TV in Black & White
Early funding for SCETV was boosted by desperate and sometimes "sly attempts to circumvent integration"
When South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) was born, integration was the consuming issue for South Carolina politicians. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that separate schools for the races were unconstitutional, and Southern states were scrambling to find ways around integration.
The March 13, 1958, issue of The State announced the creation of the pilot program for SCETV. It also reported that a candidate for state chairman of the Democratic Party was running on an anti-integration platform.
That early funding for SCETV was boosted by desperate and sometimes "sly attempts to circumvent integration" was first reported in a New York Times article by Columbia writer Jan Stucker in 1975.
"When Jack Bass gave me the idea of proposing the story to the Times," Stucker recently said, "he said that, at the time, everybody knew [SCETV] was being done as an end run around integration but that no one had ever written about it."
Stucker said she got a lot of "winks and nods" from politicians involved in the early decisions to fund SCETV when she asked them about resisting integration, but the closest she got to an admission of the agency's original sin were the comments by Solomon Blatt.
Blatt, who served as House speaker from 1937 through 1973, told Stucker that using SCETV "as a back-up mechanism" if schools were closed to avoid integration was discussed. Blatt said that the notion was later discarded as unworkable because "The system was closed-circuit in the beginning, hooked up only in the schools. If the school doors were closed, how would the youngsters get to their television sets?"
While technical shortcomings prevented SCETV from being used to resist integration, Blatt continued to support the idea being pushed by his old friend John Cauthen. As a lobbyist for the Textile Manufacturers Association, Cauthen represented the richest and most influential forces in the state.
Cauthen had ingratiated himself with Blatt in the late 1930s by sticking up for the senator when the Anderson Independent characterized Blatt as that "Barnwell Jew." Cauthen was working for WIS radio in Columbia, and defended Blatt on the air.
Twenty years later, Cauthen's son, Henry, had dropped out of college and was working at WIS-TV. He convinced his father that there was a future in state-sponsored educational TV. His father sold the idea to Blatt.
In 1960, the legislature voted to create SCETV as a state agency. John Cauthen was named the first chairman of the Educational Television Commission, and his son was in charge of technology. R. Lynn Kalmback, by most accounts a brilliant mid-Westerner and University of South Carolina graduate with no vested interest in segregation, was named president. After Kalmback's death in 1965, Henry Cauthen was appointed president of SCETV.
"Henry is a master at working the legislature," said Comptroller General Earl Morris, who was a state senator when SCETV was originally funded. While he supported a resolution to condemn federal civil rights legislation, he doesn't recall any racist overtones to the original SCETV legislation.
"Henry convinced people that SCETV was a low cost-way to improve our sorry educational system," Morris said.