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South Carolina at the Brink
Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights

Philip G. Grose

The story of a remarkable negotiator and the turbulent times in which he governed

As the governor of South Carolina during the height of the civil rights movement, Robert E. McNair faced the task of leading the state through the dismantling of its pervasive Jim Crow culture. Despite the obstacles, McNair was able to navigate a moderate course away from a past dominated by an old-guard oligarchy toward a more pragmatic, inclusive, and prosperous era. South Carolina at the Brink is the first biography of this remarkable statesman as well as a history of the tumultuous times in which he governed.

In telling McNair's story, Philip G. Grose recounts historic moments of epic turbulence, chronicles the development of the man himself, and maps the course of action that defined his leadership. A native of Berkeley County's "Hell Hole Swamp," McNair was a decorated naval commander in the Philippines during World War II and then a small-town attorney, a state legislator, and lieutenant governor before serving in the state's highest office from 1965 to 1971. Each role taught him the value of tolerance and perseverance and informed the choices he made at the helm of state government.

McNair's administration will be remembered for its management of episodes of violence and conflict that marked the onset of desegregation and of protest against the war in Vietnam: the tragic shootings in Orangeburg in February 1968, the 113-day strike at the Medical College in Charleston in 1969, violence at high schools in Columbia and Lamar in 1970, and antiwar protests on the University of South Carolina campus in 1970. These events remain the most vivid memories of the period, but McNair's lasting legacy is his remarkable ability to affect peaceful solutions and, ultimately, compliance with federal court rulings.

Grose contends that it was McNair's decisive actions and reactions to crises that steered South Carolina clear of much of the ongoing strife of neighboring states during this period and allowed the governor to achieve much improvement to the condition of the state's education system and economy. Grose's narrative draws from an extensive oral history project on the McNair administration conducted by the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History as well as recent interviews with key participants.

Author Philip GroseA veteran newsman, Philip G. Grose (1938–2012) served on the staffs of South Carolina governors Robert E. McNair and John C. West and held a number of leadership posts in state government. He was a senior consultant to the Executive Institute of the state's Budget and Control Board and a research fellow at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina.


"Through the careful research and skillful prose of Phil Grose, South Carolina at the Brink brings to life a complicated period of intense societal upheaval as our state faced the duel challenges of industrialization and integration. The stabilizing force amid a maelstrom of high-stakes changes was Bob McNair—a statesman gifted with good common sense and uncommon leadership. Grose gives us a rare, honest look at our state's history through the difficult McNair years and offers us the chance to better appreciate the man who steered us back from the brink. This is a book for all who love South Carolina and for any who would seek to lead her through trying times."—The Honorable Richard W. Riley, former South Carolina Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Education

"With extraordinary insight, Phil Grose has chronicled Robert E. McNair's sixty-eight-month tenure as governor of South Carolina. Grose invites readers to appreciate that the eventual transition during this time from the state's rigid intransigence concerning matters of race to the peaceful acceptance of civil rights changes involved a skillful application of the political process. As this excellent book reveals, Governor McNair mastered that process and skillfully applied it during his term in office as he oversaw the transformation of the old stalwart South Carolina into a member in good standing of the economically ambitious 'New South' of the latter decades of the twentieth century. For those interested in the often forgotten or unknown events of the McNair era, I highly recommend South Carolina at the Brink: Robert McNair and the Politics of Civil Rights."—The Honorable Matthew J. Perry Jr., Senior United States District Judge, District of South Carolina

"Phil Grose describes his work as being neither history nor biography, but in actuality it is both. South Carolina at the Brink highlights the most dynamic period in contemporary South Carolina history by focusing on the thoughts and actions of one of the state's most progressive governors. And, it is made the more credible by the fact that the author was a witness to many of these events as they occurred. This is truly one of the best books in print on twentieth-century South Carolina politics."—Luther F. Carter, president, Francis Marion University



Book jacket for South Carolina at the Brink


6 x 9
400 pages
35 illus.
ISBN 978-1-64336-114-7
paperback, $24.99t
(June 2020)

ISBN 978-1-64336-115-4
Ebook, $24.99


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