Senator Justus K. Jillson.  Justus Kendall Jillson was born November 17, 1839 to parents Sylvester Weeks Jillson and Mary Kendall Jillson in Worcester County, Massachusetts. His early profession in life was that of a teacher in the Warwick, Massachusetts School System where he served for three years. In 1866, he and his family moved to Kershaw, South Carolina, present day Camden, employed by the Freedmen’s Bureau, as a teacher.  It was written of Mr. Jillson, “He was known as an intelligent man with his heart thoroughly in his work as an educator”, unquote.




Senator Justus Kendall Jillson – Kershaw County.

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The Civil War continues in State Capitols across the South.  In 1865, President Andrew Johnson re-installed a post-antebellum government rule under the Presidential Reconstruction Plan, throughout the South, making freedmen “slaves” once again.  However, in 1867, the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress passed the Congressional Reconstruction Acts.  The Congressional Reconstruction Acts required all southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment in order to rejoin the Union and regain their seats in Congress.  The 14th Amendment also required all southern states to provide equal protection under the law for all people.  In 1867, the citizenry of Kershaw County elected Mr. Jillson to be their Senator in the newly appointed 48th General Assembly in July 1868. 

S.C. Constitution Convention of 1868.  The 1868 Constitution Convention was held in Charleston, S.C. on January 14, 1868.  The first task of the newly elected representatives and senators was to forge a new State Constitution. 



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S.C. Constitution Convention of 1868 - continued.  This new 1868 Constitution reflected the saying.. of the people, for the people, and by the people providing the foundation in which future generations could build upon.  In likeness, the 1868’ Constitution of the State of South Carolina sought to provide a God-breathed document that touched or included every subject – man, woman, white, black, poor, and rich.  This document sought to address the ills of the past in areas of citizenship, civil rights, right of self-determination, compulsory and higher education, and social equality. The foundation of education was lauded by all, both republican and democrats, as previously being anemic, requiring undergirding by the state of S.C.'s Government set firmly on a solid foundation - the Constitution.  Article X Section 1 of the constitution established the Superintendent of Education Office. He shall be duly elected by qualified electors of the State in such a manner and at such time to be selected as the other officers are elected, his powers, his duties, term of office, and compensation shall be defined by the General Assembly.  Article X Section 2, there shall be elected biennially, in each County, by qualified voters thereof, one School Commission, said Commissioners to constitute a State Board of Education of which the Superintendent of Education shall be by virtue of his office, be Chairman,; the powers, duties, and compensation of the said Board shall be determined by law.  The Constitution convention also established a uniform system of free public schools funded by both state and local taxes declaring that all public schools were open to all races.


The 1868 Constitution of the State of South Carolina..

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State Superintendent of Education.  The author of the education provisions within the 1868 Constitution of South Carolina was none other than Senator Justus K. Jillson.  As a Republican, he was elected as the first State Superintendent of Education in S.C. with tenure from 1868-1876.  On February 16, 1870, the S.C. General Assembly passed the state’s “first” School Act of 1869–1870, which established state adoption of textbooks, examination, and certification of teachers. The School Act included fifty (50) sections with detailed explanation on how the new "System of Free Common Schools" would work ensuring that colored students received a fair education.  A State Board of Education was established with a State Superintendent of Education as its leader, with County School Commissioners, County Board of Examiners, and School Trustees having detailed roles and responsibilities defined.  

 With  lofty aspirations of a newly minted constitution for change, Superintendent of Education Jillson never had the required funding for a "free public education system” in South Carolina.  His first appropriation from the legislature was only $50,000.  When broken down among the 200,000 souls desiring education within the state, only twenty-five cents (.25) was allocated per student. The following year, Superintendent Jillson was allotted an appropriation of $300,000 receiving only $91,000 for the new school system being equivalent to forty-six cents (.46) per student.

1870 legislative speech on the status of Public Education in S.C.  In an 1870 speech before the legislature, Superintendent Jillson stated, “probably no other state in the union is as cursed with poor teachers as is South Carolina”, unquote.  He blamed the quality of teachers on commissioners and trustees at the district-level giving teaching jobs to persons “too ignorant or shiftless to earn a comfortable livelihood elsewhere”, unquote. 

  In 1876, Jillson provided his final report as State Superintendent of Education of his troubled administration and how occupied the position

of a helpless spectator [he was] of the misdeeds from the state government ever present during his eight-year tenure.  Beset by problems

including lack of funding, racial prejudices, and corruption, Jillson nonetheless supported integrated education for all children regardless of

race or class.








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The tea leaves of discontent on the horizon.  By 1876, Jillson's dream of a free public education system within the state of South Carolina was virtually over.  With political assassinations of fellow republicans, such as Darlington County Representative Alfred Rush, on the rise, he read the tea leaves knowing it was best for him and his family to leave S.C. and return to their native Massachusetts.



Family.  Superintendent Justus K. Jillson was married to Ellen Amelia Gates Jillson and this union brought forth two sons, Allan and Herbert.











Allan Jillson (left), Ellen A. Jillson (center), and Herbert L. Jillson (right).

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DeathSuperintendent Justus K. Jillson died on December 9, 1881 in Hampton County, Massachusetts at the age of 42.  He is buried in Warwick Cemetery, Franklin County, Massachusetts (below).


Senator Justus K. Jillson Family Headstone in Warwick Cemetery.

Courtesy of Find A Grave.

























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