The Summerton 60

Senator Hollings writes regular op-ed pieces on issues that concern him. Following is one he sent out today, which we want to share with our followers.

~ Herb Hartsook

The Summerton 60

An Op-Ed by former
U.S. Senator Ernest F. Hollings


Senator Hollings

When President Obama and Congressman John Lewis visited the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on its 50th Anniversary, many in the press and media hailed Selma as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.  The Civil Rights Movement began fifteen years earlier when Levi Pearson fixed up a discarded school bus and went with Reverend Joseph A. DeLaine, a teacher at Scott’s Branch, to the Clarendon County School Board for gasoline money.  White children were bused to school in Clarendon County, SC, but black children had to walk.  Roderick W. Elliott, Chairman of the Clarendon County School board, told DeLaine: “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.”  James M. Hinton, Chairman of the NAACP, told DeLaine that if he could get twenty-five plaintiffs, they would get “that Washington lawyer” Thurgood Marshall to bring a class action.  Instead of twenty-five, some seventy-six plaintiffs signed up – most from Summerton, SC.


The Reverend Joseph A. DeLaine

The plaintiff Harry Briggs, an African American, owned a filling station while his wife worked as a maid.  When the Board realized that Marshall was on the case, the Board retained Robert McC. Figg, who was considered the best attorney practicing in the federal courts in SC.  Upon the filing of Briggs vs. Elliott, all hell broke loose.  Pearson lost white customers for timber that he cut and the bank cut his credit.  White customers stopped coming to Briggs’ station, and finally losing it, he had to move to Florida to make a living.  Maids that signed the complaint lost their jobs.  Black farmers were refused seed and had to travel to Columbia for seed.  DeLaine lost his job at Scott’s Branch, and twice at night vigilantes drove by and shot up his home.  On the second occasion, DeLaine fired at the car’s tires so he could identify the assailants.  For this, DeLaine was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill.  Then on October 10, 1951, DeLaine’s home was burned down.  The church moved Reverend DeLaine twenty miles away to Lake City, SC.  DeLaine was given a new church, but before long his Lake City church was burned.  Shortly afterward, when Reverend DeLaine heard that a mob was coming to lynch him, he escaped out of the back door of his home, went across two fields to a highway where he caught a ride to Charlotte and then to New York – never to return to South Carolina.  At the time, his son, Joseph A. DeLaine, Jr., was in the U.S. Army in Korea.  All kinds of pressure was brought to bear on the plaintiffs to remove their names from the complaint, but sixty refused – the Summerton 60.


Judge Waties Waring

Briggs vs. Elliott came before a Three Judge Court which held two-to-one that it was bound by the Plessy “separate but equal” decision.  Judge Waties Waring filed a brilliant dissent that the Supreme Court later followed in its decision of Brown vs. Board of Education.  After his dissent, Waring received death threats, which caused him to leave Charleston, move to New York, never to return except for his funeral.

Briggs was the first Civil Rights case to reach the Supreme Court, and Thurgood Marshall considered it the most important.  Briggs was consolidated with challenges from Kansas, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia.  Governor James F. Byrnes enlisted John W. Davis to represent South Carolina.  Davis had argued a hundred cases before the Supreme Court and Byrnes, a former Supreme Court Justice, wanted to make sure that South Carolina won.  On appeal, Governor Byrnes sent me with Figg to Washington because I had chaired the committee that wrote the sales tax equalizing school facilities.  When Figg checked at the Court, we learned that the case Brown vs. Board of Education was moved ahead of Briggs.  The secondary schools in Kansas were integrated but the primary schools were still segregated.  Kansas was submitting the Brown case without argument.  Figg called Byrnes, who called the Governor of Kansas, to send a lawyer to argue Brown.  Byrnes had served on the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Fred Vinson and told me that he expected South Carolina to win.  But Vinson died in September 1953 and President Eisenhower appointed former Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice.  Thurgood Marshall and Judge Waties Waring commenced Civil Rights Law when the Supreme Court in Brown vs. The Board of Education reversed Plessy vs. Ferguson on May 17, 1954.


Thurgood Marshall, Chief Counsel for the NAACP (photo: Library of Congress)

In November, 1956, The Supreme Court ruled in the Montgomery, Alabama, case that segregated bus seating was unconstitutional.  When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on December 21, 1956, she had The Supreme Court on her side.  The Supreme Court was not on the side of the Summerton 60 during their four years of hell.  Instead of losing their seats, the Summerton 60 lost their jobs, their homes, and their churches.  Because of the Summerton 60, the doctrine of “all men are created equal” in The Declaration of Independence was enshrined in the Constitution of the United States; Rosa Parks could keep her seat; freedom riders could ride; Martin Luther King could march; John Lewis could be elected to Congress and Barrack Obama could be elected President.

Clarendon plaque

Commemorative plaque at Scott’s Branch High School, Clarendon County

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