In 1954, the Supreme Court took a momentous step: In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. the court set aside a Kansas statute permitting cities of more than 15,000 to maintain separate schools for blacks and whites and ruled instead that all segregation in public schools is “inherently unequal” and that all blacks barred from attending public schools with white pupils are denied equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The doctrine was extended to state-supported colleges and universities in 1956. Meanwhile, in 1955 the court implemented its 1954 opinion by declaring that the federal district courts would have jurisdiction over lawsuits to enforce the desegregation decision and asked that desegregation proceed “with all deliberate speed.”
At the time of the 1954 decision, laws in 17 southern and border states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri) and the District of Columbia required that elementary schools be segregated. Four other states—Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming—had laws permitting segregated schools, but Wyoming had never exercised the option, and the problem was not important in the other three. Although discrimination existed in the other states of the Union, it was not sanctioned by law.
The struggle over desegregation now centered upon the school question. By the end of 1957 nine of the 17 states and the District of Columbia had begun integration of their school systems. Another five states had some integrated schools by 1961.
In 1963, South Carolina’s Clemson College became the first integrated public school in the state of South Carolina when Harvey Gantt matriculated into the school. Later that year, the University of South Carolina accepted and enrolled three students – Henrie Monteith Treadwell, Robert Anderson and James Solomon – as the first African-American students at the University of South Carolina since 1877. Desegregation in South Carolina was peaceful, compared to the riots that ensued at campuses across the nation, but it was a long fought battle reaching this landmark. In 1964, additional schools in the state began adopting racially non-discriminatory admission policies and admitting African American students, including Furman University, Wofford College, and Winthrop College. The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina, was the last public college or university in the state to desegregate in 1965. More private schools began the desegregation practice throughout the late 60’s.
To learn more about desegregation at Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, click the links below.