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The birth of John Artemus in 1885 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black labor organizer.
He was born in Edgefield, S.C., from a sharecropper family. At a young age, Artemus realized that this type of farming system benefited only the white landlords and not the Black tenant farmers. He was forced to leave Edgefield when he confronted his family's landlord over unfair wages. Artemus moved to Columbia, where he worked for several of the city's major merchants as a store clerk. He worked during the day and attended Benedict College in the evening. During these years, he learned carpentry and studied construction and contracting through correspondence courses. He worked on many homes and rental properties in both Black and white communities.
After many years, Artemus joined the Columbia office of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. For 12 years, he worked as an insurance agent and an assistant manager. Because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Artemus returned to carpentry, hoping to benefit from the federal building projects started by President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. But Black workers were barred from these projects. Artemus and a small group of supporters organized Local 2260 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to represent Black workers throughout central South Carolina.
Their efforts broke many racial barriers. As the union's business agent from 1939 to 1954, Artemus assured Black participation in major construction projects, such as Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base, the Savannah River Site, the DuPont Fibers complex, and numerous federal housing developments from New Jersey to Florida. From 1951 to 1959, he represented the state's Blacks as vice-president-at-large of the South Carolina Federation of Labor Executive Board. He became the first treasurer of the newly formed Progressive Democratic Party, an organization formed to provide Blacks with an opportunity to take part in state and national elections.
New voters flooded polling places in 1948. "J.C." Artemus never relaxed in his quest to register and give political insight to new Black voters. By 1950, he was a member of the Columbia Democratic Executive Committee. As a labor leader and political reformer he also served as a poll manager at one of the city's most influential precincts from 1952 until his death in 1964.
BellSouth South Carolina
African American History Online
P.O. Box 752
Columbia, South Carolina 29202