As the celebration of Black History Month takes shape and the local, state and national politicians push toward November elections, it is an opportune time to share some political heritage of black Orangeburg.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Orangeburg County had one of the largest black populations in South Carolina. It was not until 1868 that the newly freed citizens would be able to fully participate in the political process as voters and government officials. During these early days of black politicians, Orangeburg County sent a total of 21 blacks to the state Legislature from 1868 to 1890. No women, black or white, could partake in this new course of direction for American life. Their inclusion did not take place until 1920.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1868, there were 124 delegates from 31 counties. Of those 124 delegates, 76 were black and 48 were white. Here in Orangeburg, five blacks traveled to Charleston as delegates for our county. They were Thaddeus K. Sasportas, Whitefield McKinley, James P. Mays, Benjamin F. Randolph and Edward Cain.
During the convention, Randolph led the delegation in a most outstanding manner by speaking 181 times, opening the convention twice with a prayer and offered seven resolutions and one petition. At the end of the convention, Sasportas, McKinley, Mays and Cain became state representatives while Randolph became the senator. They represented the Republican Party.
Being a mulatto, Randolph played a prominent role in the formation of public schools and the promotion and development of public education in South Carolina. His unwavering views and support for education cost him his life as he stomped over the state seeking support from blacks and whites. He was assassinated in Abbeville County on Oct. 16, 1868 while boarding a train to return to Orangeburg. He is buried in Columbia in the Randolph Cemetery, which was named in his honor.
Edward Cain was born in Fort Motte around 1840. During the last years of slavery, Cain was a master slave on the plantation of Capt. A.J. Frederick. From time to time, he would secretly teach other slaves how to read and write.
Cain served as a state representative from 1868 until 1870. He was elected sheriff in 1872, winning 3,287 to 1,366 over the incumbent Harpin Riggs. He served until 1876.
Other than being the first black elected sheriff of Orangeburg County, Cain is probably the only sheriff in the history of South Carolina who was given orders to serve an arrest warrant on the governor.
In May 1874, arrest warrants were issued for John L. Humbert, a young black who had been appointed the treasurer of Orangeburg County and Gov. Franklin J. Moses Jr., for breach of trust and grand larceny. Cain went to Columbia to the Preston Mansion in an effort to expedite this warrant, but the governor refused to be arrested. On the following day, the coroner of Richland County persuaded Gov. Moses to issue a warrant for the arrest of the sheriff of Orangeburg County on the grounds of having attempted an illegal arrest of the governor. Cain died in Charleston on Jan. 13, 1892, and was buried in Fort Motte.
Said to be the first black to hold a federal position in the United States, T.K. Sasportas served as a state representative, postmaster, trial justice (magistrate) and treasurer in Orangeburg County. A mulatto and born in Charleston, Sasportas was educated in Philadelphia. He is buried in the St. Stephens Church Cemetery on the North Road. The late T.K. Bythewood, who owned Bythewood Funeral Home, is a descendent of Sasportas.
Christian W. Caldwell served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1876 to 1878. While in the house, he proposed three bills and three resolutions. He owned a plantation, store, seven horses and 10 mules. This plantation was located on Highway 176 now in Calhoun County and also known as the "Old State Road." His old home still stands today with its same features as was in the 1870s. It is said that Caldwell once grew rice on the front portion of his land near the highway. Descendants of Caldwell still remain in that area.
Much of this information was assembled from the writings of Dr. Lawrence C. Bryant, one of the founders of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society.