The Galivants Ferry Stump

I told you this wasn’t a history book, but if I’m going to tell you about the Galivants Ferry Stump, it’s important to know the history beforehand — because, in many ways, this history is a microcosm of the South, and certainly of Galivants Ferry. The Stump was and still is a big deal! It’s the last and oldest political event of its kind in the world, not to mention that the same family has continuously run the Stump for 135+ years.

For the sake of simplicity, I will begin by including the document we hand out every year to media and our attendees, “History of the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting”:

History of the Galivant’s Ferry Stump Meeting

Wade Hampton, former confederate General and chief of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Cavalry Corps, began his campaign for Governor of South Carolina in Horry County when he spoke to Horry County Democrats at Galivants Ferry, South Carolina on September 30, 1876. This marked the beginning of Democratic dominance in South Carolina politics for the next 100 years. The occasion set the precedent for the Democratic primary speaking that began soon after and continued to be held every two years on the banks of the Little Pee Dee River at Galivants Ferry. The site was named for a man surnamed Galivant, or according to a 1820 map, “Gallwant.” A ferry was operated at this site to carry people across the Little Pee Dee River.

Joseph W. Holliday, a naval stores and turpentine entrepreneur, operated a mercantile business at Galivants Ferry, which served as a community gathering place. His store became the site for political leaders to speak to voters. In those days office seekers would address the crowd by standing above them on make-shift platforms such as wagon beds or heavy boxes to be heard. Local legend has it that the use of the word “stump” to describe partisan oratory evolved in earlier times when people may have literally stood on tree stumps to be above the crowd. The Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting evolved as a biennial event that brought politicians and their supporters from across the state to the banks of the Little Pee Dee River. Today in Galivants Ferry, the wagons and boxes have been replaced with stages, sound systems, flags, news media, banner planes and audiences numbering up to 5,000.

In the beginning there were 12 to 15 primary speaking throughout Horry County. The Galivants Ferry gathering was always first on the circuit. The last stump meeting took place at the county seat in Conway on the Saturday before Election Day.

The Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting was held in a pine thicket across from the general store and continued every two years during the lifetime of Joseph W. Holliday.

When Joseph Holliday died in 1904, his son George J. Holliday inherited the mercantile operation and, with fellow Democrats, organized a local Galivants Ferry Democrats Club that continued the tradition by moving the site to the rear loading platform of his general store. The event continued every other year. George J. Holliday’s term as a State Senator from 1903 to 1908 allowed him and the stump meeting to rise in political stature. From 1936 to 1942, Press Daniels, president of the Democratic Club-or Executive Committeeman as known today-was very active in organizing the event.

After the death of George J. Holliday in 1941, his elder son Joseph W. Holliday followed in the tradition of his father and grandfather by promoting stump speaking from behind the scenes. Like his grandfather and father before him, he served as Postmaster and officially could not participate in partisan politics. He was helped by fellow Democrats, Bill Davis and Marvin Skipper. Meanwhile his brother, John Monroe Johnson Holliday, the youngest son , was at The Citadel preparing for a distinguished career in the U.S. Army. After World War II and an extended term of service, John Monroe Holliday returned to Galivants Ferry in 1945 and soon became both front man and principal organizer of the event.

Today, Joseph’s and John Monroe’s families continue as hosts for the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting. John Monroe Holliday was proud to preside over the first Galivants Ferry Stump of the new millennium held on May 1, 2000. Unfortunately he died four months later, but his daughters Russell Holliday and Christy Holliday Douglas are continuing his efforts. Joseph’s heirs, Billy Holliday, Judson Holliday and Betty Holliday McLeod are equally involved in planning this historic event.

The fifth generations of Hollidays, ranging in age from 16 to 40, all live in or near Galivants Ferry and attend every stump meeting, just as their parents did and other generations before them. They realize the stump meeting is part of their legacy too.

In the late 1960′s, many other stump meetings began to fade as TV, radio, newspapers and internet brought more immediate political news into America’s homes. John Monroe Holliday fought relentlessly to keep the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting a state tradition. Through his tireless efforts, the Galivants Ferry event continued to grow in importance to state and local politics as other stump meeting disappeared. It gained such importance to state and local politics as other stump meetings disappeared. It gained such importance, that many believed absence from the stump to be a “kiss of death” for any statewide Democratic Candidate.

