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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Briggs v. Elliot and the Best CLE I Have Ever Attended

by Andrew Mathias

The South Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society conducted a Colloquium entitled “J. Waites Waring and the Dissent that Changed America” in Charleston on Thursday, May 19 and Friday, May 20, 2011. The Colloquium marked the 60th anniversary of the trial Briggs v. Elliot, South Carolina’s landmark school desegregation case arising out of Clarendon County that was consolidated on appeal with four other cases from around the country. The opinion issued by the Supreme Court of the United States in that consolidated appeal is known as Brown v. Board of Education.

The event kicked off Thursday night with a dinner at which Professor Charles Ogletree of the Harvard Law School delivered a wonderful speech concerning Briggs and the events leading up to the trial of the case.  I had the privilege of sitting next to Judge Matthew Perry and listened to him tell stories of attending the trial at the Federal Courthouse in Charleston. Judge Perry, along with hundreds of other interested onlookers, packed into the relatively small court room to watch Thurgood Marshall present ground breaking evidence. This trial was the very first time Professor Kenneth Clark took the stand and gave expert testimony based in his tests using dolls to identify psychological harm to school children. I will remember forever Judge Perry’s stories about the trial and count it a wonderful blessing that I got to hear them first-hand.

The group reconvened the following morning at the Federal Courthouse to hear from a great lineup of speakers at a day long CLE. Presenters at the CLE included Chief Justice Jean Toal; Federal District Judges Richard Gergel, Michelle Childs, and Matthew Perry; as well as several history professors. The most impactful address was delivered by Joe DeLaine, son of J.A. DeLaine. J.A. DeLaine was the minister of St. Marks AME Church in Summerton, South Carolina and helped organize the group of parents that eventually became plaintiffs in Briggs. Joe DeLaine told stories about the families involved in the law suit, the trial, and the real-life sufferings experienced by each of them as a result of their actions. The Charleston Post and Courier ran a short piece on Joe DeLaine’s speech. It provides a little more detail and I recommend that you read it.

I wish I had more time to share details of the event and the history that I learned as a result of my attendance. But, I will simply say this: the 2011 South Carolina Historical Society Colloquium was the best CLE I have ever attended and believe it will be hard to top.

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