Despite the racial barriers that hampered African Americans in the early twentieth century, Frederick became a successful lawyer. Before his death in 1938, he appeared before the South Carolina Supreme Court thirty-three times, more than any African American lawyer up to that time.

Lawyer, editor. Frederick was born on November 18, 1877, in Orangeburg County, the son of Benjamin Glenn Frederick and Henrietta Baxter. He earned a B.A. from Claflin College in 1889 and a degree in history and Latin from the University of Wisconsin in 1901. He married Corrine Carroll on September 14, 1904. They had four children. Frederick served as principal of Columbia’s Howard School from 1902 until 1918. During this period he also read law. Admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1913, he opened a law office in Columbia the following year.

Despite the racial barriers that hampered African Americans in the early twentieth century, Frederick became a successful lawyer. Before his death in 1938, he appeared before the South Carolina Supreme Court thirty-three times, more than any African American lawyer up to that time. He won twelve appeals and three of his four criminal cases that appeared before the court. Two of his legal victories drew national attention. In the 1926 case of State v. Lowman, Frederick represented three members of the Lowman family, African Americans who had been convicted of murdering the sheriff of Aiken County. Taking the case on appeal, Frederick won a unanimous order for a new trial. At the retrial, Frederick obtained a directed verdict of acquittal of Demond Lowman. The expectation was that a similar result would be obtained the next day for Bertha Lowman and her cousin Clarence. However, Demond was immediately rearrested. On the evening of October 8, 1926, all three Lowmans were dragged from jail and lynched. Despite editorial campaigns and three grand jury investigations, no one was ever brought to trial for the lynching.

The 1929 case of Ex parte Bess had a less tragic ending. Ben Bess was a black man who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a white woman. After Bess had served thirteen years of a thirty-year sentence, his alleged victim recanted her testimony. Using the recantation, Frederick obtained a pardon from Governor John G. Richards. After threats of prosecution for perjury, however, the alleged victim withdrew her recantation, whereupon the governor tried to revoke the pardon. Frederick immediately challenged the governor. The state supreme court sat en banc, with all the state circuit court judges, and in a ten-to-eight decision ruled that the governor could not revoke his pardon. Fearing a repeat of the Lowman lynching, Frederick immediately moved Bess out of state.

Frederick was active in other areas of South Carolina’s African American community. He was a crusading newspaperman, serving as editor of the Southern Indicator and the Palmetto Leader. He helped organize the Victory Savings Bank, a black-owned financial institution in Columbia. He was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served on its national legal committee. An ardent Republican, Frederick was a delegate to the party’s national conventions in 1924, 1928, and 1932. He died in Columbia on September 7, 1938, nearly destitute and was buried in Palmetto Cemetery, Columbia.

Caldwell, A. B., ed. History of the American Negro. Vol. 3, South Carolina. Atlanta: A. B. Caldwell, 1919.

Obituary. Columbia Palmetto Leader, September 10, 1938.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Frederick, Nathaniel Jerome
  • Author W. Lewis Burke
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/frederick-nathaniel-jerome/
  • Access Date April 3, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update October 11, 2016