James McKissick was born in Union, the son of a distinguished Confederate soldier and public servant. He was raised in rural Pea Ridge, his family’s pre-revolutionary home. He entered the University of South Carolina in 1901 and began his journalism career on the Carolinian and Garnet and Black. He attended Harvard University Law School and became the chief editorial writer of the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch, editor of the Greenville News, and editor-publisher of the Greenville Piedmont. He returned to the University of South Carolina in 1927 as Dean of the School of Journalism and was chosen as the President of the University in 1935.
During his presidency, the University of South Carolina doubled its physical plant, greatly enlarged its curriculum, established new departments, and extended its services statewide. He made USC the university for all the people of South Carolina. The McKissick Museum building was named in his honor. In all that he did, he was aided by his wife, Caroline of Sumter, and by his deep religious convictions.
Loyal to his Alma Mater, devoted to his State, he served both.