In the mid-1950s, LIFE magazine published a five-part series titled "The Background of Segregation," which explored how it played out in people's lives from the post-Civil War Jim Crow South to the early days of the Civil Rights movement.
On the eve of the 2012 South Carolina Republican primary, race has again been in the headlines. LIFE.com presented rare and unpublished color photos by Margaret Bourke-White, who explored South Carolina in 1956 for a story called "The Voices of the White South." The article, LIFE.com write "won praise and awards when published, was extraordinary for, among other things, the utterly non-sensational methodology and tone of its reportage. While much of the national debate over desegregation was dominated in the mid-1950s by the language and actions of strident and often hateful zealots, 'Voices' was a measured, rigorously fair take on the entire issue. ... The article was not, in the end, an anti-segregationist screed, but was instead an honest glimpse into the heart of a culture at once proud of its heritage, and terrified of what the future might hold."