Saturday, May 25, 2024

SC manual labels former black speakers as ‘Negro’…

May 30, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( COLUMBIA, S.C. — The official manual of South Carolina’s Legislature continues to label some of the state’s former politicians as “Negro” or “scalawag” — apparent remnants of disgruntlement over Reconstruction that nobody has bothered to change.

A spokesman for the state’s lieutenant governor, who is eyeing a run for the top office, has sent a letter asking for an update. But civil rights leaders don’t seem too bothered by the listings, which even led to portraits of the state’s two black speakers being hung in the house chamber.

The lists of former governors, lieutenant governors and speakers included in the nearly 700-page manual are taken from historical documents maintained by the state, said House Clerk Charles Reid, who is in charge of compiling the book.

The reason why “Negro” and “scalawag” are included — when the first woman to be lieutenant governor or a recent officeholder convicted of a felony isn’t noted — is lost to history.

Historians have long noted the people who took power after Reconstruction took great steps to discredit those who ran South Carolina immediately after the South lost the Civil War. For example, the term “scalawag” was used to refer to white Southerners who supported the federal government’s actions in the region.

It’s a historical document. We didn’t create it. It’s just there,” Reid said. “I don’t want to impose my judgment on something that is a historical record.”

Staffers in Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s office said they first became aware of the racial notation when they were contacted by a reporter from the Aiken Standard. Spokesman Frank Adams sent a letter to Reid saying the office “felt that racial designations were irrelevant” and should be deleted from future editions.

Bauer wouldn’t elaborate Friday and said the letter speaks for itself.

The leader of the state NAACP said the listings shed light on the people who made the entries and the people who keep them there, but said the organization has more important issues to deal with, like disparities in education.

It’s a not a reflection on the people who served. I’m not going to waste any time on it,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rep. Leon Howard, the past chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus, said he would take the issue up with the caucus the next time they met.

I hope it’s there for historical purposes,” the Columbia Democrat said. “I don’t think anyone would purposely demean African Americans openly like that.”

The lists served the state well about 10 years ago when a black lawmaker found out there had been two black House speakers, Reid said.

Nobody knew who they were. We actually went to that list, and because that list listed ‘Negro’ we were able to discover who these two African-American speakers were and have portraits made of them and hung in the House chamber,” said Reid who added whether to leave the terms in the book is always up for debate.

The lieutenant governors and speakers with “Negro” beside them are the only blacks to ever hold those offices in the state. Reconstruction was by far the peak of black officeholders in South Carolina, where at one point more than 60 percent of the Legislature was made up of black lawmakers.

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