challenge minority voters and chastise their political choice. In short, the physical act of voting in the late nineteenth century could be, and often was, an invitation to humiliation, intimidation, and coercion.

In the spring of 1878, the state General Assembly ratified two laws designed to suppress Black voting. The first statute re-defined the state’s voting precincts in such a manner as to require most rural Black voters to travel long distances into White neighborhoods to vote. White legislators hoped this requirement would discourage Black citizens from making the effort to vote and facilitate the intimidation of those who did. The second law created a system of dual ballot boxes to be used at general elections—one for local and state candidates and another for federal candidates. Any ballots placed in the wrong box were automatically voided, making it imperative for voters to have the ability to read the labels on the ballot boxes. This two-box system empowered poll managers to influence the course of the election: they might choose to assist illiterate White voters or to harass and mislead illiterate Black voters at their discretion.[4]

The two-box balloting system of 1878 proved moderately effective in dampening Black suffrage, but it also provided illiterate voters with a fifty-percent chance of casting their ballot successfully. To improve their discriminatory efforts, the predominantly-White legislature overhauled the state’s election laws in February 1882. At every polling place across the state, citizens would henceforth be admitted into a room or enclosed space, one voter at a time, where he would find eight separate ballot boxes representing different local, state, and federal offices. Like the earlier two-box law, the eight-box system of 1882 was designed to frustrate illiterate voters and void all ballots placed in inappropriate boxes. As before, however, poll managers were empowered to read aloud the labels printed on each box, but only if a voter asked for help, and only if the manager felt inclined to assist him. In such circumstances, hostile White poll managers often succeeded in discouraging Black citizens from voting.[5]

All of the aforementioned tactics amounted to legally-sanctioned but patently unjust forms of voter suppression. They were enforced across South Carolina, but were most effective in areas where the White population was roughly equal to or greater than the Black population. In areas of the state with a Black majority, especially in the Lowcountry, the progressive Republican party maintained a feeble presence for several more years. The election laws of 1878 and 1882, enacted through legitimate means, enabled South Carolina’s conservative White minority to maintain and expand the political supremacy it had gained through the use of violence in 1876.

As fewer Black men succeeded in voting in the Palmetto State, the strength of the liberal Republican Party withered as White Democrats dominated the general elections of the 1880s. Over the course of that decade, South Carolina evolved into a one-party state in which political opposition was effectively silenced. In this environment, Democratic victory at November general elections became a foregone conclusion. To further solidify their control over the state’s political machinery, White conservatives shifted their focus from the general elections to the party primary elections held several months earlier.

In post-Civil War South Carolina, there was no state regulation of the political party conventions or primaries at which candidates were selected, so each county did as it pleased. The Democratic Party was an almost-exclusively White organization active across the state, but inconsistencies in the nominating process occasionally allowed rogue Black voters to register. Most counties had adopted some variety of primary election by 1887, and that year Democratic party leaders pushed for state-wide primary rules. One year later, in December 1888, the South Carolina General Assembly ratified “An Act to Protect Primary Elections and Conventions of Political Parties and to Punish Frauds Committee Thereat.” This landmark law prescribed only a general outline for the conduct of such elections, however, and allowed any political party active in the state to regulate the details of its own primaries.[6]

The purpose of the regulatory freedom in the 1888 primary law was to allow political parties to determine their own membership and thereby exclude Black voters from primary elections. From 1889 onward in South Carolina, therefore, the conservative Democratic party was able to prevent Black men from joining the Democratic Party or standing as Democratic candidates. Combined with the success of the eight-box ballot system and traditional methods of voter intimidation at general elections, the state Democratic Party succeeded in creating a one-party political system focused on the outcome of the primary elections. The White men who secured majority votes at the summer Democratic primary were guaranteed to win at the November general election. To borrow a phrase from civil rights lawyers of the mid-twentieth-century, victory at a South Carolina Democratic primary was “tantamount to election.”

The South Carolina gubernatorial contest of 1890 witnessed the election of Ben Tillman and a fierce brand of conservative White populism. Tillman’s rise to the executive office exploited factional divisions in the state Democratic Party, and his pathological hatred of South Carolina’s Black majority won the support of most of the state’s poor White laborers. Under Governor Tillman’s administration, White political sentiments shifted from the manipulation and control of Black voters to their complete disenfranchisement by legal means. By 1894, he had sufficient support to call for a constitutional convention to replace the 1868 constitution created by a majority of Black men. The new South Carolina Constitution, which was ratified by its own authors in December 1895, established a firm foundation of White political supremacy that endured for nearly seventy years.

