Luther James Battiste, III Papers
The Battiste Collection consists of 6 linear feet of documents, arranged into five series: Public, Personal, Clippings, and Audiovisual, and Vertical File Materials. About half of the collection chronicles Battiste’s pioneering political life as a member of the Columbia City Council while the other half documents Battiste’s college years, campaigns, and professional life.
Public Papers document Battiste’s service on the Columbia City Council, chiefly dates from 1983 to 1989, and are topically arranged. City program plans and correspondence between Councilman Battiste, individual constituents or neighborhood organizations, and other government officials make up most of these papers. The correspondence often follows an issue from initial complaint to conclusion and demonstrates how quickly Battiste was able to address issues. The subseries Community Development deals with both general topics, such as zoning and housing, along with specific neighborhoods. The neighborhood files may have papers that concern the citywide subjects as well. This organization reflects Battiste’s own emphasis on the importance of neighborhoods. In a speech given to the Hyatt Park Neighborhood, Battiste explains, “I believe that in order to have a healthy city, we must protect our neighborhoods...our neighborhoods form the heart and soul of our city” (found in Speeches and Press Releases). The Eau Claire Community and College Place, a neighborhood within Eau Claire, have the largest group of materials. Folders for the majority of the neighborhoods contain individual development plans while a few have neighborhood bulletins. The Public series also contains notes Battiste took at council meetings and conferences he attended, office messages, and reference materials. One folder of interest is the City Calendars/Annual Reports put out by the City of Columbia between 1983 and 1998. The calendars demonstrate the frequency, date, and time of various city meetings and give an account of the major projects going on during Battiste’s time in office. The subseries Retirement chronicles the outpouring of appreciation for Battiste upon his decision not to seek re-election to the Columbia City Council in 1998. Items of note include a Certificate of Appreciation presented to Battiste by the City of Columbia, an invitation and guest list from the Roast and Toast event that served as both a retirement party for Battiste and a fundraiser for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
The Personal series contains papers from Battiste’s campaigns, involvement with the Democratic Party, professional life, education, and family. The series begins with a General folder containing correspondence with friends and family. Of particular note is a series of letters between renowned artist Romare Bearden and Battiste which are preserved digitally in the collection. The Campaigns subseries mostly covers Battiste’s 1983 campaign; however, there are a few items from his later campaigns in the General and Speeches folders. An item of interest is a set of interview questions from a coalition of neighborhoods in District One with several drafts of Battiste’s responses in preparation for the interview.
In 1971, while a student at USC, Battiste managed the historic and successful campaign of Harry L. Walker, the first African American to run for student body president. Walker’s campaign is documented under USC Student Government. Walker’s progressive ten point platform called for “Open House” in all dormitories; the sale of beer on campus, with profits to underwrite scholarship assistance for financially disadvantaged students; increased recruitment of blacks and veterans; and a restructuring of student government “to make the organization more germane to the students rather than a mechanism of administration dominance.” Clippings from the student newspaper, The Gamecock, further document the campaign.
Papers from the law firm, 1983 to 2011, bulk 1996 to 2007, include law reference materials, various association directories and magazines, and a small volume of correspondence. In the South Carolina Bar subseries, there is a string of emails between lawyers giving advice on particular cases. Also of note are Battiste’s copious tabs in the Supreme Court of South Carolina Appeals Decisions indicating the legal subjects of specific portions of the decisions. Examples of the subjects are criminal, family court, worker’s compensation, and witnesses influenced during trial.
Clippings, 1971 to 1998, relate to Battiste and subjects of import to him regarding Columbia, South Carolina, and the nation as a whole, such as Black America, elections and voting, Columbia development, zoning, minorities, etc. Two events of particular interest are covered here, the South Carolina Government Vote Buying and FBI scandals and the 1986 Federal Budget Cuts and Tax Reform. The latter focuses primarily on the impact these federal decisions had on cities. There is also one folder containing clippings on Battiste, mostly connected to his political life, and one folder about his father, Luther Battiste Jr., who worked at South Carolina State College for over four decades. The articles on Battiste give an overview of his career and offer insights into his political agenda and personality.
