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Solomon Blatt Papers

 Collection
Identifier: SCU-SCPC-055
Public Papers chiefly relate to Blatt’s role as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Barnwell County, 1933-1986, and as Speaker, 1935-1946 and 1951-1973. The series includes general files, a “political file”, recommendations, and topical files. The political file subseries describes a discreet set of papers from 1963-1964 that document a range of political activities, including constituent service, correspondence with other public officials around the state, and other related papers. Recommendations include letters from Blatt on behalf of friends and constituents seeking jobs, state government appointments, and entry into USC and other schools.

Topical files cover the bulk of Blatt's General Assembly work. Files on Barnwell County reflect the changing structure of local and county government over the years, as power shifted from the legislative delegation of Sol Blatt and Edgar Brown to local entities. A file on the "Barnwell Ring" documents gubernatorial candidate Strom Thurmond's attacks on Blatt and Brown. After house redistricting in 1970s, Blatt's district included, at various times, portions of Allendale and Bamberg Counties as well as Barnwell County. Folders on these counties and there governance are also present in this series. Of particular interest is a file relating to the influx of Savannah River Plant employees and their families into Barnwell County, and the effects on Barnwell's public school system. Additional material on Barnwell's nuclear facilities is located under "Energy, Nuclear."

Materials on the General Assembly include correspondence with colleagues, schedules, and records relating to Blatt’s administration of committee, page, and staff appointments, honors accorded Blatt by the legislature, the various races for Speaker of the House. Blatt’s vote-counting and relentless push for written commitments from House members are particularly well documented in the files relating to the 1950-1951 race for the Speakership.

Personal Papers consist of General files, papers relating to Mrs. Ethel Blatt, Campaigns, Charitable Donations, Condolences, Legal files, and Topical. General files consist largely of correspondence, mostly from friends and family. Mrs. Blatt’s papers include correspondence to her and information on her care during her lengthy illness. Campaign materials span from 1940 until 1986, including financial forms, correspondence, and information on campaign publicity. Legal files document the administration of Blatt’s law firm, Blatt and Fales, and include correspondence relating to several significant cases that Blatt was involved in, including his controversial defense of accused child molester Billy Joe Stewart.

Topical files include information on awards and honors given Blatt, his association with various groups and the Democratic Party, as well as extensive files on his involvement with and interest in the University of South Carolina outside of his role as a legislator. (Papers pertaining to his legislative work on behalf of the university are found in Public Papers.) Persons files include materiaon Congressman Mendel Rivers, Governor James F. Byrnes, and Judge Julius B. Ness, all close friends of Blatt.

Invitations cover nearly Blatt’s entire career in the General Assembly, spanning from 1937 to 1986. Speeches consist mostly of complete speech texts; see attached speech list. The Clippings and Photographs series are complemented by 41 scrapbooks, most kept by Ethel Blatt. The Scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, and memorabilia, relating to both Blatt’s career and his personal and family life, with many annotations by Mrs. Blatt.

Also included in the collection are papers of Sol Blatt’s son, Solomon Blatt, Jr. (1921-2016). Blatt Jr. served on the Board of Trustees at the University of South Carolina after Blatt Sr. was asked to step down due to a dual office-holding controversy. Blatt Jr. also practiced law in his father’s firm from 1946 until 1971, when he became a U.S. District Court Judge in Charleston. He served in that position until his death in 2016.

Blatt Jr.’s papers consist largely of correspondence with family, colleagues, business associates, and friends, as well as other files detailing his life and work. His Personal subseries largely documents Blatt Jr.’s work with the University of South Carolina and USC Athletic Committee, his judicial opinions, and his service in the U.S. Navy Reserve. There is also a small clippings series and a folder of photographs.

Vertical File Materials contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Blatt, Sr. and Blatt, Jr. and may duplicate information already present in the collection.

Dates

  • 1916-1921, 1933-2016

Creator

Physical Description

22 cartons, shelved oversize, scrapbooks, and speeches

Access

Library Use Only

Extent

22.0 boxes (22 containers)

Biographical Note

“Sol Blatt is one of those unique political leaders whose influence is based on forthrightness of purpose, personal probity, political courage, and deep personal loyalty. When issues become tense, many may wilt under pressures; but never Sol. You always know exactly where he stands. And when friends are involved and their course is right, they can be assured of Sol’s unswerving support.” ― U.S. Senator Donald Russell, March 5, 1966

One of the legends of twentieth-century South Carolina politics, Solomon Blatt was born on February 27, 1895, in Blackville, South Carolina. His father, Nathan Blatt, had emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1893, finding work as a traveling peddler in South Carolina. Shortly thereafter, he settled in Blackville, opened a store, and sent for his wife, Mollie, and their son, Jake. Solomon and his younger sister Rebecca (“Beck”) were born over the next several years.

Speaking of his childhood, Sol Blatt later told his biographer, John K. Cauthen, “[I]n some ways we didn’t share in community life. I suppose I suffered a good many boyhood disappointments because I wasn’t invited to parties. There were some people who mocked us because we were Jews from a foreign land, but the goodness of many others more than made up for such things. What with going to school, doing homework, clerking in the store and bringing in the wood for fires at home, I was pretty well occupied most of the time.”

