Carved in the granite base of the handsome Byrnes statue on the grounds of the South Carolina State House in Columbia are these few but meaningful words:
JAMES F. BYRNES 1879 - 1972
As Statesman, Jurist, Diplomat, He Gave a Lifetime of Service To State, Nation, And The World. Congressman, Senator, Governor, Justice, 'Assistant President', Secretary of State of the U.S., The Most Distinguished Carolinian Of His Time.
While that inscription conveys some idea of the cumulative contributions made by Mr. Byrnes, it does not portray the personality nor the true essence of this remarkable South Carolinian. Cold stone could not be expected to reflect such human traits as a sense of obligation to lend a helping hand to young men and women who found themselves faced with the loss of one or both parents -- an experience described by Mr. Byrnes in his autobiography, All In One Lifetime:
"My father died shortly before I was born, leaving her (my mother) with two young children and about $200. As soon as she could, she left the children with her mother, went to New York where her sister lived, and studied dress designing for several months. Upon returning to Charleston she started in business as a dressmaker, and by her talent and industry was able to support us all. Through the years she slaved and saved and in time bought the house we lived in. All my childhood recollections of her were in the sewing room, and later, when I had a job, I would find her still at work no matter what time of night I returned home."
It also was his mother who set into motion the series of events which led her son to his notable career of public service. She insisted that he learn shorthand at an early age. It was this capability (retained throughout his life) which helped secure his initial public office, that of court stenographer at Aiken. Shortly thereafter, he was himself admitted to the bar and was elected to his first political office, circuit solicitor.
Thereafter came in escalating succession a series of posts of local, state, national and international importance: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, member of the U.S. Senate, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Director of Economic Stabilization (for President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Director of War Mobilization, U.S. Secretary of State and as his final office, Governor of South Carolina.
Mr. Byrnes' own evaluation of his career was linked with his return to private life at the conclusion of his service as South Carolina's Chief Executive:
"On January 18, 1955, I left the Governor's office and public life. Within me was the satisfaction that comes from the consciousness that through the years I had faithfully tried to discharge my duty.
"As I thought of the past, overriding all thoughts of personal relations was my realization that this country is truly the land of opportunity. Now, as I think of the future, my hope is that my experiences may encourage others to dedicate their talents and energies to public service, for I believe with Tolstoy that 'the sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.'"
The respect in which Mr. Byrnes was held by those with whom he labored in government service was well described in the eulogy delivered by General Lucius D. Clay in the South Carolina State House following the death of Mr. Byrnes on April 9, 1972:
"There are only a few -- a very few -- in a world of many people who can by virtue of both character and achievement be called great. Justice Byrnes was such a man. But of the few who are recognized as great, there are an even smaller number who are both great and good. Justice Byrnes was also a good man."
In return for their generosity and support, Mom and Pop Byrnes asked only two things from us: become the very best people we could become in life, and make sure their legacy of family continues for those who come after us.
Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to the James F. Byrnes Foundation to secure its ability to invite more deserving young women and men to join the Byrnes family, both now and in the future. The Donate button will take you to the Paypal site where you can use your credit card or Paypal account to make a secure, one-time donation or set up a monthly recurring donation.
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The James F. Byrnes Foundation
Post Office Box 6781
Columbia, SC 29260-6781
Tel.: (803) 254-9325