South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers

By Tom Mack | Go to book overview

Dabbs, James McBride (1896–1970).

Writer, educator, theologian, civil rights leader. Born on May 8, 1896, in the Salem community of eastern Sumter County, South Carolina, Dabbs was the son of the farmer Eugene Whitefield Dabbs and Alice Maude McBride. After receiving his private education in the one-room rural Salem School, Dabbs eventually graduated from the University of South Carolina (USC) as one of the top students in the class of 1916. Between 1913 and 1916 he filled pages of the college’s literary magazine with his poems, short stories, and prose sketches. In 1917 he earned a master’s degree in psychology from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then served as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army (1917–1919). On May 11, 1918, Dabbs married Barnwell native Jessie Clyde Armstrong. The marriage produced two daughters. After teaching in North Carolina from 1919 to 1920, Dabbs returned to USC to teach English. In 1924 he became professor of English at Coker College in Hartsville, where he served as head of the department from 1925 to 1937. He retired in 1942 as a part-time faculty member, commuting from Rip Raps Plantation, his ancestral farm in east Sumter County. Following the death of Jessie Dabbs in 1933, Dabbs married Edith Mitchell on June 11, 1935. They had three children.

Moving to Rip Raps in 1937, Dabbs established a dual pattern of writing and farming that would last the rest of his life. He had begun to establish his reputation as a master of formal and informal essays in the early 1930s, when he began publishing in some of the country’s leading journals and rubbing literary shoulders with such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Robert Penn Warren. Although he was not one of the twelve contributors to the famous 1930 volume I’ll Take My Stand, Dabbs did address early on many of the same themes and issues about which the Southern Agrarians wrote: the distinctiveness of the South, the mixed blessings of industrialization, education, the African American presence and identity, and southern religion. However, he “out-Agrarianed” the Agrarians in one

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