James P. Stevens served for 21 years in the S.C. General Assembly during a time when senators ran their counties like small kingdoms.
His rise to prominence originated from humble beginnings, according to an article in the Vol. 22, No. 1 edition of the Independent Republic Quarterly.
Stevens was born and raised in Loris during the Great Depression. Times were tough during his childhood and money was tight.
As a young teenager, Stevens worked during the summer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) making $2.50 a week as a water boy.
A WPA truck picked up the workers to dig ditches and clean the road banks. They were charged five cents a day for transportation. The water boy carried drinking water to the workers, Stevens recalled.
He said Loris had no paved roads during his childhood and the main method of transportation was by train, which stopped at Loris every day.
“I saved up six or eight months to buy a bicycle. One Saturday I rode it in the drizzle to Tabor City to see the movie. The mud was so thick that it stuck to my tires and the wheels would not turn, so I rode on the railroad bed,” Stevens said. “The road to Green Sea was paved so coming back, still sprinkling rain, I rode by Green Sea, which was about 13 miles.”
Stevens served six years with the U.S. Coast Guard after graduating from Loris High School. During World War II, he was mostly on patrol in the North Atlantic looking for German submarines and running with convoys.
After the war, he opened an electrical and plumbing business before deciding to go to college. He graduated in 1952 from the University of South Carolina with a law degree and opened a law office in Loris.
In 1955 he ran for the Senate against five other people and won.
Stevens said he was proud of his role in getting Horry-Georgetown Technical College established because Horry County was not originally scheduled to get a technical school.
“Every time the board met for the TEC center, the Horry delegation appeared. Finally, they realized how serious the people of Horry County were and said, ‘If you pay half of the expenses for faculty and other expenses, we will build a place until you reach the 300 pupil mark. Then we will take over.’”
Steven said HGTC had 300 students within 30 days.
The former senator also played an instrumental role in the growth of Coastal Carolina University. He introduced a bill making the school a four-year college
During his tenure, he had more roads paved than any other office holder and received additional farm-to-market funds by virtue of his position as chairman of the Highway and Transportation Committee.
He also secured funding to four-lane U.S. 501.
Stevens lost his seat to Ralph Ellis of Little River in 1976 when Home Rule went into effect.
He died in 2002 but his legacy lingers.