John Henry McCray papers, 1929-1989
South Caroliniana Library
This collection of manuscripts and photographs documents the life and work of journalist and politician John H. McCray (1910-1987) who, in a letter to a friend, 25 March 1960, appraised his own role as a regional black leader — “I have no importance other than serving as the medium in a small way through which most of us S.C. Negroes can pass into some degree of civic and political freedom.” That medium would be defined by his sixteen-year tenure as editor of one of the chief black newspapers in the history of Southern journalism, the Lighthouse and Informer, as well as by his role in founding and leading the Progressive Democrats, for twenty years a force in South Carolina and national politics which McCray himself would claim as “the best organized and most dedicated group of Democrats working in behalf of the Negro party members in the nation.” These two entities were to be inextricably linked through his career during the 1940s and 1950s, as the former provided a voice for the latter.
Born in Youngstown, Fla., McCray moved with his family to South Carolina at the age of six and grew up in the Lincolnville area of Charleston County. He graduated from Charleston’s Avery Institute as valedictorian in 1931 (with the highest four-year average of any student since 1872) and went on to receive a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Talladega College in Alabama in 1935.
In 1938 he became editor and publisher of the Lighthouse and Informer, which in 1941 moved its offices from Charleston to Columbia and provided McCray with the communications base from which to launch his program for black political participation, racial equity, and social justice. McCray gave up editing and publishing the Lighthouse and Informer in July 1954 for employment with the Baltimore Afro-American, for which he conducted “roving reportorial assignments,” supervised some 150 agents, and sold and mailed subscriptions and advertising space. From 1960 to 1962 he was Carolina Editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, and between 1962 and 1964, he served as an editorial assistant for the Chicago Defender and an associate editor of the Atlanta World, which meant that he functioned largely as an itinerant Southern editorial writer and columnist. In 1964 he accepted an offer from Talladega College to become director of public relations. He retired as director of recruitment and admissions in 1981 and died in 1987.