September 2000

Mayor James E. Talley

Mayor of Spartanburg, South Carolina

Mayor James E. Talley

If someone had told a young boy named “Patch” who grew up in the Phyllis Goins Public Housing Project that he would someday be the Mayor of the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina, he probably would not have believed it. James E. “Patch” Talley is, however, the Mayor of Spartanburg. Talley, the son of Charles and Lula Talley, was born on August 22, 1940, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was the youngest of eight children. His mother died when he was six months old. As a result, he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Vicey Rice, while his father worked to support the family. At a very young age he received the nickname “Patch.” “I used to have two or three outfits,” Talley recalled, “a Sunday outfit, a school outfit, and play clothes. As the good clothes got old and worn, my grandmother would patch them and they would get demoted to school or play. So, I walked around with clothes with all these patches on them and people started calling me “Patch.” It was the influence of relatives and teachers who became Mayor Talley’s main source of inspiration during his teen years. He graduated from Carver High School in 1959. He earned his way through college on athletic scholarships in tennis, track, and football, receiving his B.S. degree in mathematics and science in 1963 from Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He then spent four years in the U.S. Navy, serving both in the United States and the Mediterranean Sea. He returned to South Carolina to embark upon a teaching career that lasted 27 years. He taught for a year in Greenville County. Then he transferred to his alma mater, Carver High School, where he remained until being moved to Spartanburg High School in 1971 during desegregation. In each position, Talley taught mathematics and science and coached football. He also coached football and tutored math and science at Wofford College from 1981 to 1994. He retired from Spartanburg High School in 1993. It was Mayor Talley’s love and concern for his community that led him into the political arena in 1979. On his first Spartanburg City Council bid for election, he lost by five votes. In 1982, he ran again and led a field of seven candidates in an at-large election. He held a seat on City Council for eleven years. On May 10, 1993, while Councilman Talley was serving as Mayor Pro Tempore, Bob Rowel resigned his seat as mayor, and suddenly, James “Patch” Talley became the Mayor of Spartanburg. After serving six months as mayor, Talley decided to run for a full four-year term in the November 1993 election. He won by a landslide, receiving 75 percent of the vote. “There are those who think growing up poor and black automatically means hopelessness and despair,” Mayor Talley often tells young people. “I was the poorest person everywhere I went, but being poor did not bother me. I had what I needed and I was grateful for what I had.”