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John Roy Harper II papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-14uuu


I. Personal papers

II. Family papers

III. Topical files

IV. Audio-Visual materials

V. Ephemera and Realia

VII. Oversize

VIII. Library

Personal papers include Harper’s political campaigns, correspondence with his family, friends, and acquaintances, greeting cards, invitations and programs for funerals, commencement ceremonies, and weddings, his education at Mather Academy, Fisk University, Harvard Law School, New York University, and University of South Carolina School of Law, his employment history in the United States Army, at Shell Oil Corporation, as a private attorney in Columbia and as president of Uhuru bookstore, and his marriage and divorce. Also included are biographical materials including clippings, resumes, and narratives written by Harper about his life.

Family papers include items related to Harper’s paternal relatives, largely consisting of the personal papers of John Roy Harper, Senior. These cover Harper’s employment at Mather Academy and St. Matthew School as well as his involvement with various organizations including the Palmetto Education Association, the National Education Association, the Kershaw County Teachers Association, the Cosmopolitan Club, and the Second Presbyterian Church of Camden.

Topical files include causes and organizations Harper joined or otherwise supported as an adult, including relevant school alumni associations. Chief among these are organizations and issues relevant to African-American life in South Carolina, although women’s rights, students’ rights, and the rights of the elderly, disabled, and otherwise vulnerable are also included.

Audio-Visual materials include digitally-preserved CDs of audio files related to various events Harper attended throughout his life, including political conventions and events held by organizations such as Blacks United for Action. These items were digitized and described by South Caroliniana Library Oral Historian Andrea L’Hommedieu. Visual materials include photographs of Harper’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and places associated with these individuals, as well as photographs, negatives, and slides of Harper with various individuals and at various events, many of which have corresponding topical files. Also included are portraits of public figures.

Ephemera and Realia include bumper stickers, buttons, pins, medals, plaques, business cards, membership and identification cards, name tags, and textiles collected by Harper throughout his lifetime. Business cards include people and businesses operating in South Carolina since the 1970s. Also included are objects related to Harper’s tenure in the United States Army and identification cards and name tags for his father, John Roy Harper, Senior.

Oversized materials include maps, posters, and photographs covering a variety of topics, including Harper’s political campaigns, Mather Academy and the University of South Carolina, and African Liberation Day.

Library materials include books and pamphlets from Harper’s personal library, many of which provide insight into his intellectual development and interests, including the Nation of Islam, the history and culture of Africa, and African-American literature and history that addresses race relations, black power, and oppression of minorities.


  • 1870-2003
  • Majority of material found within 1930 - 2003


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


58.75 Linear Feet (47 Cartons 2 oversize flat file boxes)

Biographical Sketch

John Roy Harper II was born to John Roy Harper, Senior, and Mary Frances Smith Harper on 29 September 29 1939 in Greenwood, South Carolina. His family moved to Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina a few weeks later. Mather Academy, founded in 1887 and known as Browning Home until 1900, was a Methodist-affiliated, private African-American boarding school. Both of Harper’s parents taught at Mather, with his father eventually becoming principal. Harper attended school at Mather until the age of fifteen, when he left after completing the tenth grade to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee under a Ford Foundation Early Entrance Scholarship. He would receive an honorary high school diploma from Mather in 1956. Upon his arrival at Fisk University in 1955, Harper immersed himself in numerous organizations. He was editor-in-chief of the university’s school newspaper, Fisk Forum, for two years and served as the editor-in-chief of the yearbook, The Oval, during his senior year. He also became a member of the Alpha Chi chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in 1956, an organization he maintained lifelong ties with via the Alpha Psi Lambda chapter in Columbia. He also ran for student government positions and served as the stage manager for Stagecrafter Apprentices productions. During his summer breaks at Fisk he held various odd jobs, including a summer spent working as a steward at Montauk Manor in Long Island, New York. He received an A.B. in History, with honors, in 1959 and enrolled in Harvard Law School with an anticipated graduation date of 1962.

Despite his early and continued academic success at Mather Academy and Fisk University, Harper struggled during his first year of law school, later admitting that he was unprepared to undertake a post-secondary degree at the age of 20. He dropped out after his first year but remained in Boston, Massachusetts through 1961, where he was a salesman for both Encyclopedia Britannica and Five Guys and worked as a clerk at H. E. Harris & Company. He returned to his parents’ home in Camden in late 1961 and began the process of enlisting in the United States Army. He resided at Fort Bragg in North Carolina until he was assigned to a post in Kitzinger, Germany in August 1962. His company took several days to cross the Atlantic Ocean on the General Simon B. Buckner, and Harper managed to edit and disseminate a newsletter called the Buckner Banner each day of the voyage. Harper remained in Germany until October 1964, during which time he took advantage of the United States Army’s extension course program and spent time traveling while on leave. He even bought a Volkswagen car, which he had shipped to New York upon his return. He was discharged as a Specialist 5 (E-5) in 1964.

