David Lauderdale

How a 'Young Turk' helped remake the old South Carolina

Not many people call W. Brantley Harvey Jr. of Beaufort a "Young Turk" anymore.

But Chief Justice Jean H. Toal did Wednesday night when Harvey was honored during a joint meeting of the bar associations of Beaufort and Jasper counties.

She meant it in the kindest of ways. She used the phrase to help explain Harvey's place in South Carolina history.

"Young Turks" were state legislators willing to challenge the status quo in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, which wasn't easy. It was a lot like getting a mule to work on Monday morning. Here in the South, mules always got Sunday off. And every Sunday, they thought they had retired.

In the legislature, the stubbornly entrenched leaders were called the "Old Guard." They controlled everything. And by everything, we're talking about decisions right down to the county and school-district level.

Harvey was elected in 1958 to the House of Representatives, where he saw a state stuck like a mule in the 1895 Constitution.

"He was one of the Young Turks who began the conversation about modernization for South Carolina," Toal said in an interview Thursday. Her comments to the members of the local bar associations were videotaped because she was attending the State of the State address Wednesday night, while the lawyers met at the Berkeley Hall clubhouse in Bluffton.

The earliest "Young Turks," including John C. West, challenged the state's continued school segregation after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal in 1954.

Toal said they inspired subsequent generations, which included herself, Bob Sheheen, Alex Sanders, Dick Riley and Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort. After "Young Turks," they were called the "Crazy Caucus."

Toal said they saw a need for modern county government, a modern court system, a modern legislative process with more open committee meetings and no filibusters, utilities-regulation reform, environmental protection, better schools, support for the arts and more.

"We achieved a lot, and we stood on a lot of shoulders in many respects," said Toal, a legislator from 1975 until she became the first woman on the state Supreme Court in 1988.

Among those shoulders are Harvey's.

He retired in July after 55 years of practicing law. His wife, Helen, died in September. Toal said he and Helen showed how a husband and wife can both influence society.

Many in the audience Wednesday, like attorney Deborah Malphrus of Ridgeland, were too young to have known Harvey as a Young Turk. She's in the second generation of attorneys to know him as a role model, and a public servant.