When stump meetings first began, all the politicians attending were primarily Democrats, since there were few Republicans in the South. Naturally, since it was a Democratic event, only Democrats spoke. Although it is still a Democratic event today, the event holds such importance and draws so many people, that as many Republicans as Democrats attend. Nevertheless, only Democrats are invited to speak

The Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting is also where the legendary U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond debated and beat ten candidates for Governor in 1946. He then became a Dixiecrat, and years later, a Republican. It was also here in front of this family-owned general store, where U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings began his long political career as a candidate for state Lieutenant Governor in 1954. 

Some of the other famous people that have started at Galivants Ferry are Governor Cole L. Blease, Governor Pitchfork Ben Tillman, Senator Cotton Ed Smith, Senator Olin D. Johnston, Senator Burnet Maybank, U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley, Governor Bob McNair, Ambassador John West, U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Phil Lader, and Secretary of State under President Harry Truman, Jimmy Byrnes. Some might also remember Senator H. Kemper Cooke, the backwoods statesman who ran for Governor. One of the most memorable was Dero Cooke who played his Stradivarius violin at the Galivants Ferry Stump and then announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.

Statewide recognition of the political importance of the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting has grown. This is evidenced and enhanced by increased state-wide and national medic coverage. In 1986, the Stump was featured on NBC’s Today; four years later, ABC’s Good Morning America followed suit.

To make sure that the 1992 Presidential Campaign was an integral part of the stump meeting, Governor Bill Clinton and U.S. Senator Al Gore sent Oklahoma Congressman David McCurdy to represent their Clinton/Gore ticket. Congressman McCurdy had been one of the people who nominated Bill Clinton for President at the National Democratic Convention in New York.

What makes this event unique is not only that it has endured so long, but also that it has grown in recognition and importance in an age where TV, radio and newspapers have generally taken the place of old-fashioned in-the-crowd politicking. There were once many stump meetings throughout the South, but the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting is the only one that has retained its appeal and viability. This event draws many people from across the state to a place called Galivants Ferry that has no industry or main street-only a combination general store and gas station. There are no schools and no stop lights…but the people come.

This historic event is usually held on the first or second Monday in May. It begins at 4:30 p.m. with old-fashioned clogging and country and gospel music by the Red White Family with Billy Holliday often joining them. Chicken bog, which is South Carolina’s version of jambalaya, is served by the local chapter of Masons from the neighboring town of Aynor. The official ceremony begins at 6:00 p.m, with the opening remarks made by the ranking Democrat present. The speeches, music and chicken bog continue into the evening.

It has been said that the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting is a slice of pure Americana and an example of Democracy in its original form. This is now recognized by the Library of Congress that has selected the Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking as part of their Local Legacy exhibition.

My very first memories of the Stump stem from the 1950s, when Fritz Hollings first ran for Governor. His logo was, “It’s Fritz”. I wore an apron with this slogan printed on it, and walked through the crowds passing out stickers, buttons and fans. That’s when Fritz named me, “Little Monroe.”

Other memories include my daddy, Uncle Joseph and Bill Davis, introducing the political speeches, and limiting the number of minutes they could stand on the podium and talk. If you didn’t limit them, we would be there all night.

Besides Fritz, some of the past politicians included Joe Riley, Joe Biden, John Spratt, and James Clyburn. Of course, there were many more, but I mostly enjoyed watching the festivities and visiting with friends. Some of the extras were Red White and his String Band, cloggers, chicken bog, the pilot club’s cake sales, and the TV reporters with all the lights and cameras.

One year, Good Morning America came to interview Daddy. We were on national news, and to my surprise they interviewed your Aunt Russell and me. I’ll never forget Bryant Gumbel saying “yuk” on national television when they described chicken bog. He’s obviously not a Southern culinary expert.

All the men that ran this event have passed away. Now it’s run entirely by women! We found out in a hurry this was not an easy thing to do. Not only do the politicians change every two years, particularly in Congress, but all the contacts change. Plus, we had to computerize everything (like going from the ice age to modern times) and add some more “color” to continue attracting crowds in this modern era of multiple distractions. We wanted to make sure we could continue this tradition and still attract the crowds. After all, as daddy would say, “the Stump would give you the chance to talk eyeball to eyeball” with your future leaders. You can’t do that watching TV.

Many times, Daddy said, “The Galivants Ferry Stump is Pure Americana.” It is a family tradition. But most of all, it is pure, clean fun!

