McNair, Robert Evander

McNair, Robert Evander

December 14, 1923–November 17, 2007

Except for the tragedy at Orangeburg in February 1968, McNair saw the state peacefully through the stormy times without yielding on major policy issues. Settlement of the Charleston strike without union recognition in 1969 and keeping USC open in 1970 without serious injury to students were foremost among many public demonstrations in the state in which his moderate leadership was credited with minimizing violence.

Attorney, legislator, governor. McNair was born on December 14, 1923, at Cades in Williamsburg County, the only child of Daniel Evander McNair and Claudia Crawford. He was raised at the family home in Berkeley County and graduated from Macedonia High School. During World War II, McNair enlisted in the U.S. Navy, attained the rank of lieutenant (jg), and served twenty-two months in the Pacific theater. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in rescuing thirty-five personnel from a destroyed Liberty Boat. McNair married Josephine Robinson of Allendale in San Francisco on May 30, 1944, only days prior to his being shipped overseas. The marriage produced four children.

After military service, McNair returned to the University of South Carolina, where he earned the A.B. degree in 1947 and the LL.B. in 1948. He entered law practice in Moncks Corner and ran for political office for the first time, losing in a 1948 race for the House of Representatives. It would be the only loss of his political career. The McNairs moved to Allendale, where he set up law practice and ran again for public office. He won the state House seat from Allendale County in 1950 and launched a successful political career that would gain him statewide and national attention over the next two decades.

McNair entered the House of Representatives in 1951 and quickly attained positions. He became chairman of the House Committee on Labor, Commerce, and Industry in his second term and shepherded through the state’s right-to-work law that limited the power of labor unions and strengthened the state’s industrial recruitment efforts. Two years later, in 1955, McNair became chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, a position he held until he ran for lieutenant governor in 1962. McNair won that contest, defeating Oconee County senator Marshall J. Parker.

McNair became governor on April 22, 1965, upon the resignation of incumbent governor Donald S. Russell, who stepped down to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Olin D. Johnston. McNair was elected to a full term on November 8, 1966, with significant support from newly enfranchised black voters, defeating Republican Joseph O. Rogers of Manning.

The McNair administration coincided with major civil rights initiatives and significant public protests and demonstrations in the last half of the 1960s. In 1967 a classroom boycott at South Carolina State College resulted in the replacement of the college’s president, changing of student roles and procedures, and significant new funding for the institution. The following year, on February 8, protests at a segregated bowling alley in Orangeburg resulted in the killing of three demonstrators and the wounding of thirty-two others on the S.C. State campus. At the Medical College Hospital in Charleston, a 113-day strike from March to June 1969 protested wages and working conditions among low-income black workers and sought to gain state recognition for their union local. The governor also faced two weeks of protests against the Vietnam War at the University of South Carolina in the spring of 1970 by students seeking to close the institution in the wake of the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University in Ohio.

Except for the tragedy at Orangeburg in February 1968, McNair saw the state peacefully through the stormy times without yielding on major policy issues. Settlement of the Charleston strike without union recognition in 1969 and keeping USC open in 1970 without serious injury to students were foremost among many public demonstrations in the state in which his moderate leadership was credited with minimizing violence.

McNair also guided the state peacefully through the first year of total desegregation of the public school system in 1970. He counseled South Carolinians at the time, “We have run out of courts and we have run out of time. We will comply with the court rulings.” McNair made the first appointments of black citizens to state boards and commissions and desegregated his own executive staff in the Governor’s Office.

McNair’s support for public education was also evident in several initiatives. He championed compulsory school attendance as part of a comprehensive package of economic and educational proposals. He was successful in initiating public kindergartens, as well as developing programs designed to smooth the desegregation process. McNair pursued the recruitment of new industries and jobs, and he began the program of soliciting overseas investments, a strategy that blossomed under subsequent governors. It was also at his recommendation that the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism was created in 1967, triggering the state’s long and successful development of tourism as a multibillion-dollar industry.

After leaving office in January 1971, McNair established the McNair Law Firm in Columbia, which grew to become one of the major firms in the South. He did not seek or serve in public office again after 1971.

Bass, Jack, and Jack Nelson. The Orangeburg Massacre. 2d ed. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1996.

McNair, Robert E. Papers. Modern Political Collections, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title McNair, Robert Evander
  • Coverage December 14, 1923–November 17, 2007
  • Author
  • Keywords Attorney, legislator, governor, enlisted in the U.S. Navy, attained the rank of lieutenant (jg), and served twenty-two months in the Pacific theater, awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in rescuing thirty-five personnel from a destroyed Liberty Boat, chairman of the House Committee on Labor, became chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, McNair administration coincided with major civil rights initiatives and significant public protests and demonstrations in the last half of the 1960s, established the McNair Law Firm in Columbia, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism was created in 1967,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 21, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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