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Jack Bass Papers

Identifier: SCU -SCPC-JSB

The Jack Bass Papers, c. 1936 to 2017, consist of 25 linear feet of material chiefly documenting Bass’s work in researching and writing his books. The collection is divided into nine series: Academic, Campaign, Journalism, Personal, Publications, Topical, Audiovisual, Clippings, and Vertical File Materials.

Academic, 1967-2011, documents Bass’s positions as a professor or instructor at various institutions. Material relates to job searches, classes taught, student work, and correspondence with other faculty members and students. The series also includes documentation of several projects undertaken by Bass, such as the American South Comes of Age Project and the William F. Winter Oral History Project. Of particular interest is a transcript of a 2005 roundtable discussion on Brown v. Board of Education, featuring Bass as one of the panelists.

At the University of Mississippi, Bass chaired the Journalism Department Chair Search Committee, in addition to teaching. In 1993, Bass drafted faculty senate legislation calling for an end to the playing of “Dixie” at university events. Papers from the ensuing controversy include correspondence and the university senate act. While at South Carolina State College, Bass worked on a book on black leadership. Although a book never materialized, correspondence, proposals, and research materials related to the project are included.

At the University of South Carolina, Bass developed a 14-part television course, “The American South Comes of Age” (ASCOA) and edited the accompanying study guide. Papers include grant applications, an instructor’s guide, and two versions of the study guide. In the midst of development, Bass became involved in a lengthy dispute with the university over contractual issues related to ASCOA and its marketing. In conjunction with the course, Bass also served as director of the documentary, “A Different Dixie: Portraits of Change.” Budgets, information on actors, and funding requests are included.

Campaign, 1971-1988, chiefly documents Bass’s 1978 run for Congress. Topical files represent Bass’s positions on key issues from abortion to labor. In particular, Bass championed environmental issues and received much correspondence related to nuclear waste and the Russell Dam. After his defeat, condolence letters poured in from citizen supporters and politicians, including Vice President Walter Mondale and Senator Ernest F. Hollings. Other files document Bass’s involvement with various Democratic gubernatorial, senatorial, and presidential campaigns. For some candidates, he authored speeches and press releases; for others, he simply offered words of encouragement.

Journalism, 1959-2016, features articles authored by Bass, arranged chronologically and listed in Appendix I. The majority of material comes from Bass’s work as a reporter and bureau chief for The Charlotte Observer and The State newspapers. Both the General file and the files on various magazines, journals, and newspapers document article ideas, publication details, and the working relationship Bass had with colleagues. A number of book reviews written by Bass, 1976 to 2005, are listed in Appendix II. Material relating to Bass’s publication of The West Ashley Journal details the challenges and rewards of publishing a newspaper.

In 1998, Bass participated in a project initiated by the University of Maryland, titled “The State of the American Newspaper.” Articles, circulation statistics, interview notes, and issues of the American Journalism Review document Bass’s extensive research for the project. Several West Coast newspapers, used as research materials, were removed from the collection. They include Feb. 10, 1999, editions of The Argus, The Daily Review, The Oakland Tribune (Cityside and Eastbay Hills editions), San Mateo County Times (morning, noon, and evening editions), Alameda Times-Star, and Tri-Valley Herald (Livermore, Pleasanton, and Dublin; San Ramon, Danville, and Blackhawk; Tracy, Mantera, and Lathrop editions).

Personal, 1954-2012, includes information on Bass’s family, education, military service, and membership activities in various organizations. Bass also kept diaries in reporter’s notebooks intermittently from 1973 to 1991. Material documenting the 2010 senatorial campaign of Bass’s wife, Nathalie Dupree, is present, as well as a book tracing the Bass family history. Over 25 speeches on such topics as the Orangeburg Massacre, Southern politics, and civil rights are listed in Appendix III.

Publications, 1968-2015, comprise the largest series, arranged chronologically by title. Each major publication includes correspondence with literary agents, publishers, and readers, as well as promotional and research materials. Drafts files consist of many rewrites and revisions made to works.

Research materials for The Orangeburg Massacre include correspondence with Governor Robert E. McNair, Cleveland Sellers, Jr., and South Carolina State College students John Stroman and John Bogert. Bass and Nelson’s frustrations in getting the book published are also documented. There are also materials on two proposed films and two radio programs based on the book.

