Case: Brunson v. Board of Trustees of Clarendon County

2:60-cv-07210 | U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Filed Date: April 13, 1960

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Case Summary

A group of Black families in South Carolina brought this class-action lawsuit against Clarendon School District No. 1 officials, alleging that the school district racially discriminated against Black students. Defendants included the Board of Trustees of School District No. 1 of Clarendon County, the County Superintendent of Education, the District Superintendent of Education, the chairman of the Board of Trustee, and members of the Board of Trustees. Plaintiffs asserted that defendants were op…

A group of Black families in South Carolina brought this class-action lawsuit against Clarendon School District No. 1 officials, alleging that the school district racially discriminated against Black students. Defendants included the Board of Trustees of School District No. 1 of Clarendon County, the County Superintendent of Education, the District Superintendent of Education, the chairman of the Board of Trustee, and members of the Board of Trustees.

Plaintiffs asserted that defendants were operating a dual school system: one set of schools was attended and staffed only by Black students and teachers, while another set of schools was attended and staffed only by white students and teachers. Plaintiffs asserted that this practice violated their 14th Amendment rights, as recently defined in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483. The students also alleged that the defendants refused to comply with the July 15, 1955 order issued by the Eastern District of South Carolina that officials in School District No. 1 organize its school system on the basis of nondiscriminatory principles as required under Brown 132 F.Supp 776. Multiple plaintiffs in Brunson were also named plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliot, a case that became part of the Brown decision and which resulted in that decree on remand to the Eastern District. The Eastern District interpreted the Brown decision to bar only government-enforced segregation not mandate desegregation. Under that reasoning, the court held that so long as students of different racial identities voluntarily attended different schools, no violation of the 14th Amendment was implicated.

Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief in the form of admission to public schools that, at that time, only served white students, and either an order to require general reorganization of schools or the development of a school desegregation plan.

The case was assigned to Chief Judge Charles Wyche in the Eastern District of South Carolina. Defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, to strike all of the parties aside from the first named plaintiff, Bobby Brunson. Chief Judge Wyche granted the motion, holding that 1) there was no unresolved common question of law between the plaintiffs because it was settled that “defendants may not deny to any plaintiff on account of race the right to attend school which it maintains,” and 2) there was no common question of fact among the plaintiffs because the children were of different ages and levels of education and the school board was entitled to consider a number of factors in its decisions to assign children to schools. 30 F.R.D. 369. Additionally, South Carolina had a student placement statute that stipulated that every child who wished to attend a different school could follow an administrative process to obtain placement at their preferred school. Chief Judge Wyche held that under this statute, each individual was entitled to equal protection and therefore actions could not be brought as a class, but rather only in an individual capacity.

On May 30, 1962, Chief Judge Wyche ordered that all the names besides Bobby Brunson be struck, and further ordered that Plaintiff Bobby Brunson would have 20 days to file an amended complaint. The plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit. In a per curiam opinion issued December 7, 1962, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court, holding that there were common questions of fact and therefore plaintiffs were entitled to join their claims in one action. 311 F.2d 107. The Defendants then petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was ultimately denied by the court. 373 U.S. 1973.

The case proceeded in the district court before Judge Charles Simons. On August 19, 1965, Judge Simons issued an opinion ordering School District No. 1 to desegregate its schools and to allow admission to the Black students. 244 F. Supp. 859. The court found that defendants had maintained a dual school system which required Black students to register and subsequently attend Black schools and white students to register and subsequently attend white schools. Additionally, the defendants had been operating their school system without making an “substantial effort” to comply with the requirements of Brown or subsequent school desegregation precedents. Further, the defendants had not "proposed any plan to implement these desegregation decisions, and have indicated through counsel that they have no present intentions to do so.” The court concluded that the defendants were "acting in a manner so as to deprive the plaintiffs and others of their class of their constitutional rights, under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The court then ordered a series of actions to compel defendants to comply with requirements under Brown. First, the court ordered the defendants to grant admission and enroll the nine named plaintiffs at the white schools to which they sought admission. The court found that it would be impractical to require the school district to completely desegregate the schools before the start of the 1965-66 school year, so the requirements to admit Black students to white schools would not be extended to all students that year but were confined to the named plaintiffs. Beginning in the 1966-67 school year, though, district officials were enjoined from “failing and refusing to freely and readily grant requests” for admission and transfer between schools primarily attended by students of a different racial identity and “conditioning the grant of requests” on arbitrary, burdensome, or prejudicial administrative procedures. The defendants were also ordered to provide notice to all students in the district of the right to attend an integrated school. School administrators were ordered to determine enrollment for primary and secondary schools on the basis of neutral factors including preference, capacity of the school, availability of space, and distance of residence from the school location. The court order also set up a system for applications for transfer and deadlines for such applications. The court retained jurisdiction of the action for further proceedings associated with the implementation of the orders.

