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Case Name Briggs v. Elliott SD-SC-0001
Docket / Court Civ. A. No. 2657 ( D.S.C. )
State/Territory South Carolina
Case Type(s) Education
School Desegregation
Attorney Organization NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Case Summary
On December 22, 1950, Harry Briggs, Jr. and 20 other plaintiffs sued chairman R. W. Elliott and other members of the Board of Trustees of School District No. 22, a school district in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Represented by several civil rights attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall and ... read more >
On December 22, 1950, Harry Briggs, Jr. and 20 other plaintiffs sued chairman R. W. Elliott and other members of the Board of Trustees of School District No. 22, a school district in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Represented by several civil rights attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall and others at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the plaintiffs argued that the school district was discriminating against Black students by refusing them access to schools attended by white students in violation of their rights under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. They sought declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

After filing the complaint, the individuals who brought the suit and their families were subject to intense harassment and economic retaliation by white members of the community. In some cases, retaliation surpassed the economic: the home of a reverend who was one of the driving forces behind the suit was burned to the ground and white firefighters refused to put out the flames. See "Clarendon County in Black & White" (available under resources).

The case was heard by a three-judge district court panel, consiting of Fourth Circuit Judge John Parker, District Judge J. Waties Waring, and District Judge George Bell Timmerman. In his opinion for the two-judge majority, Judge Parker held that the plaintiffs were entitled to relief on account of the patent disparity in resources between schools attended by Black and white children. 98 F.Supp. 529. However, Judge Parker applied the then-valid doctrine of "separate but equal" as established in Plessy v. Ferguson. He held that the school district could maintain segregated schools so long as schools attended by Black and white students had equal resources. In so holding, Judge Parker denied the injunction to abolish segregation and granted the injunction to equalize educational facilities. Under the decree, the school board was required to submit a report regarding its progress within six months of the order to the court. The sole dissenting Judge Waring wrote in his dissent that he would have instead have ordered desegregation under the precedents set by Supreme Court cases ordering desegregation of law schools. In the words of the dissent, "Segregation is per se inequality."

As usual in a three-judge district court case, the plaintiffs appealed the decision directly to the Supreme Court. In between when the appeal was filed and the Supreme Court heard it, the school board officials submitted their report to the District Court. In a per curium opinion, the Supreme Court remanded the case down to the District Court until the report could be considered by that court. 342 U.S. 350. Justices Black and Douglas dissented on the ground that the report was "wholly irrelevant to the constitutional question" on appeal.

Back in the district court, a three-judge panel again considered the case. The sole dissenter from the previous decision, Judge Waring, was replaced by Fourth Circuit Judge Armistead Mason Dobie, but Judge Timmerman and Judge Parker remained on the panel. Judge Parker held that the defendants were adequately conforming with their obligations under the decree to equalize resources. He again denied the injunction abolishing segregation and granted the injunction ordering the equalization of educational resources. 103 F.Supp. 920.

Subsequently, the plaintiffs again appealed the judgment directly to the Supreme Court. On appeal, the Briggs case became part of the cases collectively known as Brown v. Board of Education. 349 U.S. 294. In Brown, the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and held that segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment. Under Brown, school districts were instructed "to move with all deliberate speed," to comply with the Supreme Court's orders.

After Brown was decided, Briggs was remanded back to the District Court under the direction to enter necessary orders to desegregate schools. However, the same panel of judges heard the case on remand. In a per curiam opinion, the district court interpreted Brown to require not integration but only the end of government-enforced segregation. Under the court's reasoning, so long as students of different racial identities attended schools of their choice, no 14th Amendment violation was implicated. 132 F.Supp. 776.

Ultimately, the Briggs suit was terminated in 1960. Subsequently, a a new suit was filed before a a single district court judge, captioned Brunson v. Clarendon County. Following extensive litigation that became the Brunson case, token desegregation began in 1965 when the Eastern District ordered the admission of several Black students to white schools. 244 F. Supp. 859. The original decree was appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Finally, 20 years after Briggs was originally filed and over 15 years after the Supreme Court held that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional, the Fourth Circuit mandated complete desegregation in 1970. 429 F.2d 820.

Gabrielle Simeck - 03/21/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Elementary/Secondary School
Race discrimination
Disparate Treatment
Racial segregation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Chairman
School Board
Plaintiff Description Parents of Black students attending school in Clarendon District 22, South Carolina.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 12/22/1950
Case Closing Year 1960
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing SD-SC-0005 : Brunson v. Board of Trustees of Clarendon County (D.S.C.)
SD-KS-0001 : Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (D. Kan.)
SD-VA-0001 : Allen/Davis/Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward Co. (E.D. Va.)
SD-DC-0002 : Bolling v. Sharpe (D.D.C.)
SD-DE-0001 : Belton v. Gebhart, Bulah v. Gebhart (State Court)
Additional Resources
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  Briggs v. Elliott
Date: May 14, 2019
By: Brown65
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Recovering Untold Stories: An Enduring Legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision
Date: Jan. 1, 2018
(The Brown Foundation for Education Equity, Excellence and Research)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Briggs v. Elliott
South Carolina Encyclopedia
Date: May 17, 2016
By: W. Marvin Dulaney ( University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Clarendon County in Black & White: A Visit to the Home of Briggs v. Elliott, 50 Years After Brown v. Board of Education
Date: Spring 2004
By: David J. Garrow
Citation: 7 Green Bag 2d 237
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
SD-SC-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: Nat'l Archives (NARA)-details in other
General Documents
Opinion (98 F.Supp. 529)
SD-SC-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Supreme Court
Opinion (342 U.S. 350)
SD-SC-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (103 F.Supp. 920)
SD-SC-0001-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (132 F.Supp. 776)
SD-SC-0001-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Black, Hugo Lafayette (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Burton, Harold Hitz (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Clark, Tom C. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Dobie, Armistead Mason (W.D. Va., Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-SC-0001-0003 | SD-SC-0001-0004
Douglas, William Orville (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Frankfurter, Felix (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Jackson, Robert Houghwout (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Minton, Sherman (Seventh Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Parker, John Johnston (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-SC-0001-0001 | SD-SC-0001-0003 | SD-SC-0001-0004
Reed, Stanley Forman (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Timmerman, George Bell Sr. (D.S.C., E.D. S.C., W.D. S.C.) show/hide docs
SD-SC-0001-0001 | SD-SC-0001-0003 | SD-SC-0001-0004
Waring, Julius Waties (D.S.C., E.D. S.C.) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Carter, Robert Lee (New York) show/hide docs
Jenkins, Lincoln G (South Carolina) show/hide docs
Marshall, Thurgood (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Robinson, Spottswood William III (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Shores, Arthur D (Alabama) show/hide docs
Walden, A. T. (Georgia) show/hide docs

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