Profiles in Black Courage:


James T. McCain and the Triumph of the African American Farmer of Sumter County:


by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


On July 16, 1955, the leaders of the Orangeburg Freedom Movement called for the desegregation of the public school system in many South Carolina cities and towns. In the mid-1950s, peaceful assemblies of well-dressed African Americans in the city of Orangeburg, the center of Orangeburg County, challenged businesses owned by whites who had generally been antagonistic or indifferent to the plight of its colored citizenry.[1]


Nearly six months before the famous Montgomery Boycott, many counties in South Carolina served as ground zero in the fight for school desegregation. The city of Orangeburg became one of the first major battlegrounds for social change.  Many black citizens in that city freely signed petitions requesting that the white leaders comply with their demands for social progress between the races.  Citizens Councils, the antithesis of the civil rights struggle, grew as a result of the efforts of organizations like the Orangeburg Freedom Movement, which compelled the state of South Carolina to enforce desegregation laws. The Citizens Councils, dedicated to maintaining the status quo, vowed to keep all institutions separate but unequal throughout the nation’s South.[2] When the names of African Americans who signed a petition to end segregation were published in several newspapers, the Orangeburg Citizens Council leaders reacted by punishing African American activists and protesters in the South Carolina cities of Elloree, Orangeburg, Summerton, and Sumter with threats of housing evictions and loss of jobs.[3]


In South Carolina, numerous African American leaders, which included James T. McCain of Sumter, sought to fight against the inherent inequalities created by the system of racial segregation.


James T. McCain sought to improve the condition of African Americans in South Carolina long before he began his association with the American Friends Service Committee or the AFSC as it was often called. The AFSC was one of the most significant organizations to get involved in the fight for equal rights in South Carolina and across the United States.


The AFSC, composed primarily of white men and women, was founded in 1917. The committee was a Quaker organization that tried to “relieve human suffering and resolve conflicts among individuals, groups, and nations.”[4] The Rights of Conscience branch of the AFSC sought to protect the constitutional and moral rights of all human beings. The Rights of Conscience supported individuals and groups that championed social justice. This branch of the AFSC was also known to provide “financial aid available to a person, or persons, involved in litigation because they refuse to comply with measures which violate their conscientious principles.”[5] From 1956 to 1966, The Rights of Conscience coordinated its economic and political efforts for social change in the state of South Carolina with several grassroots African American and white organizations. 


From 1946 to 1948, McCain had been president and treasurer of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.  In the early 1950s, this predominately black teacher association changed its name to the Palmetto Education Association or PEA, as it was commonly called, in order to include the support of not only African American teachers but also African American principals and college presidents. The PEA championed race and sex equality for all teachers, while also developing educational programs for African American teachers and their students.[6]


During McCain’s reign as president of the PEA, a proposal was made by that association to support all legal means to increase the salary schedules of African American teachers in South Carolina.  African American educators were not paid as much as white teachers, and woman teachers were not paid as much as their male counterparts. But the PEA under James T. McCain, and several other African American leaders, eventually helped, by the 1970s, to get white state leaders to advance a large measure of equality, regarding teacher salaries among all teachers in South Carolina.


While James T. McCain had toiled to end racial discrimination in the teaching profession, he eventually lost his position as the principal of Palmetto High School in Mullins, South Carolina as a result of his affiliation with the NAACP. The NAACP was viewed by white segregationists as the chief obstacle to maintaining the status quo of racial separation.[7] McCain, who continued in a limited capacity as a member of the PEA, eventually labored as executive director of the South Carolina Council of Human Relations, which tried to promote racial harmony by “working with about half a dozen local interracial groups across the state.” These groups were composed of “educators, attorneys, churchmen, and business leaders.”[8] McCain specialized in gaining useful information in racially divided areas across South Carolina, while also creating avenues for cooperation among interracial and interfaith groups.[9] Dr. Helen Amerman, Assistant Director Council for Civic Unity of San Francisco discovered that McCain, “conducted surveys on the voting strength of Negroes in South Carolina and the attitude of laypersons toward their school programs, the latter survey resulting in the organization of a lay-professional committee in our Association.”[10]


When McCain became a member of the American Friends Service Committee, he served as a liaison between African American teachers and farmers in South Carolina and members of the Rights of Conscience Committee program in Philadelphia.


