Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
  • Clarendon County, SC
  • Topeka, Kansas
  • Farmville, Virginia
  • New Castle County, DE
  • Washington, DC
The Decision

Bitter Resistance: Clarendon County, South Carolina

In the 1950s Clarendon County, South Carolina, was the Deep South. Jim Crow laws and customs separated blacks and whites. Challenging this order, African Americans knew, could bring swift and severe consequences.

In 1950 about 32,000 people lived in the county. More than 70 percent were African Americans. Outside the towns of Summerton and Manning, the county was mostly rural and poor. Whites owned nearly 85 percent of the land, much of it leased to black tenant farmers. Two-thirds of the county’s black households earned less that $1,000 a year, mostly growing cotton.

“Colored” School

“Colored” School

Because the school board refused to fund buses for black students, the county’s 61 “colored” schools were scattered throughout the region. Most, like Liberty Hill Colored School, were small wooden structures that accommodated one or two classrooms. In the 1949-50 school year, for every dollar spent on a white child only 24 cents was allotted for a black student. Not surprisingly, black adults in the county averaged just over four years of education.
(Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History)
School desk

School desk

A desk from Liberty Hill School
(Lent by Beatrice B. Rivers)

White school in Summerton

White school in Summerton

The county provided 30 buses to bring white children to larger and better-equipped facilities. White children from the Summerton area attended this red brick building with a separate lunchroom and science laboratories. Most rural black schools had neither electricity nor running water.
(Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History)
Mass rally at Liberty Hill

Mass rally at Liberty Hill

In the 1950s things were changing in Clarendon County. A new generation of African Americans, many of whom had fought in World War II, saw a world of greater possibilities.

The community’s initial demand was small—a bus for children who had to walk up to nine miles to school. But the indifference of white officials stiffened their parents’ resolve to seek more. At this meeting in the Liberty Hill African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1950, parents signed a petition demanding integrated schools. Thurgood Marshall filed the document with the United States District Court on December 22, 1950.
(Courtesy of Cecil Williams)

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