The Omitted Legacy of George D. Grice

A Complicated legacy

As the 14th president (1945-65) of the College of Charleston (CofC), George D. Grice left a complicated legacy. 

As the 14th president (1945-65) of the College of Charleston (CofC), George D. Grice left a complicated legacy.  On the one hand, he created several enduring opportunities for faculty and students.  For instance, in 1955 Grice founded the College’s Fort Johnson Marine Biological Laboratory, seeing potential in the Fort Johnson site that ran counter to advice of a scientific panel formed to gauge its suitability.  He was encouraged in this effort by his son, George D. Grice, Jr., then a doctoral student who would become a prominent marine scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  The CofC marine laboratory has since served as a base of marine research and education for generations of faculty and students, involving the oldest marine biology undergraduate major on the east coast and a top-10 marine biology graduate program, soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  He also implemented benefits for faculty across the school, notably by initiating participation in the South Carolina retirement plan, beginning a tenure system, instituting a sabbatical program, and raising faculty salaries to a competitive level.

On the other hand, Grice’s policies and actions as CofC President—and later as a state senator—deliberately excluded minorities and women from opportunities in education and employment.  During his tenure, applications to CofC from dozens of Black students received a form dismissal--“the policy of the College will not permit accepting an application from you”--and Grice encouraged direct legal confrontation with applicants who challenged this policy.  As a member of Charleston’s White Citizens Council—an upper-class version of the Ku Klux Klan formed by white southerners to fight racial integration—he vowed “the relentless pursuit of the NAACP in the press and in the courts” (as quoted by White), and he helped to found the “Committee of 52,” a white resistance group that lobbied the state legislature to preserve segregation in education.   To that end, in 1949 he oversaw the privatizing sale of the College for $1 from the city of Charleston to the Board of Trustees, distancing the College from government oversight.  Similarly, Grice took steps toward limiting or phasing out female enrollment, which had begun under his predecessor, and vehemently opposed hiring female faculty “over my dead body” (as quoted by Morrison).

The historical record shows that Grice held to these policies even as alumni, faculty, students, local officials, and leaders of other state institutions disavowed them.  In 1963, while Clemson University and University of South Carolina (USC) had begun to integrate peacefully, Grice accelerated divestment from federal funds to avoid forced integration, including a costly premature payment for Ft. Johnson, which would have eventually become CofC property without cost to the College.  His real estate ambitions also involved an obsessive practice of buying up properties surrounding the downtown campus.  While these purchases ultimately allowed for the growth of the campus and student body, they also drained the endowment and brought the College close to financial ruin.  Moreover, Grice’s statements provide evidence that part of his motivation was to clear nearby neighborhoods of Black residents (as concluded by Morrison).

In 1965, in a final effort to shield the College from federal enforcement of school integration, Grice refused to sign the Compliance Clause required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated equal access to any program receiving federal assistance.  This stance led to financial hardship for many students as they lost access to federal loans, and it excluded CofC faculty from applying for federal grants.  He defiantly told some faculty near the end of his tenure that he was prepared for CofC to be the last segregated school in America.
 

Although Grice served longer than any CofC President since his tenure, his legacy is entirely omitted from the College’s “History and Traditions” web pages.  Fortunately, that legacy was researched and reported in Nan Morrison’s (2011) book, which was a main source of information for this essay.  Ten years after his presidency, the marine laboratory Grice founded was renamed in his honor and a plaque was mounted at its entrance, lauding him for preserving the College’s “high traditions”—perhaps a reaction to more progressive changes by Presidents Coppedge and Stern that began to reverse the College’s exclusionary practices.  Discovering the College’s past under Grice reveals that preserving such traditions included his steadfast implementation of racist and sexist policies.  Ironically, the seal of the institution Grice served—which depicts a diploma-bearing CofC graduate framed by the phrase Sapientia Ipsa Libertas, “Wisdom itself is liberty”—speaks to the injustices he perpetuated by denying equal access to education as a means to social and economic liberation.

Images

Grice Portrait
Grice Portrait Portrait of CofC President George D. Grice, which hung in the conference room of the marine laboratory until it was returned to Randolph Hall in 2022 Source: Robert Podolsky.
Taking CofC Private
Taking CofC Private Letter from CofC President George Grice in 1949, explaining the College’s intent to maintain a policy of excluding Blacks from admission--but to continue to receive support from Charleston city and county unless successfully challenged by the NAACP--upon its return to private status. Source: Used with permission of Special Collections, College of Charleston Libraries. College CofC archives, 1785-1970, Box 41, Folder 1.
Rejecting Black Applicants
Rejecting Black Applicants Statement by CofC President George Grice to College Trustees in 1964, declaring his preference not to provide College application blanks to Black applicants even if academically qualified, and his willingness to battle Black applicants in the courts, if necessary, on the grounds of being a private institution. Source: Courtesy Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. AMN 1047 Box 04 Folder 10, lcdl113785-JPEG1.jpg.
Title VI Certification
Title VI Certification Document certifying compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which CofC President George Grice had refused to sign. Submitted by CofC in 1966 after Grice retired, it records the first admission of Black students to the College for the fall of 1967. Source: Used with permission of Special Collections, College of Charleston Libraries. CofC archives, 1785-1970, Box 44, Folder 5.
GML Ceremony
GML Ceremony Photo of CofC President Stern and former CofC President Grice at the dedication of the Grice Marine Lab in 1976. Source: Used with permission of College of Charleston Libraries, Marine Resources Library
GML Dedication
GML Dedication Dedication plate for the new main building of Grice Marine Laboratory, completed in 1976. Source: Robert Podolsky.
Grice Plaque
Grice Plaque Bas-relief plaque honoring George Grice installed at the entrance to the Grice Marine Laboratory main building upon its completion in 1976. Source: Robert Podolsky.
Grice Marine Laboratory
Grice Marine Laboratory Photo of Grice Marine Laboratory, July 2015. Source: Robert Podolsky.

Location

Metadata

Robert Podolsky, “The Omitted Legacy of George D. Grice,” Discovering Our Past: College of Charleston Histories, accessed July 25, 2024, https://discovering.cofc.edu/items/show/57.