Frederick Fuges, a farmer and lawyer from Buck County, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, volunteered his services to organize with the American Friends Service Committee’s Rights of Conscience program. Fuges’ job, in the 1950s, was to protect and support minorities as well as whites who took on democratic positions for social change.[11] Frederick Fuges frequently worked with African American educators like James T. McCain.


By 1957, McCain’s activism had extended beyond the field of education, so much so, that Fred Fuges could write to his American Friends Service Committee associates that, “Jim is known to the Service Committee and a member of the AFSC working party to consider the drafting of a statement on race relations.  In addition, the Rights of Conscience program has used Jim to distribute material aids in South Carolina.  As a result of our association with Jim we have every confidence in him and in the information which he supplies.”[12]


The AFSC supplied numerous articles of clothing to African Americans who either boycotted white stores in South Carolina or who were too economically impoverished to afford their own clothing. In another correspondence, McCain acknowledged the fact that Fred Fuges and the American Friends Service Committee made several shipments of “dungarees and shoes” to African Americans in Orangeburg County. For example, in one of his correspondences, McCain made it known to Fuges that girl shoe sizes 5-6-7-8 were still needed in his community.[13] As early as December 6, 1955, a letter from an anonymous author, found among the Palmetto Education Association’s records, noted that “At the office of the South Carolina Branch of NAACP, clothing, food, candy, toys, etc., are arriving daily to help those individuals in Clarendon and Orangeburg counties who are suffering from the economic squeeze that has been brought against them because of the position they have taken on desegregation.” The anonymous author went on to add that “Organizations in Philadelphia Pa., have sent at least 3 tons of food of all description.”[14] The efforts by which men like McCain and organizations like the American Friends Service Committee, who secured badly needed home supplies to African Americans in South Carolina, represented a larger network of concerned American citizens across the country, dedicated to ending racial oppression.  McCain played a pivotal role in finding support outside of South Carolina for African American farmers affected by threats to their economic security.


From the early 1950s to 1959, the number of African American farmers in South Carolina had declined from about sixty-one thousand down to thirty thousand. These farmers, during the 1950s, represented a vanishing breed of men and women who produced food, but made up roughly ten percent of the agriculturalist population. Through correspondence with Fred Fuges, Richard B. Gamble, a member of the Rights of Conscience program, learned of McCain’s effort to create the Sumter Loan and Investment Association, which provided farmers with much needed aid.  Fugues then attempted to aid the farmers supported by the association through what he termed as “Individual sources,” while also supplying an attorney to provide the proper papers for all of the loans.[15] In a letter dated February 20, 1957, McCain wrote Fred Fuges stating, “I have received several letters from farmers in the Orangeburg and Clarendon communities asking for help in the way of loans for their crops. Many of these farmers are landowners and will put up their land as securities until all loans are repaid.” Like the teachers and students in many of the counties in South Carolina, black farmers were involved in the struggle to end segregation.  White-owned banks refused to give farmers loans unless they put in writing that they would denounce school desegregation and the NAACP.[16]


 Fred Fuges learned from James T. McCain that some farmers, who refused to sign any statements denouncing segregation or the NAACP, owned their farms but required funds for fertilizer and seeds to grow their crops. He indicated to Fuges that the farmers required about $4500 to maintain their farms.[17]  Because the Rights of Conscience program had not been designed to provide economic assistance to anyone whose civil liberties had been challenged, The American Friends Service Committee sought support from individuals and other organizations interested in the plight of those farmers.


