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Clarendon County historical markers to highlight precursor to Brown v. Board of Education

The Briggs v. Elliot case from 1952 laid the groundwork for the Brown v, Board of Education ruling that led to school desegregation.
Harry Briggs Jr., far left, was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that ended school segregation.

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Three historical markers will be unveiled this weekend to commemorate Briggs v Elliot -- the 1952 Clarendon County court case that help lay the groundwork for Brown v Board of Education and desegregation of public schools in the United States.

The first unveiling will be at 11 a.m. at St. Mark AME Church in Summerton, the second at the Briggs Home in Summerton at 11:30 a.m., and the third will be at the Pearson Estate in Manning at noon.

The story of school desegregation begins in South Carolina with a lawsuit filed in 1947 by brothers Levi and Hammett Pearson against Clarendon County Board of Education. At that time, public schools were segregated with white children attending schools separate from black children. School buses provided by the county only transported white children, leaving the Pearsons and other black children in the community having to walk nine miles to their school. 

Levi Pearson v Clarendon County Board of Education was thrown out of court but community leaders, including Reverend Joseph Delaine and a young Thurgood Marshall, convinced the Pearson brothers to collect signatures of families in the Summerton district to refile the lawsuit. The resulting Briggs v Elliott, filed in 1952, sought not only buses for black children but for equal schools. It was the first of five lawsuits that laid the groundwork for Brown v Board of Education in 1954 which called for the end of segregation in public schools.

Ceremonies on Saturday will feature US Rep. James Clyburn as the keynote speaker, along with other state and local officials.