Education: 1949 graduate of S.C. State; Master’s degree from New York University (1953)
The biggest moment of Dr. M. Maceo Nance’s 19-year tenure as president of S.C. State University came early, within his first year at the helm. In 1968, three S.C. State students were killed by state Highway patrolmen. The tragic confrontation between students and state troopers took place during a student-led protest of an Orangeburg bowling alley and its policy of racial segregation. The officers opened fire in an incident remembered as the Orangeburg Massacre. The deaths split South Carolina along racial lines and plunged Orangeburg into a state of martial law overnight. There were curfews, armed National Guardsmen patrolling the streets of the city and tanks at the ready to quell civil unrest. Left to put the pieces back in place was a 42-year-old Nance, who at the time was interim president. Nance said in a 1987 interview with The State that the days leading up to the shootings and the days after proved to be the most trying of his 19-year presidency. “There were no precedents and no books written about this problem.” He said “I made many decisions that I didn’t know were the proper ones or not.”
History has looked kindly upon Nance’s sure-handed leadership during that pivotal time in the state’s history and in the development of S.C. State University. Southern universities had been straddling a fault line between action and caution during the most tumultuous years of the civil rights movement. Civil disobedience was a valuable tool in the civil rights movement. Yet Nance, like every college president, was duty bound to protect the university’s students from the seemingly omnipresent violence of that era. Once that grim day in February 1968 had visited, Nance facilitated the healing process by doing something admirers said he’d always been adept at —- building a consensus among leaders and focusing on the future. First, he and Gov. Robert McNair solidified their relationship. That was key, as Nance, characterized by contemporaries as a “straight shooter,” was able to honestly and effectively map out the kind of change that had to take place in order for the state to move forward. “What we witnessed was a buildup of a lack of sensitivity that there were inequities that ought to be addressed, and up to the point of eruption, had not been addressed,” Nance told the Times and Democrat of Orangeburg in a 1981 interview. Nance emerged as a “stabilizing force” in the community, according to Congressman James Clyburn. Nance took a hands-on approach to healing a wounded institution and became a college president who preferred to form relationships with students and get out among the people. Soon after, the job of president was his permanently.
Dr. M. Maceo Nance grew up in Columbia as the only child of a railroad worker and a housewife. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he enrolled at S.C. State in 1942. He left a year later to serve three years in the U.S. Navy. Upon his discharge, Nance resumed his studies at “State College,” as S.C. State was known. He went on to earn a Master’s degree from New York University. Nance began his 30-year career as a supply clerk. He rose to become the school’s chief financial officer. From there he was tapped to succeed former president Benner C. Turner, becoming the school’s fifth president. Under Nance, the school’s enrollment more than doubled. S.C. State added about two dozen degree programs and the university underwent an aggressive building campaign that modernized the campus.
Yet Nance’s biggest accomplishment to the state might be the dialogue he helped start between the races in wake of the Orangeburg Massacre. “There had been little dialogue prior to (the shootings),” Nance told The State in 1996.