When President Benner C. Turner was forced to retire in 1967 after lengthy student protests and a boycott of classes that spring, the newly integrated board of trustees named Nance interim president. Nance’s informal, open, and cooperative demeanor was a refreshing and sharp contrast to the seventeen years of autocratic leadership under Turner.
University president. Nance was born in Columbia on March 26, 1925, the son of M. Maceo Nance and Louella Stewart. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and entered South Carolina State College on a band scholarship in 1942. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 and served as a petty officer third-class aboard YP105, a patrol boat engaged in testing mines and torpedoes along the Atlantic coast.
Nance returned to South Carolina State in 1946 and worked as a campus custodian before his graduation in 1949 with a B.A. in social studies. In 1950 he married Julie E. Washington, a 1947 graduate of South Carolina State. They had two children. After graduation Nance was employed by South Carolina State as a supply clerk for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. He steadily advanced through the administrative ranks over the next two decades. He was manager of the bookstore and in 1954 became the director of the student union. In 1953 he earned an M.S. in business from New York University. He was named assistant business manager of South Carolina State in 1957 and was promoted to vice president for business and finance in 1967. When President Benner C. Turner was forced to retire in 1967 after lengthy student protests and a boycott of classes that spring, the newly integrated board of trustees named Nance interim president. Nance’s informal, open, and cooperative demeanor was a refreshing and sharp contrast to the seventeen years of autocratic leadership under Turner.
The forty-two-year-old Nance was almost immediately thrust into the most serious and tragic civil rights episode in twentieth-century South Carolina. Persistent vestiges of segregation and discrimination in Orangeburg centering on the whites-only All Star Bowling Lanes provoked student demonstrations and confrontations in which people were injured and property damaged in early February 1968. On February 7 Nance appealed for calm and insisted that students remain on the campus. The following day state highway patrolmen shot into a crowd of agitated and angry students who had gathered on the front of the campus. Three young men were killed and twenty-seven wounded in what came to be known as the Orangeburg Massacre. Nance worked diligently with students, faculty, and local leaders following the tragedy to restore a semblance of harmony to a community deeply divided by racial animosity. In June 1968 the college board of trustees demonstrated confidence in his leadership and named him president.
During Nance’s nineteen-year tenure the college experienced dramatic growth and progress. Twenty new degree programs were established, ranging from agribusiness to nursing. However, the program in agriculture was terminated, and the campus farm was transformed into Hillcrest Recreation Center. There were major capital additions including dormitories, classrooms, a theater, a health and physical education complex named for the three young men slain in the massacre, an FM radio station, and the I. P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium. Nance was also a key figure in the formation of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1970.
Nance was fair, honest, and politically savvy. He worked closely with South Carolina Senate leader L. Marion Gressette. He was engaging and gregarious, but he could be blunt and would readily tell people–from students and faculty to legislators–what they often preferred not to hear. Nance died March 23, 2001, and was buried at Belleville Memorial Gardens, Orangeburg.
Bass, Jack, and Jack Nelson. The Orangeburg Massacre. 2d ed. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1996.
Hine, William C. “South Carolina State College: A Legacy of Education and Public Service.” Agricultural History 65 (spring 1991): 149–67.
Potts, John F. A History of South Carolina State College. Orangeburg: South Carolina State College, 1978.