Interview with Harold R. Boulware, lead attorney in Elmore v. Rice, 1947, as recorded by "Quest for Human/Civil Rights" Documentary Series
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In the 1940s, South Carolina sought to maintain a whites-only Democratic primary. George Elmore, an African American man eligible to vote in general elections, was denied a vote in the primary in 1946. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) supported Elmore's claims that his constitutional rights to choose members of Congress had been violated because of his race. Elmore's case was successful. In the August 1948 primary, 35,000 African American South Carolinians were registered to vote.
Harold R. Boulware (1913-1983) was the chief counsel for the South Carolina NAACP beginning in 1941. He gained fame as one of the lead attorneys, along with Thurgood Marshall, in Briggs et al v. Elliot et al. Boulware participated in many of the civil rights cases filed in South Carolina. His participation in Elmore v. Rice is discussed in this interview taken in 1980 for a Civil Rights Documentary Series called "Quest for Human/Civil Rights."
"Quest for HUman/Civil Rights." 23 September 1980, SCAR T9, Newsfilm Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
SCAR T-9 (segment) Judge Harold R. Boulware, Sr., Columbia, SC, September 23, 1980
Hon. Boulware: …And then the next important case was in Charleston. It caused a great stir. We had to take it all the way to the Supreme Court, that was the right to vote in the Democratic primary. You see, at one time, the Democratic primary was placed on the executory books in South Carolina. I remember that case very well because when we first started that case they called a special session of the General Assembly and said that we are going to divorce ourselves. We were bringing it up on the fact that it was a State action. And if it was a State action, not involving persons of the dark race was unconstitutional. So they thought by bringing—divorcing the executory law from the books, they [the Democratic party] would become a private organization but we were able to show in our action that it was still State action… I remember the then-Governor made a statement, called a special session of the General Assembly, I remember that. And in the special session they spent about 186,000 dollars trying to circumvent [the desegregation of the primary]. And the then-governor said White-supremacy will be maintained in our primaries and let the chips fall where they may.
Interviewer: What was the name of the case?
Hon. Boulware: Elmore versus Rice. We went to the Supreme Court on that… The most interesting thing about it was that Judge Warring said when he was writing his opinion was, “It’s time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union.” I thought that was classy, a very classy statement. But we had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States on that one. And we succeeded. And the Supreme Court handed down its decision. The irony of the thing is the court made the decision to open the primary to blacks, but blacks did not know, (some blacks of course) didn’t know that that decision was made in the Supreme Court. And instead of making it a news item, like it would be if it happened today, we had to buy radio time to tell the Blacks, “All right, you can vote now.” We had to pay for it. “All right, the primaries are open to Blacks. You can vote.” We bought radio time to let people know they could vote. Another thing that was interesting in that case was they begin to interview the politicians who were determined not to let the black people vote in the Democratic primary, because at that time the Democratic primary was the only real government election. The general election happened, it happened, was nothing, the people voted in the general election knew the outcome of the election. Had just one party here…. The thing was, [they said,] the day that a Black presents themselves to vote in the Democratic primary, blood will run on the streets like water. That day about 150 voted and you have to take into account, it didn’t even rain.
Standard 3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.
Indicator 3-5.6 Summarize the key events and effects of the civil rights movement in South Carolina, including the desegregation of schools (Briggs v. Elliott) and other public facilities and the acceptance of African Americans’ right to vote.
Standard 5-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the social, economic, and political events that influenced the United States during the Cold War era.
Indicator 5-5.3 Explain the advancement of the civil rights movement in the United States, including key events and people: desegregation of the armed forces, Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.
Standard USHC-9: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the social, economic, and political events that impacted the United States during the Cold War era.
Indicator USHC-9.5 Explain the movements for racial and gender equity and civil liberties, including their initial strategies, landmark court cases and legislation, the roles of key civil rights advocates, and the influence of the civil rights movement on other groups seeking ethnic and gender equity.