On August 31, 1965, the plaintiffs moved to vacate the district court order on the grounds that it was vague, did not establish a mechanism for desegregating administration and faculty, and did not sufficiently inform parents of their right to choose among all district schools. In May 1966, the United States was permitted to intervene as amicus.

Subsequently, the school board was directed by the district court to create and submit an implementation plan to the court within 60 days. Following a hearing on January 27, 1967, the court ruled that the submitted plan did not comply with the memorandum order of August 25, 1966 and ordered the submission of an amended plan.

After the defendants submitted an amended plan, the district court ordered it to be adopted. 271 F.Supp. 586. The purpose of this plan was to "accord the pupils attending public schools in the district freedom to select the school of their choice." To accomplish this goal, the plan outlined five points of emphasis: giving students the opportunity to choose their desired school by listing their top preferences; providing transportation to students regardless of race; opening the curriculum to all students; hiring faculty and staff without consideration of race; and ensuring that the physical schools themselves are equal in quality.

Defendants subsequently appealed this order to the Fourth Circuit. On June 5, 1970, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment holding that the school board’s freedom of choice plan was an inadequate remedy to desegregate the school district and create a unitary system. 429 F.2d 820.

Little further information is available about subsequent litigation, but the case appears to be closed.

Summary Authors

Gabrielle Simeck (3/8/2021)

Related Cases

Briggs v. Elliott, District of South Carolina (1950)

Allen/Davis/Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward Co., Eastern District of Virginia (1951)

Belton v. Gebhart, Bulah v. Gebhart, Delaware state trial court (1952)



Blackmun, Harry Andrew (District of Columbia)

Bryan, Albert Vickers (Virginia)

Craven, James Braxton Jr. (Virginia)

Attorney for Plaintiff

Belton, Robert (New York)

Davidson, Michael (New York)

Attorney for Defendant

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Documents in the Clearinghouse




Dec. 21, 1973

Dec. 21, 1973




Brunson v. Board of Trustees of School District #1 of Clarendon County, South Carolina

April 13, 1960

April 13, 1960




May 30, 1962

May 30, 1962


30 F.R.D. 30



Board of Trustees of School District No. 1 of Clarendon County v. Brunson

Supreme Court of the United States

May 27, 1963

May 27, 1963


83 S.Ct. 83



Aug. 19, 1965

Aug. 19, 1965


244 F.Supp. 244



Feb. 28, 1967

Feb. 28, 1967


271 F.Supp. 271


Order [Concerning HEW Terminal Plan]

Brunson v. Board of Trustees of Clarendon

March 6, 1970

March 6, 1970




U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

June 5, 1970

June 5, 1970


429 F.2d 429


Last updated March 5, 2024, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: South Carolina

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: April 13, 1960

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so


Plaintiff Description:

Black children who were denied admission to white schools in Clarendon School District No. 1 on the basis of race.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: Unknown

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Unknown


School District No. 1 (Clarendon , Clarendon), School District

Clarendon County (Clarendon, Clarendon), County

Trustees (Clarendon, Clarendon), School District

County Superintendent of Education (Clarendon, Clarendon), County

Superintendent (Clarendon, Clarendon), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Facility Type(s):


Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Available Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion


Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:


Content of Injunction:

Student assignment

Discrimination Prohibition




Racial segregation

School/University policies

Discrimination Basis:

Race discrimination

Affected Race(s):