Throwing Down the Gavel: How the Federal Courts Intervened in Desegregating South Carolina's Public Schools and Were Hindered by the State and Local Governments




Hoover, Madison

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This thesis examines the jurisprudential and political development of desegregation in South Carolina from the Brown era through the post-Swann era. By analyzing the actions of local school boards, the South Carolina General Assembly, and political leaders within the state and in Congress, this thesis reveals that the S.C. state and local governments’ delay in desegregating its public schools was intentional and racially motivated. Further, this text reveals that these governmental actions both responded to and fueled racially discriminatory beliefs held by some white South Carolinians, and it demonstrates how these citizens’ actions reflect those beliefs. When desegregated schools started becoming a reality for South Carolina in the 1960s, white parents took advantage of private schools’ tax-exempt status and transferred their children to these institutions at alarming rates. Despite most of these schools admitting exclusively white students, the Internal Revenue Service did not revoke tax-exempt status for racially discriminatory private schools until 1970, and this change was not enforced until 1977. During this time, white parents also utilized the Tuition Bills that the South Carolina General Assembly passed in 1962 and 1963, which granted tuition vouchers for any student who wished to attend private school; however, in effect, this allowed for white students to leave the public school system in shocking numbers, as few private schools in the state admitted Black students. Public school desegregation in South Carolina became political from the start, and this thesis examines the actions of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, local school boards, and South Carolina governors to demonstrate this underpinning and how it hindered progress toward integrated schools. Finally, this thesis illustrates the current public education system in South Carolina, and it highlights how the problems that lead to the initial suit in Briggs v. Elliott (1948) persist in the state even in 2021.



Courts, American institutions, federal government, state government