James Francis Byrnes was a Life Trustee of Clemson University and and a man who served both the state and nation in a variety of capacities, including Governor of South Carolina and U.S. Secretary of State. He was one of the most important South Carolinians of the twentieth century.
Byrnes was born May 2, 1882, in Charleston, South Carolina. He attended public schools and studied stenography. In 1900, he became court reporter-stenographer of the Second Circuit in Aiken and in 1908 he was elected Solicitor. On May 2, 1906, he married Maude Busch. He announced for Congress in 1910 and won in the second primary over J. O. Patterson, incumbent, and served until 1925. Unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate in 1924, Byrnes practiced law in Spartanburg, South Carolina, until elected to the Senate in 1930. He served in the Senate until President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was sworn in July 8, 1941. That same year Byrnes became a Life Trustee of Clemson College.
On October 3, 1942, Justice Byrnes resigned from the Court and on October 15 he became the Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization (OES). About six months later Roosevelt appointed him Director of the Office of War Mobilization (OWM), a post at which Director Byrnes became known as "Assistant President." After two years of directing the war effort, working with labor and industry, the Congress, and our allies, Byrnes resigned April 2, 1945, as Director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion (OWMR). After President Roosevelt's death, President Truman, appointed Byrnes Secretary of State in June 1945. He resigned on January 20, 1947, and returned to private law practice in Spartanburg where he published his book, Speaking Frankly. With the proceeds from this book he and Mrs. Byrnes established the Byrnes Foundation, a scholarship fund for educating deserving students who have lost a parent or both parents.
Byrnes was involved in national political affairs and, twice, in 1940 and 1944, hoped that President Roosevelt might select him as his vice-presidential running mate. He won the Governorship of South Carolina in 1950 and served from 1951-1955. In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed Byrnes to serve as a delegate to the United Nations. In 1958 Byrnes published his autobiography, All In One Lifetime. After leaving the Governor's office, Governor and Mrs. Byrnes lived at their residence in Columbia, South Carolina. Governor Byrnes died April 4, 1972 and Mrs. Byrnes died July 23, 1976. He donated his papers to Clemson in 1966; they now reside in Special Collections and are an important resource for scholars interested in American foreign policy and the history of the United States.
The James F. Byrnes Room was dedicated on November 26, 1966.
Forty-one years have passed since Cooper Library named one of our rooms for late SC Gov. James F. Byrnes. On Friday, June 29 we rededicated that newly-remodeled room to honor his service.
The renovation and rededication is the result of a commitment by 1953 Clemson alumnus Ward Buzzell and members of Blue Key Honor Society.
Byrnes served in Congress from 1910 to 1925. He was elected to the Senate in 1930. In 1941 he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. That same year he was named a life trustee of Clemson University. During World War II Byrnes served as director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. He was also Secretary of State and after that served as South Carolina Govenor from 1951 to 1955. He died in 1972.
The James F. Byrnes Room is located on the fourth floor of Cooper Library and contains many of Byrnes papers and mementos.
The room is open during regular library hours. The displays chronicle Byrnes' service to South Carolina and the world. There are plans to add an interactive kiosk in the next year.