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Judge’s portrait hung at courthouse

Posted: March 30, 2014 1:19 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Columbia photographer John Powell hangs a portrait of Judge Mendel L. Smith, who became the 5th Judicial Circuit’s second judge 99 years ago.

Judge Mendel L. Smith (1870-1934), the 5th Judicial Circuit’s second judge, is now immortalized with a portrait placed in the main courtroom on the third floor at the Kershaw County Courthouse. Smith was also a Camden attorney, a Kershaw County legislator and speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives. He also made several unsuccessful runs for South Carolina governor.

Historians say Smith moved to Camden from Smithfield as a child, later served in World War I and served four terms in the State House. He was also appointed as an associate justice of the S.C. Supreme Court. He was an acclaimed speaker, giving an estimated 3,000 speeches to various civic and fraternal groups. He practiced law for 33 years in Camden before his appointment to the bench.

Retired 5th Circuit Judge G. Tommy Cooper said Smith’s speeches were well attended.

“You have to remember that at that time, there was no television, there was no radio, so speeches like that were considered entertainment,” Cooper said. “People would gather when they heard Judge Smith would be speaking.”

Cooper said Smith deserves the honor of the portrait.

“He was one of the most prominent South Carolinians of his time. He served on the bench for a short period of time and then World War I interrupted his service and he went to France and served under General Pershing,” he said. “I was looking for someone to do a portrait of in the Carolinian Library and found a lot of photographs, but not suitable for the size to use. I went to the South Carolina Supreme Court Library and there I found the photograph that had remarkable quality for 1915.”

The portrait was enlarged, enhanced and placed in the courtroom by Columbia photographer John Powell, who has done other similar works for Kershaw County. Cooper said getting approval to place the portrait was a relatively simple process.

“I took the portrait to the annual meeting of the Kershaw County Bar Association and asked them for their recommendation that it be hung in the courthouse,” Cooper said, adding that Kershaw County Clerk of Court Joyce McDonald had the final say. “She manages the courthouse and allowed it to be hung.”

Cooper said the next project is to find a suitable portrait of Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, the first 5th Circuit Judge.

“He served a great number of years right after the Civil War until about 1890,” he said. “I’m conducting a search of sources, the Supreme Court Library and the local archives and hopefully I’ll come up with something that can match the size of the other portraits.”


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