CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - South Carolina on Friday honored a late judge who in 1951 issued a fiery dissent in the first case that challenged racial segregation in U.S. schools.
In a garden beside the federal courthouse in downtown Charleston, officials including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a life-sized monument to federal Judge J. Waties Waring more than 60 years after he defied southern segregation that had stood since 1896, when it was ruled constitutional as long as facilities for blacks and whites were “separate but equal.”
In 1951, Waring wrote, “Separate is per se inequality,” in Briggs vs. Elliott, the South Carolina case that was one of five cases that would be bundled together in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Waring, the son of a Confederate soldier, died in 1968.
May 17 is the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that declared segregated schools were unconstitutional.
“My generation would be very first to come of age in a post-Brown America,” Holder, 63, said. “We were the first that would never know a world where ‘separate but equal’ was the accepted law of the land.”
In other early civil rights decisions, Waring also desegregated his courtroom, placed blacks on juries for the first time in Charleston, struck down South Carolina’s all-white Democratic primary, and mandated equal pay for black and white teachers.
Waring was vilified in his hometown of Charleston for his blunt civil rights views, his friendship with prominent blacks, and his marriage to a Detroit-born “Yankee” with liberal views. A cross was burned in his yard and rocks were thrown through the windows of his home.
Shortly after his dissent in the Briggs case, Waring and his wife moved to New York, where he died.
“Judge Waring helped to provide moral and legal clarity to one of the most volatile questions of the day,” Holder said. “Today his critical work has become our own and it is far from over, from achieving justice for victims of hate crimes to protecting every eligible American’s right to vote, to expanding protections for LGBT individuals, to making our criminal justice system fairer.”
Editing by David Adams and Leslie Adler