The United Citizens Party (UCP) is a political party unique to South Carolina. Its purpose is to promote, through the electoral process, human, civil, workers,’ and reproductive rights, in addition to advocating environmental protection and governmental reform. Organized in 1969 primarily by the civil rights activist John Roy Harper, the UCP grew largely from disquieted Democrats angered by their party’s refusal to nominate African American candidates for public offices. Harper, who later led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1980s, formed the UCP.
In the aftermath of sit-ins and boycotts, civil rights took a more political approach through the UCP. It relied less on protests and more on direct action through representation. Perhaps the biggest impetus for the movement came from South Carolina’s total failure at electing black politicians during most of the twentieth century. In the years before the UCP was founded, South Carolina was one of only three southern states—Alabama and Arkansas were the other two—with an all-white legislature.
The party’s strategy was to run candidates for the General Assembly and local government in counties with black majority populations. The party ran candidates in the elections of 1970 and 1972. In its first campaign, UCP support succeeded in getting three black candidates (I. S. Leevy Johnson, James Felder, and Herbert Fielding) elected as Democrats to the S.C. House of Representatives.
During the 1970s the Democratic Party diversified its racial makeup, and the UCP subsequently lost prominence as a third party for black candidates. African American anger over political subordination subsided with the emergence of electoral clout. Many black leaders made reapportionment of congressional and state legislative districts into a key issue since their candidates were being elected by predominantly black constituencies.
By the early twenty-first century the UCP plotted a resurgence in response to the internal cohesiveness of the Democratic and Republican Parties, which UCP leaders asserted were not responsive enough to the needs and interests of all South Carolina citizens. In August 2000 the UCP held a convention in Columbia that advocated expanded rights for the working class, gays and lesbians, racial minorities, citizens without health insurance, and the disabled. Attendees also promoted structural changes in government, such as campaign finance reform. At the same convention the party nominated the consumer advocate Ralph Nader for president of the United States. The UCP also continued to advocate economic, social, and environmental justice. In 2002 the party ran candidates for a variety of national and state offices and succeeded in electing five candidates that it endorsed to the General Assembly.
Bethea, Margaret Berry. “Alienation and Third Parties: A Study of the United Citizens Party in South Carolina.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1973.