On this dayMay 13, 1960

South Carolina Passes Bill to Maintain School Segregation Six Years After Brown v. Board Decision Struck it Down

On May 13, 1960, six years after Brown v. Board of Education, South Carolina’s legislature passed a bill to preserve school segregation and stall Black citizens’ attempts to integrate public schools using the authority of federal courts. 

On the last day of the 1960 legislative session, South Carolina lawmakers voted for a bill that, on its face, repealed language that declared the state would provide funding to “racially segregated schools only.” However, as local media accurately reported, the legislation was a “maneuver to thwart integration by the fiction of seeming to give in a little to it.” The bill did nothing to change another state law that mandated the closure of any school for white students that admitted a Black student. The bill also left in place provisions requiring racial segregation on school buses and in cafeterias. 

In 1951, state lawmakers established the South Carolina School Committee, the first of its kind in the country. Despite its seemingly neutral name, the committee was composed of state legislators and members appointed by the governor, and  conducted “enormous research” during the 1950s and 1960s to identify ways to circumvent the Constitution and keep schools segregated. The press regularly referred to the group as a “segregation committee,” seemingly reflecting knowledge of its true purpose. During the 1956-1957 legislative sessions, the committee's work led South Carolina lawmakers to pass the law restricting state funding to “racially segregated schools,” and to also design a school-choice policy that allowed the state to continue operating all-white schools. 

Committee members also designed this 1960 repeal bill as a way to “fight integration suits while in no way relaxing restrictions on the mixing of the races.” Legislators and other members of the Committee feared that keeping laws that included explicit language that mandated segregation would enable aggrieved Black students to successfully challenge South Carolina’s racist policies in federal court. By removing the plain language of segregation, the Committee aimed to keep Black plaintiffs “languishing for years” in state court by depriving them of the strong evidence of discriminatory intent, while still achieving the same result: segregated schools. Representative Joe Rogers of Clarendon County, South Carolina, a member of the Committee, publicly endorsed the new legislation and assured ardent segregationists that South Carolina was “as resolute as ever” in maintaining racial apartheid.

South Carolina Governor Ernest Hollings also applauded the legislation repealing the explicit segregation language, declaring it a move to “bolster, rather than to weaken, the state’s rigid stand against mixing the races in public schools.” However, lawmakers and the Governor delayed signing the bill into law, since federal intervention was not yet actively enforcing desegregation in the state. In August 1960, the Committee reported that public schools remained “orderly” and segregated, and Governor Hollings let the bill quietly die. In 1961, as South Carolina faced the loss of federal education funding due to its insistence on maintaining racial segregation, the Committee revived the bill and Governor Hollings signed it into law in July 1961. School desegregation did not begin in the state for another two years.

The massive resistance campaign that white communities waged against efforts to desegregate public schools in the U.S. was largely successful in delaying implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education in the South. Until the fall of 1960, every single one of the 1.4 million Black school children in the five states of the Deep South attended segregated schools. By the start of the 1964-65 school year, less than 3% of the South’s Black children attended school with white students, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, that number remained substantially below 1%. In 1967, 13 years after Brown was decided, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that white violence and intimidation against Black people “continue[d] to be a deterrent to school desegregation.” Learn more in EJI’s report, Segregation in America.  

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