Generations of Black Columbians attended the Palmetto State Fair, held each fall at the State fairgrounds in Columbia. Let’s look back at a brief history of this fair.
In the first week of January, 1890, the Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Exposition held a State Fair at the fairgrounds above Elmwood Avenue in Columbia. When cotton prices were high and money could be spent on such activities, fairs for African Americans continued to be held periodically through the late 19th and early 20th century.
In 1907, Rev. Richard Carroll, a prominent African-American resident of Columbia, proposed that a State Fair be held for African Americans at the State Fairgrounds, then located on Rosewood Avenue, the week following the State Fair hosted by the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Society, a white organization. By 1908, the South Carolina Colored State Fair Association was organized with Carroll as President. Local African-American business leaders such as Isaac Samuel Leevy and Nathanial J. Frederick assisted Carroll in this effort.
This organization, later known as the Negro State Fair Association and then the Palmetto State Fair Association, hosted the Palmetto State Fair from 1908 until 1969. Dr. Arthur J. Collins, a Columbia dentist and farm owner, served as president of the Palmetto State Fair Association from 1924 to 1970.
The Palmetto State Fair offered African Americans a gathering place to share agricultural knowledge, exhibit their animals, crafts and industrial goods, and enjoy the rides, games and entertainments along the midway.
Local schools held marching band competitions, and New Farmers and New Homemakers of South Carolina held annual meetings in the grandstand. Football games between Allen University and Benedict College and other local schools were often held during fair week too.
In 1965, the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Society ended its practice of segregation at the State Fair. Leaders of the Palmetto State Fair Association continued to host the Palmetto State Fair for a few more years before it dissolved in 1971.