Introduction to James T. McCain

By: Chauna Carr, Kaylin Daniels, and Laura Stillwagon

James T. McCain (1905-2003) was a Civil Rights activist remembered for his selfless volunteering and organized marches. One of his main endeavors was making it possible for African Americans to register to vote during the Civil Rights era. As a very active Civil Rights leader, he was incredibly organized, making note of everything he did, down to his car mileage. His collection is housed and maintained by the South Caroliniana Library here at the University of South Carolina, and consists of yearly calendars and notebooks used as day planners to organize his Civil Rights endeavors.

McCain was a huge supporter of the War Resisters League – many of his calendars held at South Caroliniana Library are from this organization. For those who do not know, the War Resisters League has been around since 1932. They work to spread nonviolence and advocate to end war. As shown by their calendar covers, the League supported other movements and prominent non-violent figures of social justice, like a calendar in the McCain collection that includes a dedication to Mahatma Gandhi, and one to Jessie Wallace Hughan, an American educator, social activist, and radical pacifist.

Another calendar supports equality for women, and another promotes Civil Rights peace with the gospel song lyrics “We shall overcome”. One of our favorite calendars includes a photographic collection of the Civil Rights Movement and some other fun features like rock and roll music lyrics and an uplifting message for peace. The calendars themselves are very inspiring; with many motivational poems and quotes included throughout. McCain interacted extensively with his calendars and each one shows what he believed and aligned with. Illustrated with the pacifistic nature of Gandhi, equality for women, and using one’s right to protest, the calendar covers were a reminder of what McCain was fighting for.

“We Shall Overcome”, 1964 Calendar cover by War Resisters League
“We Shall Overcome”, 1964 Calendar cover by War Resisters League
1960 Engagement Calendar created by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
1960 Engagement Calendar created by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
“Days of Gandhi”, 1969 Calendar by War Resisters League
“Days of Gandhi”, 1969 Calendar by War Resisters League

McCain used his calendars to plan his events, track his meetings and travels, and record other miscellaneous things about his daily life; for instance, he logged his speedometer readings, meal prices, and resting days. On top of recording local community accomplishments, he always tried to acknowledge the achievements of people of color by taping or stapling news coverage of their successes directly into his calendars. For example, he wrote:

“Sumter schools reopen today – black parents and citizens negotiated with school authorities not to dismiss students to roam the streets again but try to deal with protesters at sch. Mission successful.”

 

 

Here are some other examples:

“Negro Will Be Horry County Town’s Mayor” news clipping from the State, August 20, 1968
“Negro Will Be Horry County Town’s Mayor” news clipping from the State, August 20, 1968
“Negro Leads Conway Vote” news clipping from the State, Oct. 9, 1968
“Negro Leads Conway Vote” news clipping from the State, Oct. 9,

James T. McCain was a prolific figure working behind the scenes during the Civil Rights movement. The South Caroliniana Library is in the process of preserving and displaying McCain’s collection, and Digital Collections is working in collaboration with them to digitize his work. We’re digitizing this archival collection of day planners as part of a university awarded ASPIRE II grant, written by Graham Duncan, Head of Collections and Curator of Manuscripts at South Caroliniana Library; Bobby J. Donaldson, Associate Professor and Head of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research; and Mēgan A. Oliver, Digital Collections Librarian.

There’s still more to come! This project is still in process and on track to being completed this semester. We are looking forward to learning more, and sharing more, about James T. McCain!