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Into the light: the electrification of rural South Carolina

Poster: Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Library of Congress
Poster: Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Early in the twentieth century, for-profit companies such as Duke Power and South Carolina Electric and Gas brought electricity to populous cities and towns across South Carolina, while rural areas remained in the dark. It was not until the advent of publicly owned electric cooperatives in the 1930s that the South Carolina countryside was gradually introduced to the conveniences of life with electricity. Today, electric cooperatives serve more than a quarter of South Carolina's citizens and more than seventy percent of the state's land area.

In his book, Empowering Communities: How Electric Cooperatives Transformed Rural South Carolina (USC Press, 2022), Dr. Lacy K. Ford and co-author Jared Bailey tell the story of the rise of "public" power – electricity serviced by member-owned cooperatives and sanctioned by federal and state legislation. It is a complicated saga, encompassing politics, law, finance, and rural economic development, of how the cooperatives helped bring fundamental and transformational change to the lives of rural people in South Carolina, from light to broadband.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.