The state Constitution of 1895 outlined several prerequisites for voting that were specifically designed to suppress the participation of citizens of African descent. Registration officers, appointed by the state, were empowered to require voters to demonstrate the ability to read and write the English language. To raise the bar even higher, the constitution required prospective voters to read, write, and/or explain sections of the state Constitution on demand. This requirement could be waived, however, if the voter owned property valued at $300 or more (a substantial sum at the time). The constitution continued the traditional annual poll tax of $1 to be used for educational purposes, but now required voters to show a receipt for having paid all taxes, including the poll tax, as a prerequisite to voting. By mandating segregated schools for White and Black children, the South Carolina Constitution of 1895 also institutionalized the legal fiction of “separate but equal” across the state.[7]

In March 1896, just a few months after the adoption of the new constitution, the South Carolina General Assembly ratified two statutes designed to perpetuate discriminatory election practices. The first law, relating to general elections, established a modified version of the eight-box law of 1882. Voters wishing to cast ballots for local, state, and federal offices were required to navigate alone through a room filled with multiple marked boxes and deposit their ballots in the correct slots without assistance. Ballots placed in the wrong box would not be counted. The second law of 1896 confirmed and extended the protection of primary elections. To ensure that Black voters or any political rivals could not interfere with the primaries, the new law empowered every political candidate to appoint poll watchers to protect his interests at any and every precinct.[8]

The techniques of legal disenfranchisement enshrined in the state Constitution of 1895 cemented the power of conservative White Democrats over the Palmetto State. The liberal Republican Party, supported by the state’s Black majority and a handful of White voters, was still free to hold its own primaries and endorse candidates to stand at general elections, but the state’s literacy requirement, poll tax, and legally-established policies of voter intimidation blunted the impact of any political dissent. If, by some chance, a Black South Carolinian managed to register to vote in a Democratic primary, he would meet a phalanx of White party operatives ready to deny his suffrage. Such blatant exclusion was perfectly legal because state law viewed the Democratic party as a private club that was empowered to determine its own membership and rule its own behavior. Federal authorities in Washington might have denounced such laws as unconstitutional, but the pendulum of national politics had swung to the right by the mid-1890s. As the infamous Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson demonstrated in 1896, the majority of the nation chose to ignore the perpetuation of systemic discrimination in the former Confederate states.

In the three decades following the American Civil War, South Carolinians fought an internal battle between the creation of a new, equitable society and the perpetuation of the discriminatory status quo antebellum. At the heart of this struggle was the right to suffrage—the right to have a voice in the political system of self-government. Without suffrage, people lack representation, and people who lack representation become marginalized. Their needs, their concerns, and their dreams are largely ignored. The result of South Carolina’s postwar struggle over the right to suffrage was the creation of a deeply segregated, highly unjust society, in which conservative White lawmakers ruled as the self-appointed, paternalistic caretakers of the state’s impoverished and disenfranchised Black majority.

Historians describe this phenomenon as the era of “Jim Crow” politics, in which most White Southerners viewed Americans of African descent as ignorant, lazy, dependent caricatures rather than as fellow citizens. That prejudicial stereotype was wildly inaccurate, of course, but the painful and ultimately unsuccessful postwar campaign for civil rights taught many Black Southerners to keep their heads down and mind their place in a hostile society. At the end of the nineteenth century, many Black South Carolinians viewed voting as a highly dangerous and futile activity. The barriers and risks associated with voting were simply too high by 1896, and the number of registered Black voters across the state steadily declined.

As I observed at the beginning of this program, voting in twenty-first century South Carolina is now a relatively simple and safe activity. So, what changed to improve this important aspect of civil life? Today we often look back with pride and thank the brave activists of the 1950s and 1960s, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. John Lewis, Septima Clark, and many others who campaigned to secure full and equal civil rights for Americans of African descent. As remarkable and praiseworthy as that movement was, however, it wasn’t solely responsible for destroying Jim Crow. The first cracks appeared decades earlier.