Harper remained in New York, where he worked in public relations for Shell Oil Company until 1967 and also served as president of the Fisk University Alumni Club of Greater New York. During his time at Shell he met and married Denise Adele Jefferson (1944 – 2010), a professional dancer who previously graduated from Wheaton College and New York University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, in French. Jefferson and Harper had one daughter, Francesca, a professional-trained ballerina and choreographer, before separating in 1970 and divorcing in 1971. Jefferson had briefly followed Harper to Columbia following his enrollment at the University of South Carolina School of Law in late 1967, but with limited opportunities for the advancement of her own career she returned north with their daughter. Francesca graduated from the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City in 1987 and later danced with the Frankfurt Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem.

In 1968, after only a few months in Columbia, Harper became involved with a group of young, black men intent on addressing racial inequality and improving the lives of African-Americans in the community. In 1968 he helped found Uhuru Bookstore in Columbia and served as its president. Uhuru, so-named after the Swahili word meaning “freedom,” was the first bookstore in Columbia to exclusively sell African-American books, newspapers, and gift items. The store employed James Redfern II, then affectionately known as “Deuce,” who was also the founder of Black on Nation. That same year Harper also co-founded and served as chairman for Blacks United for Action, an organization interested in justice, freedom, and equality for black citizens. He served as its chairperson from 1968 to 1976. From October to December 1968 he served as an intern on the South Carolina Voter Education Project, where he was an assistant to the director James Felder. In 1969 he co-founded the United Citizens Party with James E. Clyburn and Lawrence Tolliver and was named its first permanent president at the first annual convention on April 13, 1970; he later served as party chairman. According to the party’s founding document, the purpose of the party was to create “a separate party running people who will do what we, the people, want done,” and stating that, “furthermore, whites have never publicly promised Black folks nothing-we need to divorce.” The party’s candidates included Thomas Broadwater in the 1970 gubernatorial election and Victoria De Lee in the special 1972 congressional election.

While at the University of South Carolina, Harper became the first black member and officer of the South Carolina Law Review, when he served as its Business Manager. He was also involved in the Association of Afro-American Students and the South Carolina Black Student Union. He clerked for Mobile Oil Corporation in New York during the summer of 1969 and for the firm of Jenkins, Perry, and Pride beginning in 1970. Two of the partners, Matthew Perry and Hemphill Pride, served as character witnesses for Harper’s South Carolina Bar application. After an unsuccessful first attempt, Harper passed the examination and was admitted to practice law in South Carolina in 1971.

Harper established his own law practice, and he occasionally brought in other lawyers. His office was located on Washington Street above the Victory Savings Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in Columbia. His private practice handled a variety of cases, including divorces, employment discrimination suits, and real estate transactions, often for clients who later failed to pay his firm. However, he excelled in his role as an attorney affiliated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a position he held for more than twenty years. His first exposure to this branch of law came during his three-year tenure as an Earl Warren Fellow for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund beginning in 1970. He would eventually represent the NAACP in several voting rights cases, including NAACP v. Hampton County, South Carolina, a case he successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court. He was awarded the NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award in 1991. The 1970s saw Harper’s continued involvement with the black community in Columbia. In 1971 he was the founding Chairman of the Board of the Columbia Opportunities Industrialization Center, a position he held until 1974. He served as the second vice-president of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations from 1970 to 1974, the commissioner of Midlands Human Resources Development Commission from 1977 – 1980, a member of the Richland County Council from 1977 – 1978, the president of the South Carolina Fisk University Alumni Club from 1976 – 1979, as well as being a delegate for the National Black Political Assembly multiple times. Harper continued his service through the 1980s as the commissioner-at-large for the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District Commission from 1983 – 1995, the treasurer for East Piedmont Association of Conservation Districts beginning in 1987, and as the founding chairman of the Greater USC Alumni Association’s Black Caucus. He also began serving as general counsel for NAACP, South Carolina Conference of Branches in 1987.

Harper’s lifelong interest in politics led to a series of campaigns for local, state, and federal government beginning in 1972. In addition to his involvement with the United Citizens Party, he was also an active member in the Richland County, South Carolina, and National Democratic Parties and attended the 1992 convention as a Clinton Delegate. He also served as the state coordinator for Operation PUSH of South Carolina from 1981 to 1982.

Throughout his life Harper maintained an acting interest in the rights of several minority groups, including the mentally handicapped, the elderly, women, and prisoners, and his involvement with various organizations at the local and state level reflect this interest. He was a 32-degree Mason and a Shriner and a member of the Northminster Presbyterian Church. He died of lung cancer on July 27, 2003.

Additional papers saved by Harper belong to other family members, including paternal aunt Alleen S. Harper Brewer Wood (1904 – 1996) and his father, John Roy Harper, Senior (1911 – 1980). Harper Senior was born to Joseph Walter Harper (d. 1947) and Mahala Matilda Graves Harper (1876 – 1935) on March 6, 1911 in Chester, South Carolina. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from South Carolina State College and was later the president of its alumni club. A lifelong educator, he worked at schools in Greenwood, Clinton, and Camden, including Mather Academy, St. Matthew School, and Jackson High School. He also served as principal of Mather Academy. He was actively involved in several organizations, including as a charter member and former president of Club Seventeen, as treasurer of the Palmetto Education Association (PEA), and as a member of the House of Delegates of the South Carolina Education Association following its merger with PEA. He was also an elder in the Second Presbyterian Church of Camden. He married Mary Frances Smith (1909 – 1990) and had two children, Harper, II and Mary Frances Harper Adams (1943- ). He retired from teaching in 1976 before passing away on January 29, 1980.


