COLUMBIA, S.C. — The official manual of the South Carolina Legislature no longer references “Negro” or “scalawag” in historical listings of Reconstruction leaders.
The words quietly disappeared from the 2010 manual, a year after drawing scrutiny.
House Clerk Charles Reid said the listings of lieutenant governors and House speakers which included the references were first produced in the early 1900s and simply transferred to the book as is.
African-Americans who held the offices from 1870 to 1876 were noted as “Negro” in parentheses beside their names. The word “scalawag” denoted the House speaker who served from 1868-72. The term referred to White Southerners who supported the federal government’s actions in the region.
Despite the documents’ historical nature, Reid said, he decided to remove the terms from the 700-page manual distributed this week because they’re now irrelevant.
“It’s past time. I applaud Charles Reid for doing it,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Black Columbia Democrat, adding he hadn’t realized the words were ever in the manual. “It went unnoticed for many years. It’s beyond shocking that it had to be removed in 2010.”
Rep. Joe Neal said he first came across the words four years ago but didn’t make it an issue.
“In the larger scheme of things, I chose not to focus on it,” said Neal, D-Hopkins, who called their ousting appropriate. “It’s reflective of an era and mindset that doesn’t fit well in the 21st century.”
But Neal, who is Black, was not surprised the references survived more than a century.
“There are those who deeply venerate everything that came out of our past,” he said.
Resignations and deaths are among other descriptions the 2010 manual continues to recognize in parentheses next to names. The reason why “Negro” and “scalawag” were included when nothing indicates the state’s only woman to be lieutenant governor, from 1979-83, is lost to history. Historians have long noted the people who took power after Reconstruction took great steps to discredit those who ran South Carolina immediately after the South lost the Civil War.
Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, welcomed the change to the manual’s language. But he said he’d rather see lawmakers change their outlook on education, health care and other issues.
“I’d like to see us make even greater progress in our actions,” he said. “When all things are equal, I could care less what someone says.”
Reid, clerk since 2004, has said that a decade ago the lists helped identify the two Black House speakers, after a Black lawmaker discovered their existence, so that portraits of them could be made and put in the chamber.
The lieutenant governors and speakers with “Negro” beside them are the only Blacks to ever hold those offices in the state. Reconstruction was by far the peak of Black office holders in South Carolina, where at one point more than 60 percent of the Legislature was made up of Black lawmakers.
A brief history of the state in the back of the manual references that: “African-Americans played a prominent role in South Carolina government while the state was occupied by federal troops from 1866 to 1877,” it reads. “Confederate General Wade Hampton III’s tenure as governor after a disputed and violent election in 1876 marked the return to power of native-born Whites.”
Randolph said the role African-Americans played in the state’s history should be more prominently noted, in a positive way.
“One of the things they have done is ignored the contributions of people other than White men,” he said, noting he never learned in school about Jonathan Jasper Wright, a state senator who was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1870, becoming the nation’s first African-American elected to any appeals court. “This isn’t done by accident.”