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Historic Camden: Lyceum Series on John. C. West

Posted: January 20, 2012 2:28 p.m.
Updated: January 23, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Maude the mule and young John Carl West were struggling to plow through the tough wire grass in a field in front of his family’s “four-horse” farm one hot afternoon, when the future governor of South Carolina had one of his “defining moments.”

“As I stood at the end of that row, I thought to myself…I was worth no more that twenty-five cents a day as a plow hand. So I had better take advantage of educational opportunities.”

And take advantage he did, first at The Citadel in 1942, then at the University of South Carolina Law School where he graduated summa cum laude. Wedged between was World War II and a stint as an army intelligence officer.

John Carl West (1922-2004) applied his educational opportunities well. A Democrat, he served as state senator, lieutenant governor and governor in 1971-1975. As governor, he worked tirelessly to end poverty and hunger, rid state government of discrimination, and give the citizens of South Carolina the opportunity to take advantage of healthcare and educational opportunities.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site will kick off its annual Lyceum Series Program with a program about this illustrious Kershaw County native Jan. 29 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Kershaw-Cornwallis House. Lights refreshments will be served and the public is cordially invited to attend.

At the podium will be Philip G. Grose, biographer of Looking for Utopia: the Life and Times of John C. West. Following his presentation, Grose will autograph copies of the book, which will be available for purchase at $34.95. A special mini exhibit comprised of items from the University of South Carolina’s John C. West Collection will be on display also.
Philip Grose is currently a research associate at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina. A talented journalist, Grose has deftly blended in-dept research in the West Collection, interviews with political contemporaries and personal knowledge as a staff member during West’s governorship to create a very readable biography of man who rarely sought the limelight. As a staff member to Governor Robert E. McNair also, Grose has authored South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights.

Grose will discuss West’s life and impact as a South Carolina governor during a period of great racial strife -- from recruiting $3 billion in new industry, creating a state housing authority and permitting South Carolina restaurants to serve mixed drink to his landmark selection of civil rights activist, James E. Clyburn, later U.S. House Majority Whip, as the first African American to serve on a South Carolina governor’s staff.

Permanent retirement never seemed to fit West’s lifestyle according to Grose. He always had his law firm, with offices in Camden and Hilton Head, his home of later years, or was willing to champion a cause, such as having the Confederate Flag removed from the State House dome.

President Jimmie Carter called on him in 1977 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a critical period in the Middle East. He accepted the post willingly. His bold, personal style of diplomacy enabled often unpopular diplomatic policies to at least make it to the discussion table. Later West would become a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at USC.

James Clyburn described John Carl West as a “perfect blend of the Southern gentleman and the determined dreamer.” Robert McNair saw him as a man who was “always looking for Utopia.” Regardless, as Ambassador West’s old friend Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia said, “He left us too soon.”

For information regarding this free program, call 432-0941 or check www.historic-camden.net. Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, 222 Broad St. Camden, is 1.4 miles from I-20, Exit 98.

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