This is particularly for those of you who are following the up-coming South Carolina primaries. This excerpt from "Yankee Reconstructed" comes from Chapter 16. In it Jonathan Grenville has just returned home from hearing the reading of the newly adopted South Carolina state constitution on April 18, 1868. He is describing the major provisions to his wife, Susan:
"The new constitution completely supports the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It establishes three branches of government for both the state and local political organizations. It provides universal male suffrage — and don’t wrinkle your nose at me. You know how big a concession that is. It’s much more important to give blacks the vote than to let women have their say right now.”
“So say you from your side of the house!”
“I won’t argue that point with you. I’m much too excited by the rest of the provisions — equality regardless of race, both in matters of privilege and of punishments, welfare for the poor and disabled, state-run orphanages and mental hospitals, but no more debtors’ prisons, and no more property qualifications to hold office.”
Jonathan leaped to his feet, as if the chair were suddenly too small to hold him and his enthusiasm. “But the best part, Susan, the best part is the provision for state-supported education! Benjamin Randolph really did it! There will be boards of education at both state and local levels, and every local district will be required to provide at least one free school open to all students, black and white.”
“Paid for by . . . ?”
“Both a property tax and a poll tax.”
“A poll tax? Won’t that disenfranchise a whole lot of people, particularly ex-slaves?”
“No. It’s a tax on each individual, but the law specifically says that no man can lose his right to vote if he cannot or does not pay the poll tax. And it goes even further. Each state-supported school is required to stay open for six months of every year, and all children between the ages of six and sixteen are required to complete 24 months of instruction. Oh, and there’s no separation of races, either. Every school must be open to all, regardless of skin color. And the provisions disallow any religious control or doctrinal instruction, too. So much for the missionaries who have taken over some of the schools, like the one Dr. Porter financed for black children. Just imagine what that means.”
“It sounds like a much-needed change, Jonathan. But how will there be enough teachers for all those schools?"
“They’ll be in short supply for a while, but this new constitution even provides for that. It calls for a state supported university within five years, along with an agricultural college and a normal school for teachers. It’s one of the most forward-thinking documents I’ve ever heard of.”
Unfortunately, Jonathan's optimism was short-lived. He spent ten years helping to organize and develop schools that served the needs of black children in Charleston. But by 1878, white supremacists had managed to gain control of South Carolina's government:
" In South Carolina, both parties claimed to have won the race for the governorship. Hampton showed a winning margin of about 1100 votes across the state, but Republicans argued that the black vote had been suppressed by the illegal activities of the Red Shirts, particularly in the Upcountry. For nearly six months, Governor Chamberlain refused to vacate the governor’s office, and could not be forcibly removed because of a twenty-four-hour-a-day guard posted by federal troops. When President Hayes completed the withdrawal of all federal troops in 1877, Chamberlain fled the state, leaving South Carolina in the clever hands of Wade Hampton, who had, indeed, “waded to victory,” just as one of his campaign slogans had promised.
“That’s it.” Jonathan proclaimed. “Ten years of work destroyed. Thousands of blacks disenfranchised. Madmen in charge of the insane asylum.”
“What will you do?” Susan asked.
“Hampton has promised to support public education, not that I believe him, and he can’t break that promise immediately. Besides, our schools are already open. We’ve paid the leases for our buildings and our supplies and books are in stock. Most of our teachers are funded by private corporations. We should be fine for the rest of this year. But after that? No one knows. I fear that public schools for Negroes will have disappeared before the next election.”