The Queen Anne home pictured below is one of several Victorian-era residences in Darlington attributed to Lawrence Reese. Reese was an African-American master craftsman whose skills in architectural design and carpentry were self-taught. Born at the close of the Civil War in Marlboro County, he was active in Darlington from the time he relocated there in 1887 to the early decades of the twentieth century. An enterprising man, Reese also ran a grocery store and built caskets.
This home was built between 1890 and 1891 with ornate features such as Eastlake screen doors on the front entrance and Queen Anne colored glass borders. The first floor exterior is covered with weatherboard, while the second floor, attic, and turret boast shingles. It was built for William Francis Early and his family. Mr. Early was in the cottonseed oil business but died early, in 1937. His widow, Mary Elizabeth Parrott Early, lived another 30 years, and thus the home is named in her honor.
Mr. and Mrs. Early had four children, three of whom survived infancy. Her eldest child, Bessie Early, married Robert Lathan – editor of the Charleston News and Courier from 1910 through 1927. In 1925, Mr. Lathan won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial, “The Plight of the South,” published the year before. The piece ran in newspapers across the country and is considered the summation of a political philosophy that favored states rights. The editorial was reprinted in the Charleston Post and Courier on April 24, 2015, following the newspaper’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize award for its “Till Death Do Us Part” series on domestic violence.
Lathan went on to serve as editor of the Asheville Citizen in Asheville, North Carolina, from 1927 until 1937. He was named to the South Carolina Press Association Hall of Fame in 1979. “The Plight of the South” is transcribed below:
This article is being written on election day but before the result of the voting can possibly be known. The suggestions it contains will still be pertinent whatever the story told by the first page this morning. It makes very little difference what any of us think about the outcome of yesterday’s balloting. It makes a considerable difference whether or not the people of the South realize the precarious situation which this section has come to occupy politically.
As yet we doubt if very many of them do realize this; and yet it is, we think, the outstanding political development of the time so far as we are concerned. Look at the facts. They are not pleasant to contemplate, but they cannot be ignored longer. We are in a sad fix politically in this part of the country and if we are to find a remedy for our troubles we must first of all determine what they are. That will take considerable discussion and all we can hope to do now is to help start the ball of this discussion rolling. If that can be accomplished we may achieve the new program and the new leadership which we so much need.
For at the root of the South’s present plight lies the fact that it has today virtually no national program and virtually no national leadership. Is it strange that it should be treated by the rest of the country as such a negligible force? What is it contributing today in the way of political thought? What political leaders has it who possess weight or authority beyond their own States? What constructive policies are its people ready to fight for with the brains and zeal that made them a power in the old days?
The plight of the South in these respects would be perilous at any time. In a period when political currents are deeper and swifter than ever before, with more violent whirlpools, more dangerous rocks and shoals, ours is truly a perilous position. Changes which used to be decades in the making now sweep over us almost before we know they are in contemplation. It is true everywhere. In all the countries of Europe the pendulum is swinging, now far to the left, now far to the right. Center parties have lost their power. They are in a very bad way. And the South has belonged to the school politically which sought as a rule the middle of the road, eschewing ultra-conservatism on the one hand and radicalism on the other. With Labor organized and militant, with radicalism organized and in deadly earnest, with conservatism organized and drawing the lines sharply, what is the South to do, what course shall she take, where do her interests lie, what is due to happen to her?
These are questions which already begin to press for answer. Who is to speak for the South? How many of her citizens are prepared to help formulate her replies?
The W.F. Early House is listed in the National Register as part of the West Broad Street Historic District:
The West Broad Street Historic District is a significant collection of intact residences which were constructed between ca. 1890 and ca. 1928. Most of the residences are grand in scale and reflect the prosperity of the individuals who built them. Several of the houses were owned by some of Darlington’s most prominent citizens. The district, which includes a basically intact section of a residential neighborhood, contains 34 houses and four noncontributing properties within its boundaries. Most of the residences are large, two-story frame Victorian or Queen Anne structures with decorative woodwork. The dwellings are set on deep lots that are planted with large trees and shrubs. A number of these large residences are similar in appearance and were built by master carpenter Lawrence Reese. Also included in the district are thirteen modest, one-story frame houses with a few decorative features, as well as two imposing brick bungalows.