1939 September 29 - Born in Greenwood, South Carolina to John Roy Harper and Mary Frances Smith Harper

c. 1939, November - Moved to Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina

c. 1945 – 1955 - Attended Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina

1955 – 1959 - Attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

1956 - Received honorary high school diploma from Mather Academy

June 1959 - Graduated from Fisk University with an A.B. in History

September 1959 – June 1960 - Attended Harvard University Law School

1961 November 1 – 1964 October 20 - Served in the United States Army (Germany, Honorable discharge)

1964 – 1967 - Junior Executive at Shell Oil Company, New York, NY (first African-American Junior Executive)

1965 – 1967 - Fisk University Alumni Club president

1968 - Law Clerk at Shell Oil Company, New York, NY

1968 – 1970 - Member of South Carolina Law Review at University of South Carolina School of Law (first African-American member)

1968 – 1976 - Founding Chairperson, Blacks United for Action, Inc., Columbia, SC

1969 - Law clerk at Mobile Oil Company, New York, NY

1969 – 1975 - Founding President and Chairman, United Citizens Party, Columbia, SC

June 1970 - Graduated with a Juris Doctor from University of South Carolina School of Law (Second African American graduate)

1970 – 1976 - Founding President, United Citizens Party

1970 – 1973 - Earl Warren Fellow, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New York, NY

1970 – 1974 - Member of the South Carolina Council for Human Rights

1971 - Admitted to the South Carolina Bar

1971 - Became member of Cairo Temple No. 215 Shriners

1971 – c. 2002 - Cooperating attorney at NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New York, NY

1971 May – 2003 - Attorney at John Roy Harper II Law Firm

1972 - Admitted to the United States District Court of South Carolina Bar 1972 – 1973 - Member of Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

1972 – c. 2002 - Cooperating attorney at NAACP, Baltimore, MD

1973 - Admitted to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Bar

1973 – c. 2002 - Cooperating attorney at ACLU, Atlanta, GA

1976 - Joined Northminster Presbyterian Church

1976 – 1979 - Fisk University Alumni Club president

1977 - Delegate for National Association of Counties’ Annual Convention

1977 – 1978 - Board of Directors Member for Central Midlands Regional Planning Council

1977 – 1978 - Founding President, South Carolina Association of Black Officials

1977 – 1978 - Served on Richland County Judicial Center Construction Steering Committee, Columbia, SC

1977 – 1979 - Served on Richland County Council, Columbia, SC

1977 – 1980 - Commissioner for Midlands Human Resource Development Commission

1980 - Admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar

1980 - Founding Chairperson, University of South Carolina Greater Alumni Association Black Caucus

1980 - Member of Louis D. Simons American Legion Post No. 215

1981 - Member of the South Carolina Arts Commission

1981 - Named Outstanding Alumnus, University of South Carolina Alumni Association, Columbia, SC

1981 – 1982 - State coordinator for Operation PUSH of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

1981 – 1986 - Friends of the South Carolina State Museum Executive Committee

1982 - Living Legacy Award, National Council of Negro Women, Columbia, SC

1983 - Became member of Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

1983 - Man of the Year Award, Cosmopolitan Club, Columbia, SC

1983 – 1984 - Richland-Lexington Cultural Action Council member

1983 – 1995 - Commissioner Richland Soil and Water Conservation District 1986 - Goodyear Award of Merit for Outstanding Accomplishments in Resource Conservation

1986 – 1994 - Hearing officer at DHEC, Columbia, SC

1987 – 1999 - East Piedmont Association of Conservation Districts, Treasurer

1987 – 2002 - General counsel at South Carolina Conference of Branches, NAACP, Columbia, SC

1988 – 1990 - Delegate for Democratic National Convention

1990 February 16 - Given Key to the City of Camden, SC

1990 - Given Vanguard Award, South Carolinian Newspaper

1991 - Recipient of the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, NAACP, Baltimore, MD

1991 - Inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame, Columbia, SC

1992 - Delegate for Democratic National Convention

1992 - Goodyear Award of Merit for Outstanding Accomplishments in Resource Conservation

2003 July - Died of lung cancer in Richland County, South Carolina


Harper did not maintain a consistent filing scheme through his career, often resorting to topically labelled folders. The collection has been completely rearranged while maintaining the integrity of these topical files whenever possible. People, organizations, and events may appear in multiple series due to variations in format. Items in Box 37 are cross-referenced elsewhere in the finding aid. Audio files are ordered in the number they were digitized by the oral historian.

Physical Location

This collection is held by the South Carolinina Library. Contact the library at 803-777-3132 or to inquire about scan-and-deliver options or to set up a research appointment. Please provide at least three business days’ notice for in-person appointments.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

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