Gov. and Mrs. Timmerman. South Carolina Political Collections.

Timmerman, George Bell, Jr.

August 11, 1912–November 29, 1994

Governor. Timmerman was born in Anderson on August 11, 1912, the son of George Bell Timmerman and Mary Vandiver Sullivan. The family moved to Batesburg when Timmerman was a child. He attended the Citadel from 1930 to 1933 and earned a bachelor of laws degree from the University of South Carolina in 1937. In 1935 Timmerman married Helen DuPre, but the union would produce no children. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy. After returning home, Timmerman practiced law in Lexington and became involved in politics. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1946 and was reelected in 1950.

In 1954 Timmerman planned to do what no previous lieutenant governor had ever accomplished: advance to the governor’s office by the election route. Seven earlier aspirants had failed to win the governorship in this manner. Timmerman, who had served as lieutenant governor longer than anyone else in the state’s history, triumphed in a landslide, carrying forty-one of the state’s forty-six counties.

Timmerman took office at a crucial juncture in South Carolina history. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled that racially segregated schools were “inherently unequal.” Assuming his office in 1955, Timmerman was presented with the opportunity to lead the state forward in the area of race relations. However, Timmerman resolutely opposed integration, as had Strom Thurmond and James Byrnes, his predecessors as governor. Reaffirming the status quo, he told the state Senate in 1954 that “the ‘separate-but-equal’ policy provides a fair and practicable basis for race relations in South Carolina.” The 1956 session of the legislature has been called the “Segregation Session” for its hostile posture on civil rights, including legislation barring National Association for the Advancement of Colored People members from public employment.

While Timmerman did nothing as dramatic as standing in the schoolhouse door to block entry by African Americans, he certainly did nothing to ease the transition to integration. He ordered Clemson to reject a $350,000 grant from the Atomic Energy Commission because that agency required a nondiscrimination commitment. Timmerman denounced the widely read publication South Carolinians Speak and its call for moderation in race relations. He criticized Billy Graham for endorsing “racial mixing” and forced the evangelist to relocate a crusade slated for the State House. He pressured three African American educational institutions (S.C. State College, Allen University, and Benedict College) to reject integration. Timmerman also urged the S.C. Department of Education to revoke accreditation for Allen’s education program. Ironically, when the department submitted to the governor’s demands, it gave African Americans legal grounds to seek admission to the University of South Carolina.

After his term as governor ended in 1959, Timmerman returned to private life and resumed his law practice. In 1967 the legislature elected him judge of the Eleventh Circuit Court, where he served until 1984. In September 1994 Timmerman was involved in an automobile accident, and he succumbed to his injuries on November 29, 1994.

Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

Jordan, Frank E. The Primary State: A History of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, 1876–1962. N.p., n.d.

Quint, Howard H. Profile in Black and White: A Frank Portrait of South Carolina. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs, 1958.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Timmerman, George Bell, Jr.
  • Coverage August 11, 1912–November 29, 1994
  • Author
  • Keywords Governor, opposed integration, “Segregation Session”, standing in the schoolhouse door to block entry by African Americans, criticized Billy Graham for endorsing “racial mixing”, urged the S.C. Department of Education to revoke accreditation for Allen’s education program
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date June 25, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 25, 2022
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