Brown, Edgar Allan

July 11, 1888–June 26, 1975

In September 1954 U.S. Senator Burnet Rhett Maybank died. His death occurred after the Democratic Party’s primary but before the general election. The South Carolina Democratic Party’s executive committee held a special meeting and decided to select Edgar Brown as the party’s candidate rather than hold a special election. In response, Strom Thurmond announced a write-in candidacy for the U.S. Senate, claiming that his campaign was a fight for principle— government by the people instead of government by a small group of committee members. Thurmond’s write-in campaign was successful, and he became the first candidate ever elected to Congress by a write-in vote.

Legislator. Brown was born on July 11, 1888, near Graniteville in Aiken County, the youngest child of Augustus “Gus” Brown and Elizabeth Howard. He attended Graniteville Academy, a school operated by the Graniteville Company, but left school in 1904 just before the beginning of his final year. At the age of sixteen he entered Osborne Business College, and in four months he completed a one-year program in shorthand. He then went to work in Sumter for Witherspoon Brothers, a manufacturer of coffins and caskets. From 1905 to 1906 Brown served as a public reporter in the state. From 1906 to 1908 he was clerk and head stenographer for the law firm of Colonel Daniel Sutherland Henderson in Aiken. In 1909 he was commissioned as court stenographer of the Second Judicial Circuit in Barnwell, replacing James F. Byrnes, who had been selected solicitor for the circuit. Brown passed the state bar exam in 1910 and became a lawyer. On December 30, 1913, he married Annie Love Sitgreaves, an Aiken schoolteacher. They had one daughter.

Brown was first elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1920. He served in the House from 1921 to 1926, serving as Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1926. He was also chair of the state Democratic executive committee from 1922 to 1926. In 1926 he challenged U.S. Senator Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts by Brown to win a U.S. Senate seat; he lost bids in 1938 and 1954 as well. In 1928 he was elected to the S.C. Senate. He would remain in the S.C. Senate from 1929 until his retirement in 1972, serving as president pro tempore from 1942 to 1972.

When Strom Thurmond ran for governor in 1946, he ran against the Barnwell Ring, which referred to politicians from Barnwell County, including Edgar Brown, who held prominent positions in the General Assembly. In addition to Brown, who held the most powerful position in the Senate, it included Speaker of the House Solomon Blatt, and House Ways and Means chair Winchester Smith. These Barnwell legislators had an inordinate influence in state government, but the “Ring” was more of an election ploy than a description of political decision-making in the state. While Brown and Blatt were the two most powerful legislators in the state, they did not necessarily agree on policy and insisted that there was so such ring.

In September 1954 U.S. Senator Burnet Rhett Maybank died. His death occurred after the Democratic Party’s primary but before the general election. The South Carolina Democratic Party’s executive committee held a special meeting and decided to select Edgar Brown as the party’s candidate rather than hold a special election. In response, Strom Thurmond announced a write-in candidacy for the U.S. Senate, claiming that his campaign was a fight for principle– government by the people instead of government by a small group of committee members. Thurmond’s write-in campaign was successful, and he became the first candidate ever elected to Congress by a write-in vote.

Politically, Brown was considered one of the most powerful men in state government through his position as president pro tempore of the Senate and chair of the Senate finance committee. As such, he played an instrumental role in state financial matters. A fiscal conservative, Brown helped to create the South Carolina Budget and Control Board and was credited with keeping the state on a sound financial footing with a triple “A” credit rating. He was a strong proponent of a good road system, especially in rural areas. He was a major supporter of the public school system as well as higher education. While he never attended the institution, he was chair of the Clemson University Board of Trustees and played a significant role in the peaceful integration of Clemson in 1963. He also supported the establishment of the state technical education system and educational television.

Brown retired in 1972, ending a legislative career that spanned fifty years. He died on June 26, 1975, from injuries received in an automobile accident near Barnwell. The “Bishop from Barnwell” was buried in the cemetery next to the Barnwell Methodist Episcopal Church.

Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

Workman, William D. The Bishop from Barnwell: The Political Life and Times of Senator Edgar A. Brown. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1963.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Brown, Edgar Allan
  • Coverage July 11, 1888–June 26, 1975
  • Author
  • Keywords Legislator, Graniteville Academy, clerk and head stenographer for the law firm of Colonel Daniel Sutherland Henderson in Aiken, Second Judicial Circuit, Senator Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith, president pro tempore, South Carolina Budget and Control Board, Clemson University Board of Trustees
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 2, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 19, 2022
Go to Top