The Audiovisual series contains an audio CD from 1997 in which two young students receive a $100 scholarship in honor of Luther J. Battiste, III. Video recordings highlight both public and private achievements in Battiste’s career, including the dedication of a new Airport Parking Facility whose construction Battiste oversaw while serving with the Airport Authority; the 1995 Wachovia Main Street Jazz Festival; and Battiste’s retirement Roast and Toast. VHS recordings have been transferred to digital MP4 files. For access to these materials, please contact SCPC in advance of your visit. Photographs show Battiste and his family, Battiste’s early career on the Council, attendance at a Black Caucus, and Bicentennial Park. An oversize folder contains an issue of Ebony Magazine featuring an article on the historic 1971 election of Harry Walker as USC Student Body President, a yard sign from Battiste’s 1983 campaign for Columbia City Council, and a color photo of the 1986-1990 Columbia City Council.
Vertical File Materials contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Battiste and may duplicate information already present in the collection.
- 1965 - 2015
Language of Materials
Library use only.
6 Linear Feet
Luther James Battiste, III became one of the first African-Americans to serve on the Columbia City Council since the Reconstruction Era. He was elected in 1983 to represent District One and remained on the Council until 1998. He is also a prominent Columbia lawyer renowned for his ability as a trial lawyer, particularly his cross-examinations and closings. Battiste is married to Judy and together they have two children, Justin and Jade.
Biographical / Historical
“Every complimentary word ever said about a man has probably been uttered in reference to Luther J. Battiste, III. Honest, diplomatic, intelligent, caring and diligent are some of the adjectives most commonly used to describe him by constituents, peers, and citizens throughout Columbia and the state of South Carolina.” Cityscape, Summer 1998
Luther James Battiste, III has been a respected leader in the Columbia community for most of his life. From his summer in college working with low-income children to his fifteen years of service on the Columbia City Council, Battiste has dedicated himself to improving Columbia for all of its residents. In 1983, he became one of the first African-Americans elected to the Columbia City Council since the Reconstruction Era, sharing the honor with E.W. Cromartie II, and he served two terms as Mayor Pro Tem during his time in office. Battiste remained on the Council until 1998 when he decided not to run for re-election. While proving himself to be an effective community representative, Battiste also remained highly involved in the fields of law and business.
Born July 21, 1949 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Battiste attributes his success predominantly to his parents, Mildred Battiste and Luther Battiste, Jr. “My parents had different qualities. I like to think I took the best from my parents,” he commented to the Carolina Tribune. After graduating from Wilkinson High School in 1967, Battiste began attending the University of South Carolina shortly after its integration in 1963. Reminiscing to Attitude Magazine, Battiste said, “They used to say that you could walk around U.S.C. campus for one week and not see a Black face before we came.”
Battiste got his introduction to politics at the University of South Carolina when he managed the successful campaign of Harry Walker, the first African-America to run for president of student government. While at USC, Battiste was named to Who’s Who Among Colleges and Universities and recognized as an outstanding senior. Among his accomplishments, he co-authored a successful proposal for the creation of an African-American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. In 1971, Battiste graduated with a B.A. in International Studies, the first African-American to do so. He went on to Emory University Law School, where he was equally involved as a member of the Dean Selection Committee for the Law School, a representative for the Law to the Student Government Association, and president of the Black American Law Students Association. In 1974, Battiste graduated with a Juris Doctor degree.
Soon after graduation, Battiste began his law career in Columbia as an intern for I.S. Leevy Johnson and was made a partner within a year. Battiste is now the managing and founding shareholder of Johnson, Toal, and Battiste, P.A., which he chartered with William T. Toal and I.S. Leevy Johnson in 1975. Johnson, Toal, and Battiste, P.A. has received the highest rating given to a law firm by the Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating service and was the first minority firm in South Carolina to earn membership to the American Bar Association’s Minority Demonstration Program.