The historical article that I used to lead off this chapter was printed in many newspapers. It’s one of the ways our family is able to continue this historic tradition by reaching out to all types of people regardless of their political party. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might convert a voter into becoming a Democrat. He might even become a “Yellow Dawg Democrat”.

This is an example of why the Holliday Family continues this 130-year tradition:

Letter to the Editor

The Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking is more than politics. Yes, we want it to get good coverage all over the state in the political pages, because some people only read that page. We do not say that this is only for Democrats. Everyone is invited. A lot of people come to the Stump, although South Carolina has not voted for a Democratic president since 1976, when we helped bring in our friend from neighboring Georgia, Jimmy Carter. However, the fact that Joe Biden, a middle-of-the-road type Democrat, has picked Galivants Ferry, a town with no stop light, over many other invitations (for 2006) is amazing. This is a man who delivered the Eulogy at Republican Strom Thurmond’s funeral, and is best friends with Democrat Senator Fritz Hollings. C-span will be here for their series “Road to the White House” which will air on May 7. What is going on? Is this a turning point? You have to admit it is a very interesting point.

What we are emphasizing is that all parties are invited: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Undecided and Frustrated…. Of course, only Democrats are allowed to speak because we honor 130 years of tradition. What makes this interesting to EVERYONE is we have created a festival type atmosphere to interest those people who aren’t excited about “political events.” We decided to make it colorful, fun, with things to do, entertainment, southern food (chicken bog), funnel cakes, “stump water”, buggy rides, donkeys to pet, people dressed up handing out hats, flyers, bumper stickers … National Shag winners, cloggers, cast members from the play 1776 performing songs. This will bring people in and at the same time offer them a free arena to be able to hear, meet and speak with candidates. To look at them “eyeball to eyeball” as our father would say. People yearn for the time when a handshake was the same as a contract.

For the history buffs, we emphasize that five generations from the same family are putting on this event in the same area where it all started 130 years ago!!! And now it is run entirely by women! In 1876, women couldn’t vote! We are amazed that our father did what he did with his brother Joe and it looked easy, but it is not!!!! It’s about to kill us and we are half the age they were! See our web site and see the flier announcing the Galivants Ferry Stump in 1876… It was a governor’s race where General Wade Hampton came through on horseback and spoke to a crowd in Galivants Ferry. (His win started 100 years of Democratic Governors in South Carolina.) Now, 130 years later, we will have three gubernatorial candidates speaking at the same place in 2006!

The ultimate thing we would like to get across is that we have to get people motivated to vote, to think…We are a democracy. It is a privilege to vote, and it is your duty to get informed, and to vote what you think – not what your friends or parents tell you to think. If 18-year-olds can defend our country, they need to vote. All ages and social strata need to know that their opinion does count and that they CAN make a difference! They need to ignore labels like Conservative and Liberal. What is liberal to some is not liberal to others. What is considered conservative for some is not conservative for others. People just need to be open minded and to think. A lot of people, who think they are Republican but are asked their feelings and thoughts on some issues, may be surprised to find they think the same as many Democrats. Many people who think they are Democrats have some thoughts and opinions that are the same as their Republican friends. Labels need to be ignored! What do you think? What does your candidate think? Choose based on that not on whether or not they are a Democrat or a Republican. There is a blend! Hopefully, we can find a blend that is best for this country. Maybe we could go forward if we were each open-minded enough to listen and think for ourselves … not what we think our friends or family want us to think!

We hope we can provide this historical event in the historical district of Galivants Ferry to get more people to think. Maybe if we can get more people here for non political reasons…. for the festival and food, we can get them more interested in our country and more motivated to participate in the political process. By osmosis, they will become more politically aware and active. This is what we try to provide through the Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking.


The 2012 Stump was held May 7th. It chocked full of personalities, entertainment, friends gathering, and politicians talking.

Thanks to our good friend Fritz Hollings, this event can be found as a Local Legacy in the Library of Congress. If it’s God’s will and “if the Little Pee Dee River don’t flood”, as Poppa would say, y’all are next in line as part of the 5th generation to hold the reigns of this small piece of American history.

Have fun with this; add your own flavor to our historical Holliday legacy. The Stump celebrated its 136th year this past May. Keep it going with your cousins, and maintain this “slice of Pure Americana,” as your grandfather would tell you.