The families of a number of South Carolina parents who fought segregation in the 1950s are seeking recognition for their efforts to end school desegregation. The S.C. group wants to rename the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in order to reflect the earlier efforts of parents in the Palmetto State to desegregate public education, which set off a multistate movement that culminated in the 1954 Supreme Court decision.
Seeking a name change for the Supreme Court case
The Post and Courier reported that a group of families from Clarendon County, South Carolina, joined by civil rights advocates and lawyers, will be filing legal paperwork to change the way the Supreme Court’s most famous desegregation case is classified. Reflecting the reality that the Brown ruling actually included a collection of cases from different states, the group wants to reorder the listing of those cases in the Supreme Court records by putting the earliest case, a South Carolina-based lawsuit known as Briggs v. Elliott, first.
If this move is successful, then the Briggs case, filed in Clarendon County, would presumably become the shorthand by which the case is referred in official sources and news reports, replacing the Brown v. Board of Education label that is widely used today. The families, who are relatives or descendants of the original plaintiffs in the Briggs case, know that their unprecedented request to change the name of an already decided case is a long shot. Yet, in the words of civil rights photographer Cecil Williams, this move would be important as a way of undoing the “hijacking of the legacy, the history and the heritage of a group of people.”
Brown, Briggs and other key cases led to school desegregation
The commonly used name of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling refers to a case originally filed in 1951 by Oliver Brown against the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education on behalf of Brown’s daughter, Linda, who was restricted by segregationist policies from attending the elementary school closest to their home. Brown was one of more than a dozen Black Kansas parents who sued the school district on behalf of their children.
However, the Kansas group was not the first to challenge school segregation policies. Nearly a year earlier, a group of parents in Clarendon County, South Carolina, sued their school board. A group of families, including parents Eliza and Harry Briggs, sued Clarendon County School Board President R.W. Elliott to challenge the laws that sent their children to separate and unequal schools. The Briggs case ended up being combined with the Brown case from Kansas as well as three others from Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Although the Briggs lawsuit in South Carolina had been filed first, the Brown case was listed first on the docket, and the eventual desegregation ruling thus became widely known as Brown v. Board of Education.
It is unclear whether the petition from South Carolina will end up changing the official classification of Brown V. Board of Education, or if such an official change would actually impact the way that news sources and everyday people reference the case. Nevertheless, the current petition is bringing attention to the Briggs family and other families who were crucial in the fight against segregation, and so this campaign may have already achieved at least some of the recognition it has been seeking.