There is a significant amount of research material for The Transformation of Southern Politics that reflects the travels of Bass and co-author Walter DeVries. Materials include notes, correspondence with interviewees, and interview transcripts. The pair also gathered statistical data on political leanings throughout the South from a number of research groups. Materials from 1993 to 1994 reflect research undertaken for the 1995 reprint of the book.

Research materials for Unlikely Heroes mainly consist of interviews with judges John R. Brown, Elbert P. Tuttle, John Minor Wisdom, and Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Bass supplemented this research with correspondence and interviews with clerks, politicians, and others with strong connections to the judges. Interestingly, one of the longer transcripts comes from Bass’s interview with the daughter of Judge John M. Wisdom, Katherine. Two folders of correspondence between Bass and Judge Wisdom reveal a relationship that transcended the interview process. Also present is a screenplay, “Solomon’s Heart,” based on the book.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis served as Doubleday’s editor for Taming the Storm. Her correspondence with Bass reveals their professional working relationship. Material related to the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award is also present. Research at the John F. Kennedy Library and subsequent interviews with Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver led to Bass’s discovery that it was not a call from Robert F. Kennedy to a judge in Georgia that got Martin Luther King, Jr. out of prison, but actually a call from John F. Kennedy to Vandiver. The Robert Kennedy story was a cover to protect the political interest of both the governor and then-presidential candidate Kennedy.

Materials for Ol’ Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond include Bass’s original 1979 book proposal and two versions of book proofs. Research materials include interview transcripts with Thurmond friends, staff, and family members. Documents related to daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams include copies of her correspondence with then-Governor Thurmond, 1947-1950, and information related to her studies at South Carolina State College.

Much of the research for Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond focuses on Essie Mae Washington-Williams. Correspondence between Bass, Thompson, and publisher Public Affairs highlight their concern with the editing process. Also present is a screenplay adapted from the book and written by Godfrey Cheshire.

Research for Justice Abandoned includes many Supreme Court decisions and legal briefs for cases that spanned the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Topical, c. 1960-2005, documents Bass’s interest in such subjects as the Confederate flag and the 1970 murder of Wallace Youmans. The file on the 1986 Tax Reform Act consists of correspondence with several congressmen, such as Ernest F. Hollings and Strom Thurmond. The Persons files contain either correspondence with or information about such people as Bill Clinton, Ernest F. Hollings, and Richard Riley. The Practice of Oral History file contains a list of questions for interviewing federal judges. Additionally, Bass was interested in the nomination of Ed Carnes, a possible successor to Judge Frank M. Johnson on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Materials highlight the support for and against the Carnes nomination. Documents from a 1983 reapportionment case, South Carolina v. United States/NAACP, include injunction materials, depositions, and reference materials. Materials related to the voting rights case, NAACP, Inc., et al. v. City of Columbia, SC, et al., for which Bass served as a consultant and expert witness, are also present.

Audiovisual, c. 1936-c. 2005, includes photographs, negatives, audiocassettes, and videocassettes. Photographs include a 1940 school portrait of “Jackie Bass,” Bass’s high school football portrait, and a picture of Bass and Nathalie Dupree greeting President Bill Clinton at the White House. Several photographs from Bass’s military service are also included. Audiocassettes document interviews mainly conducted for his books. A videocassette shows Bass’s appearance on the “Today Show” in September 1976. VHS tapes include interviews with William F. Winter.

Clippings, 1953-2016, are topically arranged. Many feature stories written by Bass and reflect his study of Southern politics and civil rights. Also, the Publications files contain research materials and reviews for several Bass works.

Vertical File Materials, 1993-2017, contain information gathered by SCPC relating to Bass and may duplicate information already present in the collection.


  • c. 1936-2017


Conditions Governing Access

Library use only. Copyright of the Jack Bass Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.


26 Linear Feet (26 boxes)

Biographical / Historical

Described as a “journalist, Southerner, teacher, scholar and damn good writer” by editor James O’Shea Wade, Jack Bass has displayed many talents throughout his long, varied career. The author of many nonfiction books and articles for major publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, he has received national recognition for his study of and works on the American South. In addition to teaching courses at the University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University, University of Mississippi, College of Charleston, and The Citadel, Bass is a noted oral historian, interviewing hundreds of notable people across the South, from South Carolina Governor Richard Riley to President Bill Clinton.

