Throughout Carroll’s public career, his sharp intellect and stirring oratory commanded large audiences across the state.
Clergyman. Born in Barnwell District (later Bamberg County) on November 2, 1860, Richard Carroll rose from slavery and emerged as one of the most influential African Americans in South Carolina in the early twentieth century. Described as a mulatto by contemporaries, Carroll worked as a house servant for the L. L. Rice family near Denmark, as did his mother.
In his midteens Carroll attended a revival near Denmark conducted by the Reverend A. W. Lamar, the secretary-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. The revival led Carroll to a religious conversion, and he later contemplated a career in the ministry. Faced with few professional and educational opportunities in his rural community, Carroll moved to Columbia to attend Benedict Institute. At Benedict and later at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, he broadened his theological training and honed his oratorical skills.
On entering the ministry, Carroll pastored several churches throughout the state, including the Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville. Subsequently he worked as a traveling evangelist, an agent of the American Baptist Publication Society, and as an itinerant minister and colporteur for the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. Additionally he served as an officer and life member of the Baptist Educational, Missionary, and Sunday School Convention, the largest association of African American Baptists in South Carolina.
During the Spanish-American War, Carroll served as a military chaplain for the Tenth U.S. Infantry. Following the war he edited a series of newspapers in Columbia, including the short-lived Christian Soldier and The Southern Ploughman, a semimonthly publication. In 1899 Carroll secured funding from a northern philanthropist and local white benefactors to purchase a 225-acre tract on the outskirts of Columbia to establish an industrial home for African American children.
Throughout Carroll’s public career, his sharp intellect and stirring oratory commanded large audiences across the state. While highly critical of blatant acts of white racism, such as the 1905 production of Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman on a Columbia stage, Carroll devised a conservative and pragmatic posture on issues concerning race relations, segregation, and white supremacy. Modeling his work after Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Machine, Carroll voiced strong opposition to the social activism of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Niagara Movement and underscored the precepts of self-help, economic development, and moral uplift as the best remedy to the “Negro Problem.” In published speeches and writings Carroll discouraged political agitation, counseled against black migration to northern cities, and appealed to the paternalist sensibilities of his white supporters. His rhetoric of racial self-help and political conservatism found a receptive audience among white newspapers, particularly William E. Gonzales’s State in Columbia.
In 1907 in Columbia, Carroll organized the first of a series of annual conferences on race relations that attracted African American leaders from across the country and prominent white South Carolinians. Booker T. Washington spoke at the inaugural meeting and endorsed Carroll’s work. Underscoring the importance of economic development in black communities, Carroll subsequently established a black employment bureau in Columbia’s African American business district and, like Washington, offered support and counsel to enterprising African Americans seeking to secure jobs and open businesses. The Columbia businessman and civic leader Isaac Samuel Leevy was one of several young people who benefited from Carroll’s advice and intervention. Leevy, along with the lawyer and educator Nathaniel J. Frederick and others, assisted Carroll in developing and promoting an annual and highly successful State Colored Fair.
In 1883 Carroll married Mary Magdalene Sims, one of the first college graduates of Benedict. They had four children. After Mary’s death, Carroll married Carrie Julia McDaniel in 1914. After suffering a debilitating stroke and retiring from public life, Carroll died in Columbia on October 29, 1929. He was buried in Randolph Cemetery.
Carroll, Richard. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Carroll, Richard, and T. H. Wiseman. Thoughts. Columbia, S.C.: Lewie Printing, .
Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1990. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Newby, I. A. Black Carolinians: A History of Blacks in South Carolina from 1895 to 1968. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973.