"You cannot lift the state economically without raising
the education level of people." James F. Byrnes
June 1950, Byrnes won the Democratic primary for Governor of South
Carolina. He had three opponents but won almost 80 percent of the votes.
Byrnes had no opponent in the general election and was inaugurated
on January 16, 1951.
Byrnes' main interest as Governor was improving public education in
the state. One of his first moves was to propose a three percent sales
tax, the revenues of which would go strictly into building better school
facilities for both blacks and whites.
At the time Byrnes was Governor, South Carolina had laws providing
for the segregation of blacks and whites in public schools. Seventeen
other states had similar laws. Byrnes felt that such laws could be
fair only if the state provided blacks and whites with equal facilities.
He was particularly concerned with the inadequacy of black school facilities,
and, during his four years as Governor he allotted two thirds of the
revenues from the sales tax and bond sales to the improvement of black
When Byrnes became Governor, South Carolina had 1,200 school districts.
By the end of his term, this number had shrunk to 102. The consolidation
of school districts had both good and bad effects. On the one hand,
it forced the closing of many inadequate facilities and allowed vast
improvements for those schools that remained open. On the other hand,
the closing of many rural schools meant the loss of community centers
of activity in these areas and introduced the problem of transporting
students further distances than was previously necessary.
Byrnes was also dedicated to the improvement of the state's colleges
and universities. When, for example, in 1953 the state had a funding
surplus, Byrnes advised that those funds be allotted to institutions
of higher education. The General Assembly agreed to this proposal.
Among Byrnes' other interests and accomplishments as Governor were:
improvements to the state hospital for the mentally ill
of a school for mentally-handicapped black children
new industries to the state
Byrnes' term as Governor ended on January 18, 1955, after which he
retired from public life. It is fitting that both the first and last
public offices Byrnes held were in the service of his beloved state
of South Carolina: as Solicitor (prosecuting attorney) from 1908 to
1910 and as Governor from 1951 to 1955, respectively.
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