Before the discovery of the historical marker pictured in my previous post , I had no clue that there were black politicians before Jim Clyburn. After taking a closer look into the history I also noticed the trend that the Republican Party had started by manipulating the black vote to control reconstruction. The times and Democrat of Orangeburg S.C. wrote that, “All of Orangeburg’s first blacks in government and politics were Republicans, the party of Lincoln. It must be noted that Orangeburg sent the second highest number of blacks to the General Assembly between 1868 and 1902 with a total of 21 black men.” (REID, 2012). After a little research it seems that between 1868 and 1897 the doors of politics opened for blacks in the south, but remained closed to them in the North. It was could almost be viewed as public political punishment to the South for starting the Civil War.
Educated free blacks were suddenly supported by a rich Republican party and told it was their duty to stand and represent their people by supporting party of the President that set them free making it possible to create a place for their people in this country. Our text book states that, “This was most evident in South Carolina, where blacks attained half of the eight executive offices; three congressional appointments; and a member on the Supreme Court, Jonathan J. Wright—the only black to hold this position in the South during the Reconstruction years. In the South Carolina state legislature, blacks comprised a majority of the House of Representatives and also held a majority of the Senate by 1874. (Bowles, 2011)”. In my personal opinion South Carolina had the majority because South Carolina fired the first shot in the war. This slap in the face is more obvious when we pan out and see that the bold black politicians were faded out in the Jim Crowe era when “order” had been restored and the stability of “voting” Americans was once again secure. “The southern Democrats grew in power and began adopting, once again, the racist rhetoric that marked the Black Codes of early Reconstruction. Not only did black political power wane toward 1877, but specific policies enacted by the southern Democrats denied black participation from the voting process itself (although the Fifteenth Amendment stated that no one could be denied the right to vote because of their race).” (Wasniewski, 2007)Thus the last politician to grace the legislative process in South Carolina before the turn of the century was George Washington Murray. A true freedom fighter, his political career was brought to a brief halt in 1886 when, “The primarily white, Democratic convention created new requirements for proving residency, instituted poll taxes, established property requirements, and created literacy tests—all aimed at disfranchising black voters.” (Wasniewski, 2007)
After a vicious fight at the “back door of the country club”, Murray threatened to flatten the tires of the Good ‘Ol Boy bus when he used his electoral college vote as leverage demanding a Federal investigation of the new voter legislation in South Carolina. I’m not sure what made him cave, but his stance didn’t last long and upon his return home he found himself in legal trouble with a guilty verdict and a 3 year hard labor sentence. South Carolina would not see another African American politician until Jim Clyburn in 1993, whom ironically is a distant relative of George Murray (Pictured on the left). (Black History In America, 2012)http://www.myblackhistory.net/Jim_Clyburn.htm REID, R. (2012, Feb 4). Orangeburg County’s first black politicians. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from The Times and Democrat: http://thetandd.com/blackhistory/orangeburg-county-s-first-black-politicians/article_95759168-4f00-11e1-9e18-001871e3ce6c.html Wasniewski, M. (2007). George Washington Murray. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007: http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=21