Dr. Walter Edgar knows South Carolina. Though not a “native son,” he has dedicated most of his life to the study of the state’s rich and complex history. Along the way, Edgar, has written or edited several books on South Carolina and has taught and lectured on the state’s intriguing past.
Retired from teaching, Edgar continues as the host of the popular “Walter Edgar’s Journal” on ETV Radio.
Phil Noble spoke with Edgar about South Carolina’s history and what it can tell about our future.
Q: Your work always seems to have a theme of “community” in leadership
Knowing one another as a small state has really helped during some difficult times. I’m thinking 1963, which I like to think of as the “Year of Decision” when strong black leadership and strong white leadership decided that South Carolina was no longer going to be a segregated state .... That took a lot of trust across racial divides, particularly given what was happening elsewhere. And then again in 1971 when the unitary school system came. It took folks knowing one another to make that work. I think those are two proud moments in South Carolina’s history.
Q: South Carolina was once one of the richest and most prosperous states in the world. Talk about this historical prosperity and how it can translate to today.
In the Colonial Era, South Carolina was the wealthiest of the 13 colonies. It already had a favorable balance of trade with England, which meant capital was being accumulated here. Which meant it was also being invested here. In 18th century South Carolina people were willing to take a risk. ... People talk about the global economy but South Carolina was a part of the global economy from the very beginning. One of the differences between then and now is in the 18th century and into the 19th century, after the Civil War, the colonial government and the state government was willing to invest in things like infrastructure. All of those cuts and canals and early roads and ferries were built by the colonial government to help get products to market. ... In the 21st century you don’t think so much in investing in infrastructure although, we sure do need it. Look at t
he status of our roads.
Q: In looking at the next stage of our economy as we move from the agricultural/ textile manufacturing industries to the digital age, what do we need to be focused on in order to become an economic power again?
Education. We’ve got to invest. It’s not a question of taxation. It’s a question of investment. And I’d put right behind that, we need to get our infrastructure in better shape and we’re talking about roads, bridges. ... It might be nice to have BMW up there in Greenville, but if the highways aren’t working properly between there and Charleston, people can decide, “We’ll go to the Port of Savannah. We’ll go to the Port of Georgia.” We’ve got to invest in South Carolina. That’s not a dirty word. ...
Q: What is it that has happened over the last “X” amount of years where that community leadership consensus has broken down?