Other members of the Rights of Conscience Program, such as Richard B. Gamble, greatly contributed to networking with other organizations to aid the farmers in their efforts to maintain their farms. Gamble informed the American Friends Service Committee that he would be glad to put some of his savings in Victory Savings Bank in South Carolina, in order to aid in solving “other problems in the South.”[18]


Victory Savings Bank, the first African American owned bank in South Carolina, charted by men and women in 1921 and located first on 1012 Washington Street, offered loans to Negro citizens who generally could not get assistance from white banks.[19]


The American Friends Service Committee leaders also suggested that the Little River Farm Committee might be able to assist the black South Carolina farmers.


The Little River Farm Committee sought to “rebuilt a new type of community life:  Tenants, sharecroppers, and even the landowners all faced the necessity of building a new type of agricultural system and of building a new form of community life if the South was to emerge from the position of being the ‘Number One Problem area’ of the country.” [20]


In the past, the Little River Farm Committee sponsored efforts to improve the economic productivity of tenant farmers in many regions of the United States.  This committee had created cooperatives and eventually helped tenant farmers in South Carolina purchase their land. 


Regarding African American farmers, the American Friends Service Committee also suggested that if the Little River Farm Committee took up the task of supporting them economically, the Rights of Conscience program could provide the legal services needed to secure loans to those very same farmers. Time was of the essence because the farmers needed to purchase their supplies and plant their seeds during the spring months.[21] In a March 22, 1957 correspondence, James T. McCain was informed by Fred Fugues that the Little River Farm Committee, an organization dedicated to support the efforts of all American farmers, would provide the farmers with the much needed loan of $4,500 along with funds for a lawyer.[22]


Fugues asked McCain to locate a white lawyer who was not part of the White Citizens Council and who also had a history of providing his services to African American clients.  It was McCain’s role to locate a lawyer in Sumter, whose last name ended with either Kay or Cade.[23] Taking on this task, McCain contacted attorney Ira Kay of Sumter, who would later serve as one of many consultants in cases involving African American teachers. Kay’s major contribution to the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee lay in efforts to disburse loans to black Elloree farmers in an effort to help them pay off mortgages on their properties.[24]


After McCain received a loan of $2500 for the farmers who owned their lands, he informed Fred Fuges that “there is still need for those farmers who are renting land to farm with but who do not have the necessary real estate to put up. If these farmers can be helped, they will give a mortgage on their crops and whatever form equipment they have.”[25] Because of men like Fred Fuges and James T. McCain, many African American farmers in South Carolina were able to retain their farms or continue to rent land.




The Orangeburg movement was a grassroots effort that lasted for more than fifteen years and arose out of a genuine need to enforce the famous 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision.  When the Federal Government hesitated to make states like South Carolina tear down its wall of segregation, African American businessmen, farmers, ministers, merchants, students, and teachers organized themselves around one major goal.  Using the First Amendment’s right to petition contained in the Bill of Rights, African American activists defied the 1898 Plessy vs. Ferguson case that made the doctrine of separate but equal the law of the land.  The leaders of the Orangeburg movement also used their First Amendment’s right to assemble and make known to the public at large that people of African descent would no longer accept racial apartheid in their public schools.  African American activists in Orangeburg counties, which included the city of Orangeburg and the town of Elloree, used their economic power to make white business owners change their racist politics to support the desegregation of schools and all public institutions.  In time, the movement spread to such South Carolina counties as Summerton and Sumter.  


African Americans in South Carolina suffered a host of economic reprisals at the hands of white businessmen and white employers who desired to keep alive a racial apartheid system of segregation.  Perhaps the groups that fought the hardest and had more to lose in terms of their economic stability, were African American farmers.


These members of this workforce did not struggle against the agents of segregation alone. African American educators, like James T. McCain, received from white organizations like the AFSC, financial assistance and legal backing from the PEA for civil rights cases that might be brought into court. McCain consulted with white leaders in the North regarding the plight of black farmers, such as American Friends Society Committee director Fred Fuges.


