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South Carolina honors Fritz Hollings' life and legacy

Tom Barton and Maayan Schechter, The State (Columbia, S.C.) on

Published in News & Features

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With his left hand clutching his chest and the other steadying himself with his cane, African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Frederick James stood next to the casket and quietly said a prayer for his friend of more than 50 years.

Though the late Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings, who served South Carolina as governor and U.S. senator, was widely known for his sharp wit and intellect, James offered another, more intimate perspective of his friend, who died during the early morning of April 6 at age 97.

"He represents, in my judgment, the best intentions of a South Carolina politician, or anybody else," James, also 97, told The State on Monday, after paying his respects to Hollings, who lay in repose at the S.C. State House.

With hand outstretched on Hollings' casket, draped in the American flag, James said, in that moment, he reflected on the tie that bound himself -- a theologian and civil rights champion -- to one of the country's larger-than-life Southern Democrats.

Near the end of his term as governor, Hollings called for peace in admitting Harvey Gantt, an African American student, to then-all-white Clemson University in 1963. The move spoke volumes about Hollings' character, James said.

"It was what was in his heart," James said. "This man had respect for people, and they didn't have to be rich, or white or well-respected."

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More than 200 people paid their respects to Hollings and his family at the State House Monday, where Hollings' casket was on display -- surrounded by American and S.C. flags, a large portrait of the late senator and large bouquets of white roses, lilies, mums and carnations. Hollings' funeral is Tuesday at The Citadel, his alma mater, in his hometown of Charleston, where Gov. Henry McMaster, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., will give eulogies.

Visitors at the State House included former state lawmaker and civil rights activist James Felder, who described Hollings as "bright, bold and blunt."

Hollings was the person who convinced Felder to return to South Carolina in 1967 after finishing law school at Howard University, he said, remembering -- in the senator's deep Charleston accent -- Hollings' persistence he return and start a voter registration drive.

"He said, 'I bet you won't be able to register 50,000 people,'" Felder said. "I came home, registered over 200,000 people and I never let him forget that bet."

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