Tillman, Benjamin [US Senator; historical letters]
The Topical subseries, the largest in the Personal series, documents Culbertson’s many interests and activities. There are extensive Persons files, containing much of his correspondence with well-known figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Eleanor Roosevelt, and others whom he counted among his friends, including Judge J. Waties Waring, Modjeska Simkins, Olin Johnston, and Hubert Humphrey. Culbertson’s relationship with Judge and Mrs. Waring seems to have begun when, in response to the Warings’ critical public remarks about South Carolinians, the General Assembly approved a resolution to purchase the Warings one-way tickets out of the state. This symbolic move was deplored by Culbertson, then a legislator. He personally apologized to the couple and they struck up a correspondence of many years. In 1951, Judge Waring wrote him: “We are thrilled at your magnificent courage and persistency in supporting the right and decency of citizens in this state and we are thrilled to hear how unwavering you and the very few who are with you have been...”
Culbertson also wrote frequently to Senators Johnston and Humphrey to report on the political situation in Greenville and South Carolina. He described his own activities, passed on local chatter and behind-the-scenes information, and gave perspective on what he perceived as a bias or monopoly among local Greenville media and political leadership. In October 1952, he wrote Humphrey, “We have just concluded a state-wide convention of the NAACP which was held here in Greenville, S.C. Both my [law] partner and I, for the first time in the history of the state, appeared as white participants in panel discussions.... We are having a lot of trouble with the Dixiecrats and Jimmy Byrnes but I am confident that South Carolina will remain in the Democratic column in November and that gradually we will drive these die-hard Dixiecrats into the Republican Party where they belong.”
The subseries also documents Culbertson’s non-legal activities in the labor movement, including his communications and involvement with numerous unions and files on issues such as the labor law reform effort of 1977, on which he testified before Congress. Files on the Southern Workers Association detail an endeavor by Culbertson and others to establish a new local labor union in 1949 and 1950. There is also material pertaining to the 1970s boycott of the J.P. Stevens Company, in protest of the company’s apparent coercion of its employees to vote against unionization, and particularly on the Textile Workers Union of America and Culbertson’s close friendships with several local union representatives.
Files pertaining to Culbertson’s civil rights activism document his extensive volunteer work and speaking tour on behalf of the NAACP, his close friendships with local members and officials, his being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, and his support of the African-American press in and outside of South Carolina. Among his associates in the NAACP was Esau Jenkins, chairman of the Johns Island chapter, who wrote in 1955 asking for help with the repercussions of his activism in Charleston County: “Dear Lawyer Culbertson: As you go around in the State or elsewhere, please, if you heard of any opening for teachers write my daughters Mrs. Ethel J. Grimball or Mrs. Marie J. Jones, at the above address. Both of these girls finish college with their degrees....the Princaple [sic] came and told me that my daughters will not be able to get the job again because of the Stand I took with the N.A.A.C.P.”
In 1960, Culbertson nominated Jenkins and another local activist, Joe Orr, for the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Florina Lasker Civil Liberties Award, writing, “It is well and good to make awards to people like Thurgood Marshall, Reverend Martin Luther King, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and a host of others in this category, but sometimes, I think we should recognize that some of the greatest work is performed by little-known and obscure individuals whose work at the grass roots level at terrific personal sacrifice and with great courage, do[es] a job that must be done by someone if the real battle is ever to be won. Their accumulative efforts really build up to where prominent people can do a little, yet apparently accomplish much, but with no recognition going to the people in the background who have made it possible....”
Culbertson subscribed to, promoted, and suggested news items for a number of publications whose readership was primarily African-American, notably John McCray’s Lighthouse and Informer, the most significant such publication in the state. Culbertson wrote to Walter Reuther, then president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), in 1953: “As I sat next to Mr. [Thurgood] Marshall before the program started I had an opportunity to discuss Mr. McCray’s critical financial situation with him and told him I had written you...soliciting some backing for Mr. McCray in order that his paper, with more than eight thousand paid subscriptions, would not fold up at so critical a period in our struggle for full citizenship for all people of South Carolina....I trust that you will pardon my persistence in presenting the facts of this matter to you, but time is awfully important and I sincerely hope that your organization can come to Mr. McCray’s rescue. If you cannot make an outright subsidy perhaps you would be willing to make a loan which several of my friends and I will be willing to underwrite, if necessary.”
- circa 1886 - 2012
Library use only
From the Collection: 31 Linear Feet
Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository
Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA