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Liberty Hill School in Clarendon County, SC
In 1947, nearly 60 African-American citizens in Summerton, Clarendon County, SC took up a pen and signed a petition to challenge the "separate but equal" practice in the county's schools; Clarendon's school system provided buses for White children but not for Black ones. Black children often had to walk many miles to reach their schools. The "Summerton 60," as they came to be called, wanted a bus for their children--just one bus. And so they signed. They didn't know it at the time, but they had taken the first steps on the road to a legal case called Briggs v. Elliott. That case, along with several others across the country, would lead to the landmark case now known as Brown v. Board of Education.
The book below is available online by clicking the title. If you are off-campus, you will be prompted to login using your TTC ID number. Additionally, print copies of the book will be available at Main, Berkeley, and Palmer campuses and may be checked out with your TTC ID.
Dawn of Desegregation by
Publication Date: 2011-05-15
At the forefront of a new era in American history, Briggs v. Elliott was one of the first five school segregation lawsuits argued consecutively before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. The resulting collective 1954 landmark decision, known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, struck down legalized segregation in American public schools. The genesis of Briggs was in 1947, when the black community of Clarendon County, South Carolina, took action against the abysmally poor educational opportunities provided for their children. In a move that would define him as an early--although unsung--champion for civil rights justice, Joseph A. De Laine, a pastor and school principal, led his neighbors to challenge South Carolina's "separate but equal" practice of racial segregation in public schools. Their lawsuit, Briggs, provided the impetus that led to Brown. In this engrossing memoir, Ophelia De Laine Gona, the daughter of Reverend De Laine, becomes the first to cite and credit adequately the forces responsible for filing Briggs. Based on De Laine's writings and papers, witness testimonies, and the author's personal knowledge, Gona's account fills a gap in civil rights history by providing a poignant insider's view of the events and personalities--including NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall and federal district judge J. Waties Waring--central to this trailblazing case. Though De Laine and the brave parents who filed Briggs v. Elliott initially lost their lawsuit in district court, the case grew in significance when the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three years after the appeal, the Briggs case was one of the five lawsuits that shared the historic Brown decision. However, the ruling did not prevent De Laine and his family from suffering vicious reprisals from vindictive white citizens. In 1955, after he was shot at and his church was burned to the ground, De Laine prudently fled South Carolina in order to save his life. He died in exile in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1974. Fifty years after the Supreme Court's decision, De Laine was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his role in reshaping the American educational landscape.
Some of the People Involved
Briggs v. Elliott was filed in the United States District Court, Charleston Division on December 22, 1950.
Briggs v. Elliott Legal Case Summary
Place: Clarendon County in rural South Carolina
Grievance: Starkly unequal, segregated schools for black and white children
Plaintiffs: Harold Briggs and 19 other parents in the county
Decision: A federal district court ruled against the plaintiffs. Their appeal reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
For an online tour of the Clarendon County struggle for equality education, please go to the Smithsonian's Separate is Not Equal exhibit. This presentation includes photos of many of the people mentioned below.
- Mr. Harry Briggs and his wife, Eliza. Mr. Briggs worked as an auto mechanic and Mrs.Briggs as a motel maid in Summerton, SC. Because they signed the petition to integrate, both lost their jobs--as did most of the others who signed.
- Mr. Harold Boulware. A graduate of Howard University School of Law and the first African-American to pass the SC Bar since Reconstruction, Boulware was the lead lawyer for the SC NAACP. He knew the National NAACP would be interested in the case and invited Thurgood Marshall to SC.
- Rev. Joseph Armstrong De Laine. Rev. De Laine was a Methodist minister and civil rights activist from Clarendon, County. As a result of his signing of the petition for integration and other actions on behalf of the African-Americans in the county, his church was burned and and his parsonage home was attacked by gunmen. Then he heard that a lynch mob was coming for him. He left Summerton and moved to New York. He was awarded, posthumously, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
- Roderick W. Elliott. The defendent in Briggs v. Elliott, Roderick Elliott was Chairman of Clarendon County School Board and ran a sawmill in the area. When the Board was asked to provide 1 school bus for African-American students, his response was, “White folks own property, pay taxes and provide money for buses. Black folks don’t own property, pay no taxes and there is no money for black children.” Thus began Briggs v. Elliott.
- Hon. Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, who would later, of course, go on to become a US Supreme Court judge, brought the Briggs v. Elliott case before a three-judge panel (mentioned below) on May 28, 1951. The lawyers for the plaintiffs were Marshall, Robert Carter, and Spottswood Robinson. The case was heard at the federal courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina.
- Hon. J. Waties Waring. Waring was born in Charleston, SC in 1880 and became Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina. In 1951, he was one of three judges on the panel which heard the Briggs v Elliott case. He decided for the plaintiffs; the others did not. In his dissent, Waring wrote, "Segregation is per se inequality," countering the "separate but equal" argument propounded by many Southern politicians based on the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896. Waring and his wife eventually left Charleston in 1952 in the wake of being socially and politically shunned. He lived in New York until his death.
- Plaintiffs and Historical Plaintiffs in the Briggs v. Elliott case. Joseph A. De Laine, Hammett Pearson, Levi Pearson, Harry Briggs, Joseph Lemon, Anne Gibson, Mose Oliver, Bennie Parson, Edward Ragin, William Ragin, Lucretia Richardson, Lee Richardson, James H. Bennett, Mary Oliver, Willie M. Stukes, G.H. Henry, Robert Georgia, Rebecca Richburg, Gabrial Tyndal, Susan Lawson, Frederick Oliver, Onetha Bennett, Hazel Ragin, Henry Scott. (Names found on a commemorative plaque at Scott's Branch High School, Clarendon County.)