"More than a publication"
Home > Arts & History > Journalism Legend Cokie Roberts Speaks at Celebration of USC Caroliniana Library Anniversary

Journalism Legend Cokie Roberts Speaks at Celebration of USC Caroliniana Library Anniversary

A school year filled with celebrations of the 175th anniversary of the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina wrapped up with an appearance by a woman who has not only written about history but also made some herself.

Legendary journalist Cokie Roberts first visited the South Caroliniana Library while doing research for her books on women who helped shape America, Founding Mothers and  Ladies of Liberty. Roberts returned to Columbia May 12 to speak at the closing event for the anniversary celebration, and a packed house at Drayton Hall Theatre enjoyed her stories of history and anecdotes about Strom Thurmond, then mingled with Roberts at a reception at the library.

Roberts spoke of a day doing research at the library when a visitor arrived to donate a collection of old family letters. “It really brought home to me what a living place the library is,” she said. She emphasized the importance of the library’s work to preserve things like family letters and diaries. “It’s never clear today what will be important tomorrow, or to whom.”

Roberts, named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008, said the South Caroliniana Library has played a crucial role in keeping alive the role of women in American history, a role often neglected and undersold in textbooks. “I do have this notion that the other half of the human race should be considered in our history. I know it’s odd, but I’m sticking with it,” she said. “I love how history books say… ‘And then women got the right to vote.’ Did something happen before that?”

“Women’s letters are so, so much better than men’s letters,” Roberts said. “You don’t learn from the men’s letters that Stephen Douglas stinks. The women’s letters are much more telling and much more revelatory.”

One of the library’s most treasured possessions is the Civil War diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut, which Roberts praised as one of relatively few sources detailing a woman’s thoughts on slavery. Chesnut, as Roberts told the audience, wrote after seeing a slave auction for the first time “South Carolina slaveholder that I am, my very soul sickened. It was too dreadful.” Roberts also shared Chesnut’s thoughts on the role of women as compared to slaves in the Civil War era: “This is not worse than the willing sale most women make of themselves in marriage, nor can the consequences be worse. The Bible authorizes marriage and slavery. Poor women! Poor slaves!”

Roberts also spoke of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who was in charge of three plantations at the age of 16, and changed the face of South Carolina in the 1740s by introducing indigo, which would become the biggest cash crop for the then-colony. “She was just remarkable in every way,” Roberts said of Lucas Pinckney, whose daughter’s journal, never published, is at the South Caroliniana Library. The journal includes the story of George Washington visiting Lucas Pinckney, and later insisting on serving as a pallbearer at her funeral to honor her service to the United States.

“It wouldn’t be possible to know that story of it weren’t for the documents that are here,” Roberts said. “These stories are true and they are important in our history.”

South Caroliniana is the oldest freestanding academic library in the country, and it houses some of the state’s and nation’s historic treasures. Renovations to the building are being planned to make sure the archival treasures remain safe and secure. More information on the library and its future is available here.

Pictured: Cokie Roberts chats with guests at a reception in the South Caroliniana Library Courtyard (photo by Allen Wallace)

Like What You See?

Comments

comments

You may also like
Undergrads in ACTion
The Power of a Million: USC Dance Marathon sets 7-figure fundraising goal
Gamecock Reach: How USC students are intervening in mental illness on campus
Beyond The Fade: Interview with Hammond football coach Erik Kimrey