A little known federal judge, the son of a Confederate soldier, was the first judge to write that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”, a direct contradiction to the accepted legal interpretation of “separate but equal” held Constitutional at the time. U.S. District Judge Waties Waring wrote many barrier breaking opinions on civil rights issues ranging from voting equality to equal pay. Largely forgotten, Waring is being immortalized in a statue at the federal courthouse where he heard his cases. A historical marker about the Clarendon County, S.C. case was also placed there recently.
Waring dissented in 1951 in Briggs v. Elliott. Brown v. Board, the famous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation of schools unconstitutional occurred in 1954. The Brown ruling came as an appeal from the South Carolina case, which the Supreme Court combined with similar cases from Kansas, Delaware, and D.C. Waring was vindicated, but it mattered little in his life, as he was much hated in his hometown, his house was often vandalized, he was often threatened with death, and he had crosses burnt on his lawn, but he did not waver. Eventually he moved to New York and only returned to his hometown in Charleston, South Carolina when he died.
“You don’t think of Brown vs. the Board as a South Carolina story, but it really is,” said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who helped spearhead the effort to erect a statue to Waring.
Waring was the first judge since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1869 decided that “separate but equal” was the law of the land (Plessey v. Ferguson), to challenge that opinion.
“It’s been 55 years since Plessey and no judge has said anything…Of all the judges in all the cases, only Waring said school segregation is per se inequality, which is what the U.S. Supreme Court said [later],” Gergel said.
By the time of the Clarendon County case, South Carolina had separate schools for blacks and whites and spent far less money on black schools. Waring wrote that beyond unequal facilities “segregation in education can never produce equality”. He called it “an evil that must be eradicated.” The case, which later became Brown v. Board, was in need of a “strike at the cause of the infection and not merely at the symptoms of the disease.”
When Waring and two other judges heard the case in 1951, in which future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall represented the plaintiffs, hundreds of blacks lined up hoping to get seats, but there wasn’t room. Later Waring recalled in an interview, “They had come there on pilgrimage. It’s awfully heartening when you get poor, illiterate…people to suddenly sniff a little breath of freedom.”
After writing his dissension, Waring received a letter thanking him from A.J. Clement Jr., who headed the NAACP branch in Charleston,
“Americans will thank God for you in the future and at some later date the South will raise a monument to you.”