The judge who first decided that separate is never equal

NPR had a wonderful story about someone whom I had never heard of. It was about a US District Judge named J. Waties Waring in South Carolina who, in a landmark school segregation case Briggs v. Elliott, declared that segregation “was an evil that must be eradicated”.

What made this remarkable was that he was the son of a Confederate soldier and ruled this way in 1951 in Charleston, South Carolina, a bastion of segregation, at a time when segregation had been long been declared constitutional by the US Supreme Court as a result of a 7-1 ruling in the infamous 1896 case Plessey v. Ferguson that had ruled in favor of the idea of ‘separate but equal’.

While sitting on a three-judge panel, Waring said in a forceful dissent that separation could never be equal. Although his fellow judges did not agree, the conceptual leap of his dissent paved the way for the US Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed segregation.

For his rulings in favor of dismantling segregation and discrimination and his comments such as that it was time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union and “adopt the American way of conducting elections”, he was vilified, crosses were burned on his lawn, rocks were thrown through his windows, and, in the words of the local magazine, he became the “lonesomest man in town”, requiring 24-hour security.

But some realized the value of what he had done. The president of the local NAACP wrote to him that “The people of my group have thanked God for you in the past. America will thank God for you in the future, and at some later date the South will raise a monument to you.”

And sure enough, last Friday, 63 years after his Briggs dissent, a life-sized statue on Waring was unveiled in the town that had once reviled him.

It just shows that the people who advocate for equality and justice and the ones that history eventually honors.


  1. Mobius says

    Brown v Board of Education was the year before I was born. However, desegregation did not come to my town until I was about 10 or 11. I recall when the new students started attending my school.

  2. astrosmash says

    I’ll have to do some quick research on some of his other rulings. Sounds like an exeptional person. He intersected with every mark of privelege, white/ male /educated/ a JUDGE for cryin out loud, living in one of the most backward states in one of that state’s most backward periods, and not only gives the right ruling but appends it with a scathing opinion

  3. countryboy says

    I find it interesting that a point was made of the judge being the son of a Confederate soldier. Those men didn’t all fight to preserve slavery, they fought for many reasons. Many were conscripted, other fought after Union troops destroyed their homes, many because others in the community did and many didn’t much care about slavery and people of color. Most Union soldiers didn’t care about them either. People had very different thoughts back them than they do now. The prevailing thought of the Confederate soldier was rich mans war, poor mans fight and most of those soldiers below officers rank were poor and many share croppers not much higher in standing than slaves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *