Lesson Plan: Overview

School Desegregation in South Carolina

Lesson 1: Briggs v. Elliott: SC's Role in the School Desegregation Battle
Lesson 2: The Aftermath: The struggle to Desegregate SC Public Schools

Grade Level: 11th

Academic Standards

Standard USHC-9: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the social, economic, and political events that impacted the United States during the Cold War era.


Indicator USHC-9.5 Explain the movements for racial and gender equality and civil liberties, including their intial strategies, landmark court cases and legislation, the roles of key civil rights advocates, and the influence of the civil rights movement on other groups seeking ethnic and gender equality.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

A. Distinguish between past, present, and the future time

K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.

Essential Questions

Lesson 1

1)  How were resources divided between black and white public schools in Summerton, SC?

2)  What efforts were made by local black families and the NAACP to achieve equitable resources in a non-segregated school environment?

3)  What were the constitutional and philosophical differences in the state and federal rulings in the Briggs case?

Lesson 2

4) How did SC political leaders and citizens respond to the challenge to the status quo presented by the Briggs case?

5)  What was the federal role in desegregation? 

6)  To what extent did Brigg v. Elliott succeed in achieving its goals?  What, if anything, remains to be accomplished to insure full civil rights for African-Americans in SC?

Historical Background Notes

Lesson 1

The Briggs v. Elliott case had its genesis in the late 1940s.  This was a time of frustration, impatience, and hope for African-Americans.  During WW II, many African-Americans had fought, as their fathers had in WW I, with the expectation that their service would yield public respect and pave the way toward racial equality in the US.  But returning servicemen were met with prejudice and discrimination; and these men were determined to work for change.  Other factors existed that made the time right for a push for racial equality in America.  These included the shift of black voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in the early 1930s.  With Democrats holding power, there was steady pressure from African-Americans for the party to live up to the promise of the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Moreover, the US had defeated Hitler’s racist Nazi regime, and Americans found the accusation of racism at home discomforting, an accusation that had been amplified by the 1944 publication of Gunnar Myrdal’s study of racial inequality, An American Dilemma

In 1947, there were sixty-one small black schools (in varying states of disrepair) in SC’s Clarendon County with 6,531 students.  Public funds for the schools amounted to $194,575, or $29.79 per student.  In contrast, there were twelve schools for 2,375 white students with funding of $673,850, or $283.72 per student.  (Kluger 26) 

After WW II, Joseph Albert DeLaine, an African-American teacher and preacher with a degree from Allen University, was inspired by black military service to push for equality at home; and he focused on Clarendon County’s public schools.  NAACP officials were called in to help Clarendon County’s black community plan their strategy, and they contended that inequitable schools were a reflection of white intentions to keep African-Americans separate and unequal.  In an effort to start at the least inflammatory level, NAACP representatives proposed that DeLaine begin his quest for equality with the issue of buses.  His request to the Clarendon County school board on behalf of its black citizens was a simple one.  Thirty school buses were provided to white students in Clarendon County.  Might the board provide bus transportation for black students as well?  The request was denied by the chairman of the school board, R.W. Elliott.  Thus, in 1947, DeLaine brought a lawsuit claiming a violation of the 14th Amendment equal protection clause, beginning a process that would continue until 1970, when all SC public school districts were integrated.  (Kluger 29)

The path was arduous, literally and figuratively.  Twenty African-American plaintiffs were needed to pursue the suit.  These were generally tenant farmers, among the most vulnerable and needy in the county; and hostile whites used economic pressures (firings, evictions, end of credit) to discourage black action.  Some plaintiffs were targets of violence and left the area.  (Kluger 29)  The case of Briggs v. Elliott was the first desegregation lawsuit in the US, and the plaintiffs’ petition for desegregation was denied.  (Briggs v. Elliott)  On appeal, it was one of five cases folded into the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS case.

Lesson 2

The unanimous US Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS case that educational segregation violates the 14th amendment equal protection clause did not end the struggle for desegregated public schools in SC.  Rather, it was a starting point.  The 1955 ruling in Briggs v. Elliott served to limit the scope of Brown’s impact by declaring “…that the ‘Constitution does not require integration; it merely forbids discrimination’.” (Baker 128) 

Political and community leaders in SC undertook “massive resistance”, trying to delay desegregation in the wake of the ruling.  (Baker 127)  The most extreme example is that of Clarendon County, which when faced with a desegregation order in 1965, closed its public schools rather than obey.  They remain closed. 

