Fritz Hollings’ decision in 1989 to entrust his papers to U of SC Libraries had a major impact. We knew the collection would become the largest manuscript collection ever received at U of SC. It would require a major commitment but also provide an opportunity. Our vision was to use his decision as a springboard with our goal – the creation of a major research repository documenting all aspects of contemporary life, politics, and government. Senator Hollings bought into that plan and actively helped make our goal a reality.
Oral history became an important component of our Hollings Papers Project. Over a period of years, Senator Hollings made time to sit down with us and record over thirty hours reflecting on his life. Typical of his active nature, he tired of delving into the distant past, and we soon came to an agreement to equally divide our sessions into discussion of the past and comments on current activities and interests. This made for exciting sessions. We look forward to making the interviews accessible.
We also interviewed key staff, who were almost uniformly bright, capable, and loyal. Many staffers stayed with the Senator for twenty and more years and remarkably, during his long tenure in the Senate, he was served by just six chiefs of staff and two state directors.
Martha Payne first worked for Hollings when he was governor. She took a leave of absence from her secretarial position to help in his 1962 campaign challenging long-time incumbent U.S. Senator Olin D. Johnston. On the eve of the Democratic primary, the media considered the race “too close to call.” Once the votes were counted, they learned the race hadn’t been close at all. Johnston out-polled Hollings by a margin of two to one.
The defeat provided Hollings with a favorite story – the tale of his concession. Once the outcome became clear, Hollings walked to the Johnston victory celebration being held at the Wade Hampton Hotel in downtown Columbia. There, he found Johnston at the podium thanking all the folks who had made his victory possible, “Thanks to the postal workers, they were a big, big help.” Seeing Hollings enter the room, he quickly added, “And thanks to Fritz too, he was a big, big help.” In telling the story, Hollings mimicked perfectly Johnston’s deep voice. He always ended by commenting that he had never before realized Johnston had such a good sense of humor.
I never think of that story without thinking of Martha Payne. In our interview, Mrs. Payne (1922-2014), a quiet thoughtful lady, spoke of her deep and lifelong admiration for Hollings. When he announced his intention to challenge Johnston, she naturally assumed the voters would be as enamored of the vigorous change agent as she was. She never entertained the idea that Johnston might prevail. On tape, she had noted that most of the campaign staff followed Hollings on his walk to the Wade Hampton Hotel. Unfortunately, her most memorable comment wasn’t recorded. We continued talking while I packed up my equipment, and Mrs. Payne went back to that night and recalled that she had to hold on to Hollings’ coat sleeve while walking to the hotel. She was crying so hard she literally couldn’t see where she was going.
Each oral history interview provides rich insights into our political history and the people who serve or work in government. We want to acknowledge the generosity and sense of history each narrator has shown in their willingness to openly share their life stories and their valuable reflections.
~ By Herb Hartsook