Jack Solomon Bass was born in 1934 to Nathan and Esther Bass in North, South Carolina. One of seven children, he was educated in North’s public schools and played high school football. Yet he discovered journalism by means of baseball. As a teenager, his first reporting assignment was to call in the scores of North’s semiprofessional baseball team to The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg. He got the job because he knew how to score ball games, earning $1.00 per game.

Bass attended the University of South Carolina (USC), where his activities included editorship of The Daily Gamecock and membership in the Phi Epsilon Fraternity and the Blue Key Honor Society. He graduated in 1956 with a degree in journalism. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy and attended officer’s candidate school in Newport, Rhode Island. Bass was assigned to North Island Naval Station in Coronado, California, and later to the Philippines.

After a three-year stint in the Navy, Bass and his family moved to Charleston, SC, where he began his professional career as a journalist. He and his wife, Carolyn McClung, a fellow editor of The Daily Gamecock, whom he married in 1957, had three children: Kenneth, David, and Elizabeth. He worked for The News and Courier for a year before forming a partnership with friend and fellow journalist Dew James to open a weekly newspaper, The West Ashley Journal, in 1961. Many residents of West Ashley praised Bass and James for their work. However, Bass wrote to a friend in December 1962, “[I]f you know of someone with good character and some knowhow who might be interested in purchasing a part-interest in a struggling suburban weekly with good potential for growth, I would be interested in talking to him.” Bass and James found a buyer, but The West Ashley Journal ran its last story in 1964.

That same year, Bass began working as the governmental affairs editor of The State and moved to Columbia. This position put him in charge of many stories related to race and politics throughout the Southern states. In 1965, he was one of twelve American journalists selected to receive the Nieman Fellowship, an award for mid-career journalists enabling them to study at Harvard University for a year. The Basses moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Bass took courses in history, government, and constitutional law.

Bass served as the Columbia Bureau Chief for The Charlotte Observer, 1966 to 1973. In addition, in 1967, he became a part-time lecturer in journalism at USC. The following year, he was named the South Carolina Journalist of the Year.

On February 8, 1968, tragedy struck the campus of South Carolina State College. During a protest triggered by the segregation policy at an Orangeburg bowling alley, students clashed with the National Guard, leaving three students dead and 27 injured. As he reported on the events of the incident and its aftermath, Bass began to consider writing a book. Jack Nelson, who worked as the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times and also covered the tragic affair, had similar ideas. This led to a collaboration between the two reporters.

Their book, The Orangeburg Massacre, offered an almost minute-by-minute account of the shootings, as well as the investigation that followed. After it was published in 1970, accolades streamed in from formal reviewers and individual readers alike. Senator Ernest F. Hollings wrote to Bass in November 1970: “Look, I’ve just scanned this book, but it’s undoubtedly authoritative and so engaging in style you just can’t scan. For months now I have answered on campuses that I don’t know, that I wasn’t there and in a sense I hate to learn. But unless we do, we’re all lost. I congratulate both you and Jack Nelson for turning on the light.” John Bogert, a student injured during the incident, also wrote to Bass: “I thought I would write you also and thank you for not letting my friend Sam Hammond die without ever being heard. It was such a very good work to see after so many years of crying in the wilderness. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated it and how deeply affected I once again became. The only trouble is that now it all seems like yesterday again.”

Not all reviews of The Orangeburg Massacre were favorable, however. Most notably, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was outraged at Bass and Nelson’s critique of the FBI’s investigation of the incident. Hoover wrote to Bass, “In summary, the book is so biased in its attempt to smear the FBI that it raises serious questions as to the competence and objectivity of the authors.”

Bass did not wait long before beginning work on a new book. In 1972, he wrote Porgy Comes Home: South Carolina after 300 Years. He documented the progress and pitfalls of race relations in the Palmetto State, drawing on his experiences as a native and a reporter. In 1973, Bass began work as a research scholar at Duke University’s Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs. During his time there, he co-authored his third book, The Transformation of Southern Politics, with Walter DeVries, a political scientist and campaign consultant. The book was an update on V. O. Key’s Southern Politics in State and Nation, published in 1949. Bass and DeVries spent two years traveling over 40,000 miles throughout the eleven states of the former Confederacy and conducting over 360 interviews with such prominent figures as governors Jimmy Carter and John West. Bass wrote their publisher at Basic Books in June 1974, “There is no doubt the South has changed. Picture a poolside cocktail party late last Friday afternoon at the Holida[y] Inn at Santee, S.C. for a conference of Southern Black Mayors—with two white bartenders.” Bass was the first writer-in-residence at South Carolina State College, 1975 to 1978, where he taught journalism and conducted research for a book, never completed, about black political leadership. He earned his master’s degree in journalism from USC in 1976.

