Former U.S. Sen. Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings has died
Jim Clyburn used to be a history teacher. So on Monday night, the U.S. House Majority Whip recalled the life of his fellow South Carolina Democrat, the late-U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, through the lens of history.
From the floor of the House of Representatives, Clyburn of Columbia led the South Carolina congressional delegation in a series of tributes to Hollings, a decades-long fixture in state politics who died Saturday at the age of 97.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a Springdale Republican, credited Hollings with laying the groundwork for South Carolina’s automobile manufacturing economy. U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, a Republican from Myrtle Beach, said Hollings, a World War II veteran, embodied the spirit of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, a Charleston Democrat, called Hollings “the most transformative leader South Carolina had ever seen.”
Bu it was Clyburn — whose political career most closely intertwined with that of Hollings — who sought to highlight Hollings’ accomplishments by putting him in the context of his times.
Clyburn, 19 years Hollings’ junior, noted Hollings was elected a state representative in 1948 — the year the South Carolina Democratic primary was opened up to black voters; Hollings became lieutenant governor in 1954, the year the Supreme Court ruled school segregation was unconstitutional.
The two men met for the first time in 1960, when Hollings was the governor of South Carolina and Clyburn was a student at South Carolina State University organizing sit-ins for civil rights.
In 1962, Hollings had to confront a state legislature reluctant to allow a black student to enroll in to Clemson University.
“At first there was much resistance,” said Clyburn, currently the highest-ranking African American in Congress. “Fritz spoke to the Legislature and said to them, on that day, ‘We have run out of courts. And we are going to be a nation of laws.’ And he called upon South Carolinians to set aside acrimony and accept the fact that it was a new day in South Carolina and the nation.”
“He was governor of a state with tremendous challenges,” Clyburn said. “So what could he do? Did he just meander through time, as so many did in those days? No.”
In addition to taking a stand on issues of race, Clyburn said, Hollings helped to develop the state’s technical education system and promote South Carolina Educational Television, both of which became “national models.”
Clyburn also gave a nod to the legislative efforts Hollings supported on behalf of children and the poor as a U.S. senator from 1966 to the time of his retirement in 2004.
And then, Clyburn said, a few years back, “just before he was really beginning to fail in health,” Hollings called in with a request that took his political career full circle: Hollings wanted Clyburn to champion congressional legislation that would rename the Hollings Judicial Center in Charleston after J. Waties Waring, the judge who ruled in 1948 that African Americans must be allowed to vote in the state’s Democratic primary.
The court house was officially renamed in the fall of 2015.
Clyburn will deliver remarks at Hollings’ funeral next Tuesday, April 16, at the Summerall Chapel at Hollings’ alma mater, The Citadel military college. Gov. Henry McMaster will also speak, and former Vice President Joe Biden — who served with Hollings in the U.S. Senate — will deliver the eulogy.
Hollings will lie in repose in the Statehouse in Columbia on Monday, April 15.