The beginning of the second great American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s was preceded by an important series of subtle legal changes that gradually eroded the traditions of voter suppression in South Carolina and other Southern states. In the years leading up to the success of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, evolving national attitudes forced South Carolina lawmakers to reassess their commitment to White political supremacy and racial segregation. As a result of their unrepentant self-reflection, barriers to Black voting quietly disappeared. Next week, we'll explore the obscure twentieth-century milestones that marked the decline of disenfranchisement and presaged the success of the civil rights movement in the Palmetto State.

Selected Titles For Further Reading:

Bartlett, Bruce R. Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Drago, Edmund L. Hurrah for Hampton!: Black Red Shirts in South Carolina during Reconstruction. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.

Dudden, Faye E. Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Gillette, William. Retreat from Reconstruction, 1869–1879. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Goldman, Robert M. Reconstruction & Black Suffrage: Losing the Vote in Reese & Cruikshank. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.

Hennessey, Melinda Meeks. “Racial Violence during Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 86 (April 1985): 100–112.

Jenkins, Wilbert L. Seizing the New Day: African Americans in Post-Civil War Charleston. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Kantrowitz, Stephen, “One Man’s Mob is Another Man’s Militia: Violence, Manhood, and Authority in Reconstruction South Carolina.” In Jane Dailey, et al., eds. Jumpin’ Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000, 67–87.

Kantrowitz, Stephen David, Ben Tillman & the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Poole, W. Scott. “Religion, Gender, and the Lost Cause in South Carolina’s 1876 Governor’s Race: ‘Hampton or Hell!’” Journal of Southern History 68 (August 2002): 573–98.

Powers, Bernard E. Jr. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822–1885. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Powers, Bernard E. Jr. “Community Evolution and Race Relations in Reconstruction Charleston, South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 95 (January 1994): 27–46.

Rubin, Hyman III. South Carolina Scalawags. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.

Smith, Mark M. “ ‘All is Not Quiet in Our Hellish County’: Facts, Fiction, Politics, and Race: The Ellenton Riot of 1876.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 95 (April 1994): 142–55.

Tindall, George B. “The Campaign for the Disfranchisement of Negroes in South Carolina.” Journal of Southern History 15 (May 1949): 212–34.

Wallace, D. D. “The South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1895.” The Sewanee Review 4 (May 1896): 348–360.

Zuczek, Richard. State of Rebellion: Reconstruction in South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.

[1] The historical background of the annual “capitation tax” on free people of color in early South Carolina is described in Judith Brimelow and Michael E. Stevens, State Free Negro Capitation Tax Books, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1811–1860: An Introduction to Accompany South Carolina Archives Microcopy No. 11 (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1983).

[2] See the South Carolina Constitution of 1868, Article IX, Section 2, and Article X, Section 5.

[3] There are many good book and articles about Reconstruction-era political violence in South Carolina. The reading list above includes several titles that I used to construct the foregoing summary.

[4] See “An Act to Amend an Act Entitled ‘An Act to Establish by Law the Voting Precincts in the Various Counties in This State,’” and “An Act to Alter and Amend the Law in Relation to Elections,” created two boxes for Federal and State and Local offices,” both ratified on 22 March 1878, in Acts and Joint Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, Passed at the Regular Session of 1877–78 (Columbia, S.C.: Calvo & Patton, 1878), 565–70, 632–33 George B. Tindall, “The Campaign for the Disfranchisement of Negroes in South Carolina,” Journal of Southern History 15 (May 1949): 213–14.

[5] See Sections 28 and 29 of “An Act to Amend Title II. (Entitled) ‘Of Elections’ of Part I. (Entitled) ‘Of the Internal Administration of the Government’ of the General Statutes,” in Acts and Joint Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, Passed at the Regular Session of 1881–2 (Columbia, S.C.: James Woodrow, 1882), 1110–26.

[6] Charleston News and Courier, 26 October 1888, page 4, “Guard the Primaries’ “An Act to Protect Primary Elections and Conventions of Political Parties and to Punish Frauds Committed Thereat,” ratified on 22 December 1888, in Acts and Joint Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina, Passed at the Regular Session of 1888 (Columbia, S.C.: James H. Woodrow, 1889), 10–12.

[7] See the text of the 1895 Constitution, Article 2 (“Right of Suffrage”), Sections 4, 6, 10 Article XI (Education), Sections 7, 8.

Africa or America

Is African Colonization The Answer?

