In 1979, I came to South Carolina to work for the state Department of Archives and History. At that time, the Archives was engaged in a major oral history project documenting the gubernatorial term (1965-1971) of Robert McNair (1923-2007). In 1979, he headed the state’s most prestigious law firm, one with a regional presence and international clientele. And I was told that Bob McNair was the most influential person in South Carolina.
The oral history consisted of an extensive interview with the Governor and more focused interviews with over twenty other McNair associates. This major undertaking was designed to cultivate the relationship between the Archives and McNair, in hopes that McNair would give them his official gubernatorial papers. McNair was the last governor to control his official papers. These were stored at the Archives but remained his personal property. The official papers of subsequent governors became, by law, the property of the state.
Eventually, Gov. McNair donated his papers to USC’s Southern Studies department. He eventually approved them coming to SCPC, where they were processed and opened for study. In addition to the personal papers of eleven of our recent governors, we also hold official gubernatorial papers of Fritz Hollings, who served from 1959 to 1963. McNair’s collection documents his service in the South Carolina House of Representatives (Allendale County), 1951-1962; as Lt. Governor, 1963-1965; and as Governor.
The progressive McNair worked to develop and broaden the state’s economy and improve education throughout the state. At a time of great turmoil, he was a constant advocate for the peaceful and orderly desegregation of the state’s public accommodations and public schools. He also initiated major innovations in economic development, created the state’s first state-supported kindergartens, and appointed the first African-Americans to state boards and commissions and to a professional position on his executive staff. He created the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and is credited with improving the overall financial management and operation of state government. His service was marred by the incident at South Carolina State University in which three students were killed. For more about McNair, we highly recommend the Phil Grose biography, South Carolina at the Brink.
I came to like and admire him greatly. He helped SCPC in many ways and even gave us a desk that, for years, served as the focal point of our reading room. He used the desk when he was chair of the House Judiciary Committee and later in his law office. This fall, the office of Dean of Libraries Tom McNally was remodeled, and the McNair desk now serves as his desk. It is appropriate as McNally, like McNair, is devoted to this University and to the public that uses our rich Library resources.
By Herb Hartsook