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The Federal Courts and the Long Struggle for Civil Rights in South Carolina

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Supporters and petitioners of Briggs v. Elliott sit outside Liberty Hill AME Church in Clarendon County, SC. The lawsuit led to Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955 that ended legal segregation in public schools.
Photo by E.C. Jones and Cecil J. Williams. Courtesy of Cecil J. Williams
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Supporters and petitioners of Briggs v. Elliott sit outside Liberty Hill AME Church in Clarendon County, SC. The lawsuit led to Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955 that ended legal segregation in public schools. White South Carolinians, however, continued to fight desgregation, through legislation and in the courts, for nearly two decades.

In his book, The Slow Undoing: The Federal Courts and the Long Struggle for Civil Rights in South Carolina, Dr. Stephen H. Lowe argues for a reconsideration of the role of the federal courts in the civil rights movement. It places the courts as a central battleground at the intersections of struggles over race, law, and civil rights. During the long civil rights movement, Black and White South Carolinians used the courts as a venue to contest the meanings of the constitution, justice, equality, and citizenship.

Lowe joins Walter Edgar to discuss how African Americans used courts and direct action in tandem to bring down legal segregation throughout the long civil rights era. But the process was far from linear, and the courts were not always a progressive force. The battles were long, the victories won were often imperfect, and many of the fights remain.

Stephen H. Lowe is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina Union and director of the liberal studies and organizational leadership programs for the University of South Carolina's Palmetto College.

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