UNION COUNTY — The years between 1868 and 1872 were unique in Union County with the county represented in Columbia for the first and so far only time by an all-black and all-Republican legislative delegation.
The election of Union County’s first and only all-black and all-Republican legislative delegation occurred during what is known as the Reconstruction Era, which began at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and ended in 1877 when the last federal troops were withdrawn from the South.
The era was a period during which the federal government, first under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, sought to bring the states of the defeated Confederate States of America back into the United States of America as soon as possible and a more radical effort by the self-described “Radical Republicans” in the U.S. Congress to enfranchise the freed slaves.
The more moderate approach of Lincoln and Johnson prevailed until 1867 when a “veto-proof” Radical Republican majority took control of Congress and initiated what is also known as Congressional or Radical Reconstruction.
Under Radical Reconstruction, the civilian governments in the South were removed from power in 1867 and the states placed under the control of the U.S. military, which conducted new elections in which freed slaves could vote while whites who had held leading positions under the Confederacy were temporarily denied the right to vote and were not permitted to run for public office.
As a result, the Republican Party took control in 10 southern states with the support a biracial coalition of blacks and whites. The white part of the coalition included Southerners who supported Reconstruction and Northerners who had moved to the South following the Civil War.
The elections of 1867 included an election held in South Carolina in November to elect a convention to draft a new state constitution. The membership of the convention, which met in January 1868, was 61 percent black and 97 percent Republican.
The new constitution established a public school system similar to those in the northern states, schools that were required by law to be racially integrated. It also legalized divorce and it required that representation in the S.C. House of Representatives be based on county population.
The Reconstruction legislature that emerged from these changes took office in July 1868 with a black majority in the S.C. House of Representatives. The S.C. House would be the only state legislative body in the South to have a black majority during Reconstruction.
The new Legislature proceeded to raise taxes to pay for internal improvements and to support the new public school system. This was not unique as the legislatures in the other Republican-controlled southern states took similar steps, raising taxes for internal improvements including support for railroads and to provide funding for their new public school systems.
The Reconstruction legislature that convened in 1868 included a state senator and three state representatives from Union County, all of them black and all of them Republicans. The senator was Hiram W. Duncan who would hold the office until his death in 1872.
The representatives were Junius S. Mobley, Samuel Knuckles, and Simeon Farr. Mobley, Knuckles, and Farr had been members of the Reconstruction convention and all three were reelected to the State House in 1870 but would lose their seats when the Democratic Party made a comeback in 1872.
The election of the all black and all Republican legislative delegation from Union County was due partly to white Democrats across South Carolina declining to participate in the state elections of 1868 and partly due to the fact that the majority of registered voters in the county were black. In October 1867 there were 1,894 black registered to vote in Union County compared to 1,387 whites.
In addition to the support of the Radical majority in Congress, Reconstruction and racial equality also had the support of President Ulysses S. Grant.
During his presidency, Grant took a number of steps to support the civil rights of blacks including signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1875; helping create the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Solicitor General which proceeded to prosecute members of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan; legally recognizing P.B.S. Pinchback, the first African-American to serve as governor of a state, as governor of Louisiana; encouraging the readmission of Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas to the Union while ensuring that their state constitutions protecting the voting rights of all their citizens; and using federal troops to suppress Klan violence in 1870 and 1871 and to protect black and white Republican voters in Petersburg, Va., in 1876.
Even with the support of the Grant administration and Congress in Washington and that of millions freed blacks and pro-Reconstruction whites in the South, the era of black and Republican ascendancy in the southern states was to prove short-lived A combination of factors would bring an end to Reconstruction, lead to the virtual extinction of the Republican Party in the South and the reduction of black Southerners to the level of second-class citizenship for nearly a century.
The information for this article was taken partly from a Wikipedia article on Reconstruction and partly from “A Narrative History of Union County, South Carolina” by Allan D. Charles.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.