- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
"No Reasonable Explanation for Racial Prejudice"
Statue planned to honor civil rights Judge Waties Waring
Sixty years ago at age 71, U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring resigned from the bench in Charleston and moved to New York, never to return to his hometown, except to be buried in Magnolia Cemetery. The reason: civil rights. But now with the passage of time, people are starting to remember Waring’s courage in opposing segregation in the face of a Charleston that snubbed him out of town.
A pedigreed member of the Charleston community with family roots traceable to the city’s early settlers, Waring became a pariah by 1952 for progressive rulings that thwarted Jim Crow laws. With opinions starting in the mid-1940s, Waring called for the end to unequal treatment for blacks in cases related to voting, pay, facilities and education during a time when blacks and whites in the South had to use different water fountains.
While Waring became a hero for many blacks across the nation, his activism didn’t sit well with most white people in Charleston, particularly because they saw it as betrayal by one of their own. Waring had been influential in city and state politics and seemed to support the old Southern way of life. He was a bigwig in social events. He served as Charleston’s corporation counsel, or city attorney. Prior to taking the bench, one of his clients was the Charleston daily newspaper, one of the most ardently segregationist newspapers in the country.
But in 1945, Waring got on the wrong side of the South of Broad crowd by divorcing his hometown bride of 32 years, only to remarry an opinionated, twice-divorced Michigan debutante within two weeks. Shunned at parties and in stores, the Warings, in turn, chilled to folks in Charleston.
Meanwhile in the courtroom just a block from his Meeting Street home, a zeal for real justice blossomed in Waring. For Charlestonians still fuming over Waring’s divorce, the civil rights rulings threw gas on a fire of spreading ostracism. By the time of his most famous opinion, a 21-page dissent in a 1951 school segregation suit brought by 46 minors and 22 adults from Clarendon County, most local whites — and some blacks — ignored Waring and his wife.
In support of the black plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliott, Waring castigated so-called “separate but equal” schools prevalent throughout the South for generations. The Constitution, he explained, clearly outlined that equal treatment under the law for all citizens — not just for white citizens — was a fundamental right and that separate was not equal. He wrote in June 1951:
“There is absolutely no reasonable explanation for racial prejudice. It is all caused by unreasonable emotional reactions and these are gained in early childhood. … If segregation is wrong then the place to stop it is in the first grade and not in graduate colleges. …
“I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation adopted and practiced in the State of South Carolina must go and must go now. Segregation is per se inequality.”
Waring’s opinion didn’t prevail in a ruling by a three-judge panel, but it did send shockwaves throughout white South Carolina — that one of their own would side with blacks about segregated schools. By December 1952 — 11 months after Waring resigned and moved to New York — the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether school segregation was a constitutional violation. It combined five similar cases in that hearing, including an appeal of the Briggs decision by the NAACP and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall.
- The Hon. Richard E. Fields, retired state circuit judge
- The Hon. Ernest F. Hollings, retired U.S. senator
- The Hon. Joseph P. Riley Jr., mayor of Charleston
- Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., chair, Charleston
- Luther J. Battiste III, Columbia
- C. Mitchell Brown, Columbia
- W. Lewis Burke Jr., Columbia
- Brent Clinkscale, Greenville
- Charlton de Saussure Jr., Charleston
- Brian C. Duffy, Charleston
- Sue Erwin Harper, Columbia
- Arthur C. McFarland, Charleston
- Robert N. Rosen, Charleston
- Linda A. Seabrook, Washington, DC
- Amelia Waring Walker, Columbia
- Bradish J. Waring, Charleston
- Edward J. Westbrook, Charleston
- M. William Youngblood, Charleston
Retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, reportedly the last living lawyer who attended the oral arguments in the courtroom, recalled how the Briggs case was supposed to be the first of the five heard by the Supreme Court. But because of some courtroom maneuvering, a Kansas case, Brown. v. Board of Education, was called first. As most students of history know, the unanimous decision in Brown outlawed school segregation, just as Waring concluded in his 1951 dissent.
“He made history in that decision,” Hollings said, adding that Waring was the only of probably 1,000 judges up to that time to oppose segregation. Waring’s dissent was used as a template for the later landmark Brown case, albeit in softer tones.
Last May, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel and S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean H. Toal led a colloquium on Waring and “the dissent that changed America” in coordination with the S.C. Supreme Court Historical Society.
The conference spawned an idea to honor Waring with a statue in a garden of the downtown federal courthouse, a new annex of which is named for Hollings. Local attorney Thomas S. Tisdale Jr. is spearheading an effort among his peers to reacquaint people with Waring’s courage on the bench. Tisdale and a blue-ribbon statewide committee of the legal community also will be working to raise the $150,000 or more needed to pay for a statue of Waring.
“He was forgotten by time, but the development of civil rights did not stop and other federal judges took it up, mainly Republican judges appointed by President Eisenhower,” Tisdale said. “They implemented civil rights in the South and followed in the wake of Judge Waring.”
Thank goodness that bygones will be bygones. For Charleston, a flashpoint of the Confederacy, it’s long past time to honor a hometown boy for the hero he became for justice.
A web site for a Waring statue will be launched soon. Charleston Currents will provide a link for readers when it’s up and running.
- Editor's note: This story also appeared at CharlestonCurrents.com. Featured Image: from EducatingSouthCarolina.Blogspot.com (fair use). Home Page Image: screen shot from "The Open Mind" episode with Martin Luther King, Jr. And Judge J Waites Waring - click here to watch the episode.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
This morning, I sat at my kitchen table, enjoying a poached egg on toast, regretting that it took so few bites to eat, while savoring every one. I saved a good bit of the yolk until the last bite, intending to prolong the pleasure. As I lifted the small square of toast supporting it, the yolk fell to the floor. I was dismayed… so much for saving the best till last. This set me thinking of similar laments. I knew a man who postponed living for most of his life. He waited until he had more than enough money to buy s Read on →
1974. It was a rich year for Atlanta’s cultural scene and its place in the national spotlight. In January, the same month Bob Dylan played two nights at the Omni, Maynard Jackson was sworn in as the city’s mayor. Jackson, a singular and formidable politician, was the first black man elected to the top office of Georgia’s capital city. On April 8, another black man, Hank Aaron, the left fielder for the Atlanta Braves, took a swing off an Al Downing slider and put it over the left field fence of Atlanta Stadium, and in doing so became Baseball’s All-Time Home Ru Read on →
Fantastic Meals. Number 93 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time I lied. Yep. Right there in the title is a big, fat lie. I’ve never made catfish soup, you see—I use cod. But in order to make this a “Mostly Southern” recipe, I lied and called it Catfish Soup. The actual name is simply, “Fish Soup.” There’s nothing wrong, however, if you prefer to use catfish in this recipe. It would probably taste even better than with cod. I use cod because of the health benefits of cold-water-salt-water fish, and because the fillets are boneless. I’m Read on →
I've been doing the grocery shopping at my place for awhile now. It is an arrangement that came about when 'the management' (as I sometimes call her) grew weary of me carping about the monthly food bill. I took her’ double-dog dare’ to”… see if you can do any better, Buster". Of course, the way these kind of things almost always go, I couldn't do better. But I did learn a few things... Roger's Fine Foods (not it's real name) is one of those bigger box national grocery stores located in close proximity to Atlanta's Little Five Points area. Roger's prices were as goo Read on →