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SC Governors – James Francis Byrnes, 1951-1955


South Carolina SC History SC Governors Governor James Francis Byrnes

James Byrnes

A number of South Carolina buildings are named in honor of James Byrnes, but it should be noted that his legacy was not always admirable. Byrnes was considered a moderate for his time and consequently failed to earn the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. (In fact, during his tenure as governor, he outlawed the wearing of face masks on every night except Halloween.) Despite this, while serving in the US Senate, he was instrumental in blocking national anti-lynching laws, claiming that lynching would "hold in check the Negro in the South."

As governor, Byrnes spent considerable energy ensuring that South Carolina's schools would not become integrated on his watch. When he entered our state's highest office in 1951, he enacted the "Education Revolution" to pour funds into African-American schools, hoping to dispel any opinions that black schools were inferior so that students would remain segregated as part of the Separate-But-Equal laws that overshadowed education. Of course, the equalization schools that sprouted up as a result never matched their white counterparts, and his efforts prolonged the injustice faced by South Carolina's black citizens.

James Byrnes:  Biographical Facts

  • Born: May 2, 1882 in Charleston

    "It is now accepted that James Byrnes was born May 2, 1882. May 2, 1879 was his sister Leonora's date of birth. In 1900, when Byrnes needed to be 21 in order for his cousin Governor Miles B. McSweeney to appoint him as a clerk for Judge Robert Aldrich of Aiken, Byrnes, his mother Elizabeth McSweeney Byrnes, and Governor McSweeney just changed his date of birth to that of his sister Leonora's. Shortly after he arrived in Aiken he left the Catholic Church, as McSweeney had done for political purposes, and joined St Thaddeus Episcopal Church in Aiken where he met Maude Busch in the choir." (Special thanks to Sam Crews of Columbia for sending us this information)

  • Baptized: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Charleston
  • Died: April 9, 1972 in Columbia
  • Buried: Trinity Episcopal Cathedral churchyard in Columbia
  • Religion: Catholic, Episcopalian
  • Political Party: Democrat

Portrait of James Byrnes
James Francis Byrnes
(Courtesy of SC Legal History Collection)

James Byrnes:  Education

  • St. Patrick's Parochial School, Charleston (withdrew at age 14)
  • Byrnes was awarded honorary LL.D. degrees from John Marshall College, University of South Carolina, Columbia University, Yale University, and Washington and Lee University

James Byrnes:  Occupations

  • Lawyer
  • Editor of the Aiken Review and Journal

James Byrnes:  Major Events and Accomplishments, 1951–1955

  • November 7, 1950 – At age 68, Byrnes was the oldest person ever to be elected governor of South Carolina
  • 1951 – South Carolina's 1,200 school districts were consolidated into just 102 school districts
  • April 19, 1951 – As part of Byrnes's "Education Revolution," the General Assembly levied a 3% sales tax (the first in our state) to fund the improvement of black schools; this resulted in the creation of over 700 equalization schools, designed to forestall the integration of South Carolina's educational system
  • November 4, 1952 – South Carolina voters approved an amendment to the state constitution granting the General Assembly the power to close public schools to avoid integration
  • June 19, 1953 – WCSC in Charleston, South Carolina's first television station, went on the air
  • The General Assembly passed legislation making South Carolina a Right to Work state
  • May 17, 1954 – The US Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

James Byrnes:  Other Government Positions

  • US House of Representatives, 1911-1925
  • US Senate, 1931-1941
  • US Supreme Court, 1941-1942
  • US Secretary of State, 1945-1947

James Byrnes:  Other Accomplishments, Honors, Distinctions

James Byrnes:  Web Resources

James Byrnes:  Election Results

Democratic Primary – 1950
James Francis Byrnes 248,069 votes 71.6%
Bates 63,143 votes 18.2%
Pope 29,622 votes 8.6%

General Election – November 7, 1950
Byrnes was elected without opposition, receiving 50,633 votes.


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