The court reporter who produced a verbatim record of the Trial of the Century is now called by George E. Mowry, a historian of the Progressive Era, “the most influential Southern member of Congress between John Calhoun and Lyndon Johnson.” It’s fitting that during Court Reporting and Captioning Week CompuScripts takes a look at one of South Carolina’s best-known court reporters of yesteryear who produced verbatim records, James F. Byrnes.
It was South Carolina’s “Crime of the Century,” yet no official trial transcript exists. Then-court reporter Jimmy Byrnes was hired by The State newspaper to make a verbatim record of each day’s proceedings for the trial of Lt. Governor James H. Tillman. Pitchfork Ben Tillman was charged with murdering Narciso Gener Gonzales, a most-heralded newspaper editor at that time and political enemy. Gonzales, along with his two brothers, had founded the newspaper. Gonzales used the power of the pen to ink scathing editorials directed at both local and federal politicians.
Hard work, undoubtedly, was needed to produce expedited transcripts in the early 20th century. Byrnes’ “Stenographic Report,” was usually published daily, recounting the previous day’s testimony. A haunting quote is recited in the trial testimony of James A. Hoyt, Jr., memorialized in the Byrnes’ record. Gonzales’ dying declaration, “Shoot again, you coward,” was heard and testified to by Mr. Hoyt, Gonzales’ assistant.
With the eyes of the nation on Lexington, SC, Byrnes, a court reporter for the South Carolina Second Circuit, was hired to produce a verbatim record for the trial. His career started off at an early age. According to www.carolana.com, “At the age of 14, he left St. Patrick’s Catholic School to work in a law office and became a court stenographer.” Before Byrnes turned 21, his cousin, then Governor McSweeney, appointed Byrnes to be Judge Aldrich’s clerk.
Byrnes was an Old South democrat and his career carried many titles including Congressman, U.S. Senator and U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Byrnes had the ear of Franklin D. Roosevelt and guided much of the New Deal legislation from the Senate floor.
Byrnes was also instrumental in getting the federal government to undertake a massive dam-building project during the Great Depression at no cost to South Carolina taxpayers. That project, known as Santee Cooper, electrified the entire state with hydroelectric power.
James “Jimmy” Byrnes was considered by Roosevelt as a running mate, but ultimately worries about his faith and his views on race disqualified him from becoming FDR’s favored candidate. After a controversial 1944 Democratic National Convention, Missouri Senator Harry Truman was named to the ticket.
President Harry Truman appointed Byrnes as the U.S. Secretary of State after Roosevelt’s death. From 1951 to 1955, Byrnes held the political office of Governor of South Carolina. In 1953, he simultaneously held the role of delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, having been appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower.
If you’d like to find out more about modern-day career opportunities for a stenographer producing a verbatim record, click here.