In 1946 George Elmore, an African American who was eligible to vote in general elections, was denied the right to vote in the Democratic Party primary in Richland County in which party nominees for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and state offices were chosen.
One month after the South Carolina General Assembly repealed all statutes related to party primaries in the state in order to maintain its white primary, African American leaders formed the Progressive Democratic Party for the purpose of challenging the white primary system. In 1946 George Elmore, an African American who was eligible to vote in general elections, was denied the right to vote in the Democratic Party primary in Richland County in which party nominees for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and state offices were chosen. Citing several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, Elmore claimed that his right to choose members of Congress had been violated because of his race. He also argued that his right to participate on an equal basis in state and federal elections had been denied, since the primaries controlled the choice of elected officials.
The case was heard by U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, a native Charlestonian. Waring noted that since 1900 every governor and member of the General Assembly and Congress elected in the general election had been the nominee of the state’s Democratic Party, which during the previous twenty-five years was the only party in South Carolina holding statewide primaries. He concluded that the repeal of all statutes and regulations in 1944 made no appreciable difference in the selection process of state officials and that the sole purpose of repealing the statutes and constitutional provisions was to prevent blacks from voting. Waring concluded that the state’s Democratic Party was acting for and on behalf of the citizens of South Carolina and that the party’s primary election was the only practical place where the voters could make their choices in selecting elected officials at the federal and state levels. He added the cutting comment that it was “time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union. It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections.”
The response of the state’s Democratic Party Executive Committee was to require that everyone who voted in the party’s primary would have to take an oath stating that they would support the social, religious, and educational separation of the races. At least six local Democratic county committees, however, ignored the oath and began registering African American voters. In July 1948 Judge Waring’s court rejected the oath. Waring’s decisions were affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case. Democratic Party chair W. P. Baskin subsequently advised county chairs to enroll all constitutionally qualified electors on July 23, 1948. By the time of the August 1948 primary, some 35,000 African Americans were registered to vote and the white primary in South Carolina ceased to exist.
Lander, Ernest McPherson. A History of South Carolina, 1865–1960. 2d ed. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
Underwood, James L. The Constitution of South Carolina. Vol. 4, The Struggle for Political Equality. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.
Yarbrough, Tinsley E. A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.