Born free in Massachusetts before the Revolutionary War, Paul Cuffe (sometimes spelled Cuffee) became an entrepreneur who saw opportunities in shipping. He thought that Africans and African Americans would be able to enjoy profits if they worked together to establish a shipping network of their own. During an 1811&ndash12 visit to Sierra Leone, he formed the Friendly Society for the purpose of encouraging emigration of free people of color from the United States. He dictated this pamphlet after that visit. Unable to interest anyone in financing his colonization scheme, Cuffe determined to finance it himself, but the U.S., then at war with England, imposed a boycott on trade with British Colonies including Sierra Leone. Finally, in 1815, at a personal expenditure of $4,000, Cuffee took nine free black families to settle in Sierra Leone.

Paul Cuffee. A Brief Account of the Settlement and Present Situation of the Colony of Sierra Leone in Africa. New York: Samuel Wood, 1812. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (2-7)

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American Colonization Society Settlements in Liberia

The American Colonization Society was established in 1817 to encourage and assist free African Americans, and later emancipated slaves, to settle in Africa. In 1822, the Society established a settlement in West Africa that would become the independent nation of Liberia in 1847. The name Liberia is derived from a Latin phrase meaning free land, with the country's capital, Monrovia, named in honor of U. S. President James Monroe.

This map from the Library of Congress's American Colonization Society collection depicts the northwestern part of Montserrado County. The area was mapped in ten-mile squares oriented to the coast line, giving the map its unique shape. Place names such as New Georgia, New York, Harrisburg, Virginia, and Louisiana show the influence of American life.

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African American Convention Movement

Outraged by the Fugitive Slave Act, African American leaders became more impatient with the lack of improvement in political and social conditions for their race. The national convention movement among free persons of color provided an independent arena where their interests could be defined and strategies developed for their improvement. This pamphlet of convention proceedings addressed the &ldquoconflict now going on in our land between liberty and equality on the one hand and slavery and caste on the other.&rdquo

This copy of the Proceedings belonged to women's rights leader Susan B. Anthony, who was a friend and neighbor of the articulate runaway slave, Frederick Douglass. Both lived in Rochester, New York.

Proceedings of the Colored National Convention Held in Rochester July 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1853. Rochester: Frederick Douglass, 1853. Susan B. Anthony Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (2&ndash17)

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David Ruggles, Outspoken Advocate for Freedom

David Ruggles, a free black abolitionist leader, was born in 1819. He was best known for his work with the underground railroad and the New York Vigilance Committee, organized to protect fugitive slaves and prevent kidnapping of free blacks to sell them into slavery. He worked as a bookseller, publisher, and as an activist in the African American convention movement.

During the 1830s Ruggles published numerous pamphlets and newspaper articles persuasively arguing against slavery and colonization. Here he refutes charges made by David Reese and others against the American Anti-slavery Society, particularly that the society encouraged interracial marriage. Slavery, Ruggles argued, was the chief cause of the amalgamation of the races.

David Ruggles. The "Extinguisher" Extinguished or David M. Reese, M.D., "Used Up." New York: D. Ruggles, 1834. Markoe Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (2&ndash16)

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Most black men in the United States did not gain the right to vote until after the American Civil War. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified to prohibit states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude."

"Black suffrage" in the United States in the aftermath of the American Civil War explicitly referred to the voting rights of only black men. Black women still had many hurdles to face before obtaining this right.

The passage of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified by the United States Congress on August 18 and certified as law on August 26, 1920 technically granted women the right to vote. However, the 19th Amendment did not initially extend to most women of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American and American indian heritage because of widespread voter suppression enacted against women of color. It was only after the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on August 6, 1965, that black women could vote.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 restricted the right of Aboriginal Australians to vote in Australian federal elections. This Act was changed in 1962, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended. [1] However, Aboriginal men and women only achieved full and equal voting rights in 1967.

African Americans and the Civil War

The 1860 presidential election was chaotic. In April, the Democratic Party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, the bastion of secessionist thought in the South. The goal was to nominate a candidate for the party ticket, but the party was deeply divided. Northern Democrats pulled for Senator Stephen Douglas, a pro–slavery moderate championing popular sovereignty, while Southern Democrats were intent on endorsing someone other than Douglas. The parties leaders’ refusal to include a pro–slavery platform resulted in Southern delegates walking out of the convention, preventing Douglas from gaining the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. The Democrats ended up with two presidential candidates. A subsequent convention in Baltimore nominated Douglas, while southerners nominated the current Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their presidential candidate. The nation’s oldest party had split over differences in policy toward slavery.

