Claflin Honors One of its First Graduates at Annual Leadership Giving Luncheon

Dec 06, 2019

From left: Rev. Whittaker V. Middleton, Robert Miller, Charles Orr, Porsha Raysor and Dr. Dwaun Warmack

Claflin honored the late I.S. Nimmons, one of the University's first graduates at the annual Leadership Giving Luncheon held last month at Ministers' Hall. The luncheon was a part of Claflin's Sesquicentennial Homecoming events. Nimmons, a native of Bamberg, S.C., was in the first cohort of freedmen and their children who enrolled in Claflin when the University open its doors in 1869.

Robert Miller, president of the Claflin University International Alumni Association, presented a resolution that awarded Nimmons posthumously, full-membership into the CUIAA.  

Charles Orr, a Nimmons family descendant announced the selection of Porsha Raysor, a senior human performance and recreation major at Claflin, as the recipient of a $1,869 scholarship as the I.S. Nimmons Commemorative Sesquicentennial Scholar. Orr also presented Claflin with a large commissioned portrait of Nimmons and a copy of the resolution that will be permanently displayed in the H.V. Manning Library.

The annual Leadership Giving Luncheon recognizes gift totals of $1,000 or more from individuals that were contributed during the period from October 16, 2018, through October 15, 2019. This year, 244 leadership-level donors, 11 percent more than last year, gave a total of $894,518, were recognized. Of these honorees, 117 had increased their giving over 2018 levels by one or more giving levels. This year's Leadership Giving Luncheon was sponsored in part by The Regional Medical Center, a Sesquicentennial Regional Leadership Partner.

About I.S. Nimmons 

Isaac Solomon Nimmons  (I.S. Nimmons) was born during slavery on August 28, 1852. He was in the first cohort of the freedmen and their children who enrolled in Claflin University when it opened its doors for the first time in October 1869.  Rev. Abram Middleton, an original trustee of Claflin University, and the founding minister of Orange Grove Methodist Episcopal Church (now Orange Grove United Methodist Church), encouraged his bright young parishioner, I.S. Nimmons, to pursue an education.

I.S. Nimmons' father, Isaac Nimmons, was a prominent freedman who was the coachman of Woodlands Plantation in Midway, S.C., and the body servant of noted 19th-centurry writer, William Gilmore Simms, the last slave owner of the plantation. Isaac Nimmons agreed to let I.S. Nimmons, his eldest son and namesake, attend the newly established university in nearby Orangeburg to get a "proper" education.

I.S. Nimmons entered Claflin with the intention of studying to become a minister. Instead, he became a successful farmer and landowner. In 1885, he married Josephine Grayson whose father, Richard Grayson, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and served with the 128th Infantry Regiment United States Colored Troops (USCT) incognito to prevent Confederates from harming his family in retaliation for him joining the Union cause.

By the time I.S. Nimmons was starting a family with his wife, Josephine Grayson, the senior Isaac Nimmons gave him 15 acres of land. Isaac Nimmons owned 514 acres. He had bought 220 acres from Rev. Sheldon S. Lawton in 1883 for $660 (nearly $17,000 in 2019 dollars). Early on, Rev. Lawton had been a member of the Claflin University faculty, and I.S. Nimmons would have been one of his students.

In the next twenty years, I.S. Nimmons added substantially to the initial 15 acres his father had given him and had acquired 600 acres by the beginning of the twentieth century. The adjoining farmsteads of his and his younger brother, Joshua Nimmons, covered more than 1,000 acres. I.S. Nimmons now had the three things his father and Rev. Middleton told him he needed to succeed: "The good Lord, a good learning, and good land."

Aside from growing cotton as a cash crop, I.S. Nimmons maintained fruit orchards and cultivated sorghum, a grain that was introduced to America by enslaved Africans. He was a supporter of the Negro State Fair Association started by influential African American leader, Richard Carroll, and a backer of the highly successful 1908 South Carolina Colored State Fair.   As a devout Methodist and elder of the church, I.S. Nimmons attended church conferences and was actively engaged in the community by helping to build schools, churches, and lodges. He established the Masonic Lodge in the Orange Grove section of Bamberg County and; as a skilled carpenter, personally helped construct the Mason's meeting hall.

Having gone to Claflin and being an educated man, I.S. Nimmons followed and understood the issues of his times. He attended the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. He was hopeful at first about a  Wilson presidency, but subsequently condemned Wilson's policies of racial segregation.
When I.S. Nimmons died in 1934, his obituary published in South Carolina's largest newspaper, Charleston's The News and Courier, read in part:  "Isaac Nimmons, prosperous Negro of Bamberg County owned 400 acres of good farmland, and never once did he allow a mortgage to be placed on his plantation. He farmed the land himself and was rated one of the county's best farmers."

Over the past 150 years, generations of Nimmons descendants have attended Claflin University following in the footsteps of I.S. Nimmons.   
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