Sol Blatt’s beginnings in a working-class Jewish immigrant family were to influence strongly his perspective and political career, particularly in his interest in public education, as his parents had no formal education. Blatt himself was able to attend the University of South Carolina, where he began at the age of sixteen, and finished in 1917 with a law degree. He was to remain a lifelong and devoted supporter of the University, serving for a time on the Board of Trustees.

After his graduation, Blatt returned to his home county of Barnwell to enter law practice with future South Carolina governor Emile Harley. Although Blatt had been found physically unfit for military service in the World War, he appealed to then-Congressman James F. Byrnes for help in getting a waiver allowing him to serve. Blatt was eventually sent to France, where he remained with his regiment until early 1919.

Returning to Barnwell, Blatt married Ethel Green of Sumter in March 1920. Their only child, Solomon Blatt, Jr., was born the following year. Blatt Sr. continued his practice of law with Harley until 1934, when he joined with Ira Fales to form the new firm of Blatt and Fales, which remained an active firm for the next fifty years.

Blatt’s first bid for elective office, in 1930, was an unsuccessful race for the South Carolina House. In later years, Blatt pointed to his religion as a factor in his loss in this race, although he generally felt it was not a major handicap or issue in his career. Two years later, Blatt won election to the House in an unopposed race. He soon took a role in the House leadership, becoming Speaker pro tem in 1935 and Speaker in 1937.

During the election of 1946, Blatt had little difficulty securing re-election to his own seat from Barnwell County. However, gubernatorial candidate Strom Thurmond’s campaign was based largely on denigrating Blatt, the Barnwell delegation, and the rule of the “Barnwell Ring,” referring to the prominence of Barnwell County natives in state government. Blatt, physically ill and embittered by Thurmond’s attacks, decided not to run for the Speakership in the ensuing session of the General Assembly. However, in 1950, he decided to seek the office again for the 1951 session, and was successful in winning it. He remained in the Speaker’s chair for the next twenty-two years.

Blatt’s approach as the presiding officer of the House was generally viewed as dignified, efficient, adherent to formal parliamentary procedure, and for the most part, impartial. His style of leadership was described by James F. Byrnes in 1963: “If in Mr. Blatt’s opinion legislation on any subject is necessary for the public good, instead of introducing it himself, he will suggest its introduction by the member he believes most capable of pressing it to enactment, then he will give it his support.” Blatt was also given to grooming and mentoring young legislators through the committee assignments he made. His skill at strategic legislative maneuvers, and his wide-ranging influence, led Governor Donald Russell to state that “[p]ractically every young political leader of this State, who has moved forward, has been a pupil in the Sol Blatt School of Political Education, and owes a large part of his success to the wise counsel and unfailing encouragement of Sol.”

The years of Blatt’s House leadership saw great changes in South Carolina. The state’s economy became far more industrialized behind the efforts of a succession of development-minded governors, beginning with Ernest F. Hollings. Blatt’s district was particularly affected by the arrival of the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility in the Barnwell area, as well as the later additions of the Chem-Nuclear waste site and the Allied General nuclear plant. Blatt remained active throughout his years in the legislature in attempting to bring still more industry to Barnwell County.

Another important change for the state was the restructuring of state and local government. When Blatt first came to office, South Carolina’s districting for the General Assembly included at-large voting for House representatives within each county. In addition, generally speaking, each county elected one Senator—the exception being the most populous counties, which were assigned more seats in the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1960s, struck down such arrangements in favor of single-member districts for both House and Senate. House districts, including Blatt’s, were realigned in the early 1970s in accordance with this ruling. At the same time, under the 1975 Home Rule Act, local and county governments, elected by county residents, largely took control over local issues. This was a change from the previous arrangement, in which a county’s legislative delegation dictated the governance, appointments, and budget for that county. The net result was the weakening of the power of the county delegations, including Barnwell’s. The Barnwell Ring, if it had ever existed—Blatt insisted it was a myth—could not have flourished under the new system.

In 1973, Blatt announced that he would voluntarily step down from the Speakership at the age of 78. Upon so doing, he was promptly designated “Speaker Emeritus” by the House membership, a title he held until his death. Blatt’s later years were marred by the long illness of his wife Ethel, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years before her death in 1985, and his own declining health, which eventually left him dependent upon a walker or wheelchair. However, he continued his work in his legal offices as well as in the legislature. At the time of his death on May 14, 1986, he was planning, with the encouragement of many friends and colleagues, to seek yet another term in the House.

Provenance

Donated by the Honorable Solomon Blatt, Jr.

Physical Description

22 cartons, shelved oversize, scrapbooks, and speeches

Copyright

Copyright of the Solomon Blatt Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina

Processing Information

Processed by Timothy Renick, 1989; Revisions by Dorothy Hazelrigg, 2007; Additions, 2016, by Zach Johnson

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Contact:
Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
803-777-0577

Title
Solomon Blatt Papers
Status
Completed
Author
1989, by Timothy Renick; Revisions, 2007, by Dorothy Hazelrigg; Additions, 2016, by Zach Johnson
Description rules
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