During his tenure as state conference president, Hinton led the exponential expansion of the NAACP in South Carolina, taking the struggle for black civil rights into the cities, towns, cotton fields, and rural county churches of South Carolina.
Clergyman, businessman, civil rights leader. Hinton was born on October 28, 1891, in Gates County, North Carolina, to parents who died when was three years old. He was reared by an aunt in New York City, where he attended the Bible Teacher’s Training School and worked as a postal clerk. During World War I, Hinton was drafted into the U.S. Army and earned the rank of lieutenant. After the war he began a successful business career with the black-owned Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company based in Augusta, Georgia. In 1939 he established a home in Columbia, South Carolina. On his arrival he rapidly earned a reputation as a businessman, minister, and leading civil rights figure.
Hinton’s move to Columbia proved a key factor in shaping the future course of the black struggle for racial equality across the Palmetto State. Elected to serve as the president of an ailing National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch in Columbia shortly after his arrival in 1939, Hinton embraced the role of outspoken civil rights activist only reluctantly. As president of the Columbia branch, Hinton opposed the creation of the South Carolina NAACP State Conference of Branches in the fall of 1939. But as the demands for forceful civil rights leadership grew, Hinton assumed the duties of state conference president, holding the position from 1941 through 1958. During his tenure as state conference president, Hinton led the exponential expansion of the NAACP in South Carolina, taking the struggle for black civil rights into the cities, towns, cotton fields, and rural county churches of South Carolina. “I have never in my life heard anybody speak like he could speak,” explained one NAACP official. “When he got through speaking [the people] were ready to go, to do whatever was necessary” to secure their rights. The fights to win equal salaries for black teachers and to vote in the all-white Democratic Party primary were waged and achieved under his leadership. Perhaps more than any single leader in South Carolina, Hinton was also responsible for turning the tide against the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.” Historians credit him with inspiring Clarendon County residents to sue for equal educational opportunities, leading to a suit included in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Certainly, Hinton had begun demanding that NAACP members take a forceful stand against the doctrine of, in his words, “separate but never equal,” by the fall of 1947. As a forceful advocate of racial equality, Hinton placed his own life and business career on the line. In April 1949 he was abducted in Augusta, beaten, and left facedown in the countryside for daring to champion the cause of racial equality. In January 1956, at the height of the white backlash to Brown, Hinton’s Columbia home was struck by gunfire.
Hinton remained active in civic matters throughout his life. He also pastored the Second Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia and retired as vice president and agency director of Pilgrim Health and Life in 1965. He died in Augusta, Georgia, on November 21, 1970, and was buried in Palmetto Cemetery in Columbia.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1975.
Lau, Peter F. “Freedom Road Territory: The Politics of Civil Rights Struggle in South Carolina during the Jim Crow Era.” Ph.D. diss., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2002.