The Colored State Fair Association in Columbia, SC

South Caroliniana Library on the campus of USC, by Robin Foster
A whole new world was opened to me last Saturday at the South Caroliniana Library.  I have been looking of some way to document my  grandfather's participation in the State Fair in Columbia, South Carolina between the years of 1940 and 1949.  I learned from my mother that his cows won every year, and she entered her 4H projects too.

I searched the South Caroliniana Library catalog and discovered the following:

Fourth Annual State Fair of the Colored State Fair Association, Dec. 12th to 17th, 1892

The card was among the papers of Rev. E. A. Adams.  See Adams, E. A. (Eugene Avery), 1886-1958.

Now I know that my grandfather Emory probably participated in the Colored State Fair.  I did not even think of the fact that they would have not been allowed to participate in the main one. No one ever mentioned it to me.  I was able to see and handle the actual card announcing the 4th Annual Colored State Fair while at the library.

It reads:

"This is a special appeal of the President, Rev. J. H. Williams, to the good people of the state. We earnestly request every person in the state;and prepare exhibits therefor. The people of Columbia have promised not to support the Hampton Fair but will on Dec. 12th to 17th stand with open arms to receive all visitors." 
"The First and Second Regiments, National Guards, of Charleston, S.C., will attend and will participate in the first sham battle ever fought by negro soldiers. This is one reason why you should attend. There will also be a grand trades display, calithumpian parade and fireworks. There will be cheap rates on all railroads. Special advantages will be granted all who present this card and it will pay all ministers to sign across the back of the card." [Card held by the Library was not signed]. 
"There will be mass meetings in this city on Wednesday and Thursday of the white Fairweek and at other stated times until Dec. 12th. Trusting this to meet your approval, I am, sincerely yours, Rev. J. H. Williams, President."

Now I am so excited to look for resources that may exist where I can learn more about the Colored State Fair.  I decided to begin my search with Google. I have so far found an advertisement about the South Carolina Colored Stated Fair on October 23th, 1948.  My grandfather and my mother would have been in attendance.  I need to check, but I think I remember something about my grandmother Otis entering things too:

I learned that the first Colored Fair ever held in the state opened in Columbia in 1890:

Harper's book of facts: a classified history of the world;
embracing science ...

edited by Charlton Thomas Lewis, Joseph H. Willsey

Next, I ran upon a document containing information about the Colored State Fair Grounds:
Resources Associated with Segregation in Columbia, South Carolina, 1880-1960  In searching for the section that provides information on the Colored State Fair Grounds, I noticed it contained information about the Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and the victimization of African Americans.  It seems we will not be able to avoid trudging through it, even while we are researching an event that would have brought entertainment and joy to our families.  That is sad isn't it?  

I am at least glad my family had an alternative and were able to have a fair for their community.  For now, I will stop and prepare myself for the mixed emotions that will arise as I try to find documentation of my family at the Colored State Fair in South Carolina.  I will keep you posted.



  1. Thank you for this information! I am a Ph.D. student planning a dissertation on the African-American participation at world's fairs and smaller industrial expositions throughout the South--like the SC Colored State Fair. This is fantastic of luck with your research. Feel free to contact me via email if you would like to discuss these fairs in the future!

    Ryan E. Tickle
    Univ. of Southern Mississippi


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