Because the black citizens of cities and towns of Orangeburg County received both funding and household goods and supplies from numerous local African American associations in South Carolina, and white organizations in the northern part of the United States, their collective struggles for racial equality succeeded in weakening entrenched segregation laws that had fostered an unequal cultural landscape in America. African Americans like James T. McCain who fought to protect the rights of black teachers and farmers often were fired from their jobs.  Despite economic reprisals that often resulted in job loss for anti-segregationist, many men like McCain risked their careers to make American government officials to live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all. 



   Banks, Vera J. Black Farmers and Their Farms. 59th ed., Washington DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1986.


   Barnes, Gregory A. A Centennial History of the American Friends Service Committee. Philadelphia: FriendsPress, 2016.


   Felder, James L. Civil Rights in South Carolina-From Peaceful Protests to Groundbreaking Rulings. Charleston and London: The History Press, 2012.


   Pots, Sr., John F. A History of the Palmetto Education Association. Washington DC: National Education Association, 1978.


   1943 Annual Report, American Friends Service Committee. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1943.


   1945 Annual Report, American Friends Service Committee. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1945.


   The Southern Indicatory, New Enterprises For Columbia, [Columbia, SC], Sat. 15 Oct 1921, page 2, 4.


   Williams, Cecil J. Out-of-the-box in Dixie: Cecil Williams' photography of the South Carolina events that changed America. Orangeburg, SC: Cecil J. Williams Photography/Publishing, 2010.


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[1]Felder, Civil Rights in South Carolina, 91-92; “Human Relations council faces Integration Task,” Progress-Index, Sun, Nov. 27, 1955.


[2]James L. Felder, Civil Rights in South Carolina, (Charleston & London: History Press, 2012), 91; Robert Cook, Sweet Land of Liberty? —The African-American Struggle for Civil Rights in the Twentieth Century, (London & New York: Longman, 1998) 88, 91;

[3]“S.C. Teacher Loses Post,” Pittsburgh Courier, Sat, Sep 17, 1955.


[4]Quakers Help Meet Economic Needs in South, handout for immediate release, from the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Feb, 19, 1957.


[6] John F Potts, Sr., A History of the Palmetto Education Association (Washington DC: National Education Association, 1978), 71-75.


[7]Ibid, 67; 


[8]“Human Relations Council Faces Integration Task,” Progress-Index, Sun, Nov 27, 1955.


[9]W.E. Solomon to Dr. Helen E. Amerman, 12 July 1957, letter in the hand of the South Carolina Education Association, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina; Unknown Author, 6 December 1955, letter in the hand of the South Carolina Education Association, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. 



[11] “Frederick Fuges,” Philly-Archives, March 03, 2000.


[12]Fred Fuges to Hurford Crossman, 13 March, 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[13]James T. Farmer to Fred Fuges, 6 March, 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[14]Unknown Author, 6 December 1955, letter in the hand of the South Carolina Education Association, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.


[15]Vera J. Banks, Black Farmers and Their Farms, 59th ed. (Washington DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1986), 2 & 18; Fred Fuges to Dear Friend, 15 March 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.

[16] James T. McCain to Dear Fred, 6 March 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[17] Ibid.


[18]Richard B. Gamble to Rights of Conscience Program, 11 March 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[19] The Southern Indicatory, New Enterprises For Columbia, [Columbia, SC], Sat. 15 Oct 1921, page 2, 4.

[20]Gregory A. Barnes, A Centennial History of the American Friends Service Committee. (Philadelphia: FriendsPress, 2016), 42,79, 86,92, 95, 106.

 [21] 1943 Annual Report, American Friends Service Committee (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1943), 17; 1945 Annual Report, American Friends Service Committee (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1945), 16; Hurford Crossman, Fred Fuges, Little River Farm Committee—Assistance to South Carolina, 13 March 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.

[22]Fred Fuges, Alan Howe to James T. McCain, 22 March, 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[23]Fred Fuges to James McCain, 15 June 1956, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.


[24]Ira Kaye to Fred Fugues, 15 April 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.; Fred Fuges, to Mike Yarrow & Tartt Bell, 19 April 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA. 


[25] James T. McCain to Dear Fred, 6, April 1957, AFSC archives, Philadelphia, PA.