l_mendell_rivers

Rivers, Lucius Mendel

September 28, 1905–December 28, 1970

Rivers was a conservative Democrat who was often at odds with his party. He frequently criticized American foreign policy, foreign aid, and the United Nations. He was a strong supporter of increased military spending and the establishment of a nuclear navy.

Congressman. Mendel Rivers was born on September 28, 1905, in the rural Berkeley County community of Gumville. He was the fifth child and second son of Lucius Hampton Rivers, a turpentine still operator, and Henrietta McCay. The family moved to North Charleston in 1916 following the death of Lucius Rivers and the subsequent loss of the family farm. Rivers attended the College of Charleston from 1926 to 1929. After his third year, he was admitted to the University of South Carolina School of Law. At the end of his second year he was last in his class and not invited back. Despite his lack of a degree, he passed the bar exam in 1932 by reading the law.

Rivers first ran for the state House of Representatives in 1932 but lost in the Democratic primary runoff. In 1933 he was elected in a special election to the state House. In 1934 he became chair of the Charleston County House Delegation because he received more votes than any other candidate. In 1936 he left the political arena and went to work for the United States Department of Justice in its taxes and penalties division. Rivers married Margaret Middleton 1938. They had one son and two daughters.

Rivers returned to politics following the death of First District congressman Tom McMillan in 1939. In August 1940 he won the Democratic primary, successfully defeating the Charleston “Ring” headed by Burnet Maybank. He was subsequently reelected to Congress fifteen times with only minor opposition.

As a freshman congressman, Rivers was appointed to the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee and the Merchant Marines and Fisheries Committee. In March 1941, however, he was appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee headed by Carl Vinson of Georgia. There, Mendel Rivers developed a career as a staunch supporter of the military and national defense. Following Vinson’s retirement in 1965, Rivers became chair of the House Armed Services Committee, a position he held until his death.

Rivers was a conservative Democrat who was often at odds with his party. He frequently criticized American foreign policy, foreign aid, and the United Nations. He was a strong supporter of increased military spending and the establishment of a nuclear navy. During his years in Congress, the First Congressional District was a major benefactor of military spending. Major installations in the district included the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard, the Charleston Air Force Base, the Navy Minecraft Base, the Ordnance Depot, the Marine Corps facilities at Beaufort and Parris Island, and a Veterans Administration Hospital. Vinson once told Rivers that if he put another thing down in his district it was going to sink.

While Rivers was seen as an advocate of the little man, he was also a segregationist. He supported the States’ Rights Democratic Party in 1948 and called the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision unconstitutional, immoral, illegal, and outrageous. He asserted that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was under Communist influence or infiltration, and he opposed the major civil rights bills of the 1960s.

Rivers died following surgery in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 28, 1970. The man servicemen often called their champion was buried in the St. Stephens Episcopal Churchyard in Berkeley County.

Huntley, Will F. “Mighty Rivers of Charleston.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1993.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Rivers, Lucius Mendel
  • Coverage September 28, 1905–December 28, 1970
  • Author
  • Keywords Congressman, became chair of the Charleston County House Delegation because he received more votes than any other candidate, won the Democratic primary, successfully defeating the Charleston “Ring” headed by Burnet Maybank, supporter of the military and national defense, supported the States’ Rights Democratic Party, called the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision unconstitutional, immoral, illegal, and outrageous
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 27, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 23, 2022
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