Battiste is renowned for his ability as a trial lawyer, particularly his cross-examinations and closings, with areas of specialty in worker’s compensation, complex civil litigation, motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, and administrative law. Battiste was the first African-American president of the Richland County Bar Association and of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association. His additional leadership roles in the law profession include president of the Columbia Lawyers Association, member of the National Board of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), and president of the Southeastern Region of ABOTA (SEABOTA).
Battiste’s leadership within Columbia’s business profession includes two terms as Vice Chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, membership on the Standard Federal Savings Bank and South Carolina Bank and Trust Boards, and Chairman of the Richland/Lexington County Airport Commission.
Battiste saw his career as a businessperson and lawyer as highly relevant to his service on City Council. In an interview with a coalition of neighborhoods from District One, Battiste explained that as a lawyer he spent time problem solving and giving advice to individuals. He believed this experience translated to Council service because he understood a large portion of the role of a council member as responding to individual constituent concerns. On the local level, this meant seemingly mundane issues including garbage problems, streetlights, drainage, and public safety complaints.
Overall, Battiste aimed to bring government closer to the people. This goal began with his election, which was the first under the new “4-2-1” plan. Before this, five Columbia City Council members were elected at large. Many, including Battiste, believed that this prevented African-Americans from being elected to City Council and, therefore, the concerns of the African-American community from being adequately addressed by the Council. The City decided to expand the Council to have four district representatives, two at large representatives, and one at large Mayor, 4-2-1. The districts were drawn so that two had an African-American majority, and two African-American council members were elected the first year Columbia implemented the new plan.
Battiste saw his responsibilities as a council member as three-fold, encompassing representation of District One, the African-American community, and the City as a whole. In his district, Battiste was a major advocate for neighborhoods. He encouraged neighborhood organizations to form and to voice their concerns to himself and City Council and frequently attended their meetings to understand their concerns. He championed the improvement of low-income housing while ensuring that current low-income residents were not displaced as a result of those improvements. Battiste passionately co-sponsored and advocated for The Minority Business Enterprise Program, a program for hiring more minorities and women for city jobs and contracts, despite the friction it caused among council members. He worked to make Columbia a safer, more attractive place for its residents and a destination for visitors. Finlay Park, Riverfront Park, and the development of the Congaree Vista are just a few of the many improvements Battiste supported during his city leadership.
Battiste’s success in bringing government closer to the people and addressing individual constituent concerns is obvious. In 1986, 1990, and 1994 Battiste was the only council member to run unopposed. Upon his retirement, the city built a plaza and monument and named it in his honor in one of the neighborhoods he advocated for most, the Eau Claire Community. Battiste’s service was recognized by the Congress in a proclamation read by the Hon. James Clyburn which described the former Councilman as “one of the most articulate and thoughtful members of (the) Council.” A transcript of this Proclamation can be found in the collection in the folder marked “Retirement”. After leaving the Columbia City Council, Battiste remained highly active within the community, serving on the boards of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport Authority, the Columbia Museum of Art, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Capital City Club. In 1999, Battiste was inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame.
From the very start, Battiste thought of his position as being solely about the community. “I feel like I was drafted by the community. It wasn’t something that I planned to do,” he told the Carolina Tribune. In 1998 he chose not to seek reelection. As the position evolved into one including more and more committee meetings and community involvement, he realized he could no longer give the position 100%. With his wife, Judy Battiste, and their two children, Justin Foster and Jade Nicole, along with a full-time job, he felt that there was not enough time to do the job well and maintain a balanced life. With all he had done for the community, upon his retirement Battiste expressed to Cityscape that he was proudest of the Summer Concert Series, particularly the first that featured Betty Carter. This event, which came to be known as the Wachovia Main Street Jazz Festival, illustrates Battiste’s particular love for jazz music. Battiste owns an extensive collection of jazz recordings which he began to assemble as a student at USC in the late 1960’s, and he took great pride in sharing his collection via the weekly radio program Jazz in the City on 92.1 FM The Palm.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by the Honorable Luther James Battiste, III
Copyright of the Luther James Battiste, III Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.
Processed by Karli Mair, 2013; additions, 2015, by Chandler White; additions, 2018, by Chauna Carr.
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
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