In a bold move in 1978, Bass took a break from both journalism and academia in an attempt to unseat four-term Republican congressman Floyd Spence. One of his supporters, Fran McCarthy, wrote, “Your campaign seems to be only a natural progression from the compassion and concern that was always evident in your writing… I was inspired by your work and it’s quite heartening to see someone testing heart-felt convictions in public life.” Bass won the Democratic primary, but lost the general election to Spence, receiving 43% of the vote.

In 1979, Bass renewed his relationship with USC through an appointment as a research fellow at the Institute of Legal History. During this time, he worked on his fourth book, Unlikely Heroes, which examined the role of the judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in effecting change in the South during the Civil Rights era. After the book was published in 1981, Bass agreed to partner with USC to direct “a five-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and additional grants from Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie to produce a fourteen-hour television course” called “The American South Comes of Age.” The course explored the social, political, and economic transformation of the South since World War II. Bass traveled across the South, conducting videotaped interviews with such people as Senator Strom Thurmond and Governor Bill Clinton. In addition, Bass served as editor for a PBS documentary, “A Different Dixie: Portraits of Change,” which was released in 1984.

That same year, Bass and his wife Carolyn divorced and he married poet and author Alice Cabaniss. He returned to teaching in 1987 as a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, where he spent the next eleven years. In conjunction with teaching, he became director of the William F. Winter Oral History Project to document Winter’s tenure as governor of Mississippi, 1980 to 1984. He also participated in a project to make a documentary about George Wallace, the controversial, four-time governor of Alabama. Bass soon began researching his fifth book, a biography of Alabama Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. His interest in Johnson grew out of earlier interviews with the judge for Unlikely Heroes. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis served as his editor for Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Frank M. Johnson, Jr. and the South’s Fight Over Civil Rights, 1993. That same year, Bass served as a consultant and expert witness for NAACP, Inc., et al. v. City of Columbia, et al., a case that sought to change election practices for City Council.

Following his divorce from Cabaniss in 1993, Jack married author, chef, and TV personality Nathalie Dupree in 1994. That same year, Taming the Storm won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He spent the next several years teaching, writing articles and reviews, and speaking. In 1998, he began pursuing a doctorate in American studies at Emory University. He decided to write a biography of Strom Thurmond as his dissertation. He partnered with Marilyn W. Thompson, who had conducted several in-depth interviews with Thurmond and key associates over the years. Bass left the University of Mississippi in 1999 to accept a position as a professor of humanities and social sciences at the College of Charleston.

After Thurmond’s death in July 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams publicly confirmed that she was the senator’s bi-racial, illegitimate daughter. Bass and Thompson decided to write another book about Thurmond and analyze his life in light of Washington-Williams’s admission. Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond was published in 2005. In response to a critic who did not see much difference between the two books, Bass wrote, “The new book is far more than an update. From beginning to end, the new book fully incorporates the history of their relationship, which spanned more than six decades. In the end neither the father nor daughter found the relationship emotionally satisfying, but it provides an intriguing saga that fully fleshes out Thurmond’s life story.”

After retiring from the College of Charleston in 2008, Bass served as the director of The Citadel World War II Alumni Oral History Project and for two years also taught as a faculty member of The Citadel’s Department of History. Along with co-author Scott Poole, he finished work in 2009 on his eighth book, The Palmetto State: The Making of Modern South Carolina, which focused on the importance of race relations throughout the state’s history. In 2011, he received the South Carolina Governor’s Award in the Humanities.

Currently, Bass continues to lecture and write, most often op-ed pieces, and actively develop his earlier publications. He is working on a ninth book, Justice Abandoned, which focuses on “the Supreme Court’s central role in ending Reconstruction and undermining congressional intent through its interpretation” of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. He and his wife, Nathalie Dupree, live in Charleston.

Physical Location

South Carolina Political Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, University of South Carolina. 1322 Greene St., Columbia, SC 29208.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Jack Bass

Processing Information

2008, by Bruce Langley; 2010, by Debbie Davendonis Todd; additions and revisions, 2016, by Mary Clare Johnson

Repository Details

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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