About Burnet Rhett Maybank
Burnet Rhett Maybank (March 7, 1899 – September 1, 1954) was a U.S. Senator, the 99th Governor of South Carolina, and Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. Maybank was the direct descendant of six former South Carolinian governors. He was the first governor from Charleston since the Civil War. His son Burnet Maybank II went on to become Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina and a later candidate for Governor, while his grandson Burnet Maybank III, is a notable lawyer.
Burnet Maybank was born to Dr. Joseph Maybank VI and Harriet Lowndes Rhett, the first of ten. He married Elizabeth deRosset Myers, daughter of Judge Francis Kerchner Myers and Roberta Atkinson Smith, on June 28, 1923. They had three children; a son Burnet R. Maybank II,who married Marion Mitchell, and two daughters, Roberta M. Maybank, who married Judge William Prioleau, and Elizabeth deRosset Maybank, who married Theodore Guerard, listed as one the best attorneys in the nation in The Best Lawyers in America up until his death in 1997, and a three term South Carolina State Representative. After the death of his first wife he married Mary Roscoe Randolph Pelzer Cecil. The second marriage produced no children. He has 10 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina into one of Charleston's most prominent and wealthy families, Maybank attended the public schools and graduated from the Porter Military Academy, now the exclusive Porter-Gaud School. He received a degree from the College of Charleston. He served in the United States Navy during World War I, and engaged in the cotton export business from 1920 to 1938.
Although successful in business, Maybank became captivated by public service. A lifelong Democrat, he entered politics for the first time in 1927, when he was elected to a four-year term as alderman in Charleston. He rose to mayor pro tempore in 1930 and, with the support of prominent businessmen in the city, was elected mayor of Charleston in 1931, serving until 1938. As mayor, Maybank brought order to the city's finances and balanced the budget. He cut his own salary from $6,000 to $3,600, reduced taxes, and got federal support for slum clearance, public housing, and unemployment. He was effective in guiding work relief and funds for civic improvements. He used a Works Progress Administration grant to restore the historic Dock Street Theater, and other grants went to such improvements as the city docks and a city incinerator. During this period Maybank was a member of the State Board of Bank Control (1932–1933) and was chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Authority (1935–1939), a state-sponsored power project on the Santee River. This project, known as the "little TVA," successfully controlled floods and provided hydroelectric power for the state. He was a conservative supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, favoring public works and job programs. A personal friend of Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, Maybank was an occasional guest at the White House, and Roosevelt visited Charleston on several occasions between 1935 and 1940.
In addition, he was a member of the South Carolina State Advisory Board of the Federal Administration of Public Works from 1933 to 1934, and chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Authority from 1934 to 1939. He was also a member of the Board of Bank Control from 1933 to 1934.
With the favorable publicity from the Santee project, a strong political base in Charleston, and support from his mentor, U.S. senator James F. Byrnes, Maybank announced his candidacy for governor and destroyed the competition, being elected in 1938. As governor, Maybank tried unsuccessfully to create an adequate state police force, but he did supervise a vigorous prosecution of the criminal element in the state. He strictly enforced liquor and gambling statutes and, in a courageous move, used all his power to fight the revived Ku Klux Klan. He went even further towards his progressive racial thinking by favoring expanded economic opportunities for blacks and tried to improve the quality of black schools in the state.
In January 1941 President Roosevelt appointed Byrnes to the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybank won a special election to fill Byrnes's Senate seat in September 1941, defeating former governor Olin D. Johnston with 56.6 percent of the vote. In 1942 Maybank was elected to the full six-year term, and in 1948 he was reelected without opposition, and served until his death in 1954.
Maybank was a powerful senator. Maybank served as chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency and as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Defense Production. As chair of the Subcommittee on Independent Offices, under the Appropriations Committee, Maybank provided critical support to continue the U.S. nuclear weapons program in the early 1950s. He introduced the "Maybank Amendment" which was tacked on to the 1953 Defense Appropriations Bill. The amendment excuses the Department of Defense from targeting a percentage of his expenditures to high unemployment areas. A much more detailed list of the bills and resolutions that Maybank was a part of is available at this website Burnet Maybank Senatorial Papers. Shortly before his death, he was voted as one of "Fortune Magazine's 20 Most Influential Americans". He was also voted as the "Most Handsome Man in the Senate" twice by his colleagues. He died of a heart attack at his summer home in Flat Rock, North Carolina in 1954, and is interred in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. Future Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, along with numerous political dignitaries attended his funeral in Charleston.
Maybank's sudden and untimely death, just two months before Election Day, triggered the chaotic 1954 Senate election in South Carolina, in which Strom Thurmond won as a write-in candidate against the nominee chosen by party leaders to replace Maybank.
Maybank is a famous and influential figure in South Carolina, most notably in Charleston. He has many points of interest named for him throughout Charleston and the state. Some notable examples are Maybank Highway, the Burnet Maybank Bridge (over the Wappoo Cut in Charleston), Maybank Hall at the College of Charleston, and the Burnet R. Maybank Scholarship at the University of South Carolina Law School.
Maybank is featured prominently in Step by Step: A Memoir of Hope, Friendship, Perseverance, and Living the American Dream, by African-American author Bertie Bowman. Bowman, who served as a hearing coordinator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describes Maybank in his book as having a huge impact on his life by offering him his first job sweeping the Capitol steps in the early 1940s, and taking great care of Bowman (who had no family in Washington). In March 2009 Senator Maybank's granddaughter, Elizabeth Parker, traveled to D.C. to meet with Bowman for the first time. Later in April, the Maybank family met Bowman and his spouse in Charleston.
Vice President Joe Biden mentioned Maybank at the dedication ceremony for the Ernest Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina on July 23, 2010. He said, "You know, an old governor of yours, Burnet Maybank, once wrote an essay entitled, "Who Is the South Carolinian?" And here's what it said. He said, there's a deal—there is a deal of kindness about him, describing the South Carolinian. He feels favored when asked for personal assistance. A neighborly spirit prompts him to render service with a scorn for remuneration."