Initially, the Republicans were hardly unified around a single candidate themselves. Several leading Republican men vied for their party’s nomination. A consensus emerged at the May 1860 convention that the party’s nominee would need to carry all the free states—for only in that situation could a Republican nominee potentially win. New York Senator William Seward, a leading contender, was passed over. Seward’s pro–immigrant position posed a potential obstacle, particularly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, as a relatively unknown but likable politician, rose from a pool of potential candidates and was selected by the delegates on the third ballot. The electoral landscape was further complicated through the emergence of a fourth candidate, Tennessee’s John Bell, heading the Constitutional Union Party. The Constitutional Unionists, comprised of former Whigs who teamed up with some southern Democrats, made it their mission to avoid the specter of secession while doing little else to address the issues tearing the country apart.

A photograph taken in May/June 1864Figure 9-1: African Americans collecting bones by John Reekie is in the Public Domain .

Abraham Lincoln’s nomination proved a great windfall for the Republican Party. Lincoln carried all free states with the exception of New Jersey (which he split with Douglas). 81.2% of the voting electorate came out to vote—at that point the highest ever for a presidential election. Lincoln received fewer than 40% of the popular vote, but with the field so split, that percentage yielded 180 electoral votes. Lincoln was trailed by Breckinridge with his 72 electoral votes, carrying 11 of the 15 slave states, Bell came in third with 39 electoral votes, and Douglas came in last, only able to garner twelve electoral votes despite carrying almost 30% of the popular vote. Since the Republican platform prohibited the expansion of slavery in future western states, all future Confederate states, with the exception of Virginia, excluded Lincoln’s name from their ballots.

The election of Lincoln and the perceived threat to the institution of slavery proved too much for the deep Southern states. South Carolina acted almost immediately, calling a convention to declare secession. On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina convention voted unanimously 169–0 to dissolve their Union with the United States. The other states across the Deep South quickly followed suit. Mississippi adopted their own resolution on January 9, 1861, Florida followed on January 10, Alabama January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. Texas was the only state to put the issue up for a popular vote, but secession was widely popular throughout the South.

Confederates quickly shed their American identity and adopted a new Confederate nationalism. Confederate nationalism was based on several ideals, foremost among these being slavery. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens stated, the Confederacy’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery… is his natural and normal condition.”

The election of Lincoln in 1860 demonstrated that the South was politically overwhelmed. Slavery was omnipresent in the pre-war South, and it served as the most common frame of reference for unequal power. To a Southern man, there was no fate more terrifying than the thought of being reduced to the level of a slave. Religion likewise shaped Confederate nationalism, as southerners believed that the Confederacy was fulfilling God’s will. The Confederacy even veered from the American constitution by explicitly invoking Christianity in their founding document. Yet in every case, all rationale for secession could be thoroughly tied to slavery. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world”, proclaimed the Mississippi statement of secession. Thus for the original seven Confederate states (and those who would subsequently join), slavery’s existence was the essential core of the fledging Confederacy.

A five dollar and a one-hundred-dollar Confederate States of America interest bearing banknote, c. 1861 and 1862. The emblems of nationalism on this currency reveal much about the ideology underpinning the Confederacy: George Washington standing stately in a Roman toga indicates the belief in the South’s honorable and aristocratic past John C. Calhoun’s portrait emphasizes the Confederate argument of the importance of states’ rights and, most importantly, the image of African Americans working in fields demonstrates slavery’s position as foundational to the Confederacy. (2) Figure 9–2: Confederate 5 and 100 Dollar by Confederate States of America is in the Public Domain .

Not all southerners participated in Confederate nationalism. Unionist southerners, most common in the upcountry where slavery was weakest, retained their loyalty to the Union. These southerners joined the Union army and worked to defeat the Confederacy. Black southerners, most of whom were slaves, overwhelmingly supported the Union, often running away from plantations and forcing the Union army to reckon with slavery.

The seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4th to organize a new nation. The delegates selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama (it would move to Richmond in May). Whether other states of the Upper South would join the Confederacy remained uncertain. By the early spring of 1861, North Carolina and Tennessee had not held secession conventions, while voters in Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas initially voted down secession. Despite this temporary boost to the Union, it became abundantly clear that these acts of loyalty in the Upper South were highly conditional and relied on a clear lack of intervention on the part of the Federal government. This was the precarious political situation facing Abraham Lincoln following his inauguration on March 4, 1861. (2)