Even before the Brown ruling, SC anticipated change and Charleston schools were consolidated to blur the discrepancies between black and white facilities.  In 1951, twenty-one school districts were consolidated into eight; and in 1967, the eight districts were combined as one county-wide district with eight constituent districts.  (“Constituent…” 4ZB)  These consolidated districts had the effect of shifting the determinants of student population from race to class and residence, theoretically expanding opportunities for advantaged African-Americans, but intensifying the isolation of most black students (who were disadvantaged).  (Baker 158) 

The tactics employed by local powers (including The Charleston Post and Courier, school boards, and state and local government officials) were designed to block integration.  In the 1960s, Charleston experienced “white flight” from areas with significant black populations; and white elected and academic leaders urged white parents to withdraw their children from desegregated schools.  Newly established “private academies” proliferated, and white public school enrollment dropped 20% in September 1963 from 1962.  (Baker 159)  Those black students who tried to attend traditionally white schools were isolated and ostracized.   The bitter experience of Millicent Brown, one of the first students to move from Burke, where she was among the brightest and best, to Rivers High School, where she was treated as a social pariah, is illustrative.

Desegregation in SC got a boost by two federal laws:  the 1964 Civil Rights Act which banned segregation and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Educational Act which offered millions of dollars in federal aid to school districts that increased their African-American enrollment.  Court rulings in the late 1960s sped the process by mandating that racially dual school systems be dismantled “root and branch”.  (Baker 165-166)  In the fall of 1970, all SC public schools were desegregated, and “white private academies” proliferated in SC(Wiles)   

Fifty years after the Brown decision, four key activists involved in the Briggs case were honored posthumously by Congress.  (“Four… 1A, 9A)  The efforts of DeLaine, Briggs et al., and others to achieve equal and desegregated public schools in SC will be the focus of my lesson plans.    

Postscript:  In early December 2006, the US Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the meaning and legacy of the Brown decision.  Its ruling will shape future race-related educational policies.  (Liptak wk3)


  Primary Sources

Brown, Dr. Milicent. "The Personal is Political: An Activist Talks about Race is Charleston." (A transcript of Dr. Brown's lecture of October 22, 2001 at the College of Charleston)


Petition of Harry Briggs, et al., to the Board of Trustee for School District No. 22, November 11, 1949. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, SC.

  Secondary Sources

“Awakenings (1954-1956)”, Eyes on the Prize, America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965. PBS, 1992.


Baker, R. Scott.  Paradoxes of Desegregation, University of South Carolina Press, 2006. “Letters to the Editor, City Schools”, The Post and Courier, February 6, 2007.


“Constituent school boards grew out of struggle”, The Post and Courier, October 19, 2006.

  “Ford urges parity”, The Post and Courier, February 6, 2007.
  “Four key Briggs v. Elliott figures to be honored”, The Post and Courier, August 19, 2004.
  Hornsby, Jr., Benjamin F.  Stepping Stone to the Supreme Court, SC Department of Archives and History,  1992.
  Kluger, Richard.  “Simple Justice”, View South, July/August 1979

Liptak, Adam.  “Brown v. Board of Education, Second Round”, The New York Times, December 10, 2006.

  Wiles, Julian.  The Seat of Justice, (Historical data and a timeline of events of the Briggs case included in the playbill of Charleston writer Julian Wiles’ play about the desegregation effort).
  Materials Needed
  Readings of excerpts from Harry Briggs' petition and the Briggs v. Elliott ruling as homework assignments
  Readings of "Ford urges parity" article and "City Schools" letter in class
NOTE: Earlier primary resource readings have included the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, excerpts from the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and the Plessy v. Ferguson case, a plea for national anti-lyinging legislation from Ida Barnette-Wells, an address to the N.A.A.C.P Conference by W.E.B. DuBois.

Lesson Plans

(Lessons spanned three class days)
1. Homework assignment to read excerpts from Harry Briggs' petition and the Briggs v. Elliott ruling.
2. As the following topics are recounted or introduced, as a class exercise, students will develop a timeline of key events, court rulings, actions from Plessy v. Ferguson to the topic at hand (attached under Materials Needed).
3. Brief discussion recapping the 14th Amendment, its original intent and reasons for its failure to secure equal civil rights for African-Americans, as well as Africa-American efforts in the early 20th century to urge Americans to address racism in the culture. (Progressive efforts of Ida Barnette-Wells to secure anti-lynching legislation, W.E.B. DuBois and the Niagara Movement and creation of NAACP, Marcus Garvey's UNIA).
4. Lecture tracing the emergence of a black voice for change in the US after 1932, (i.e. the shift of political loyalty of African-Americans from the Republican to Democratic Part, FDR's "black cabinet", A. Philip Randolph's threatened 1940 march, Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma, Harry Truman's desegregation of the arm forces, the 1948 presidential race with Strom Thurmond as the Dixiecrat candidate), with a focus on African-American efforts in Clarendon County between 1947-1967.
5. Class discussion and analysis of the Briggs v. Elliott ruling. Differentiation between de jure and de facto segregation.
6. Viewing of a clip of the "Awakenings" episode of Eyes on the Prize.
7. Lecture describing efforts after the Briggs and Brown rulings to achieve full civil and political rights, and the white response with an emphasis on the case of Millicent Brown in Charleston and the decision of leaders in Summerton to shut down public schools. (The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the concept of affirmative action, rulings of the Warren Court requiring busing to achieve public school desegregation.
8. A discussion of national efforts promoting or requiring equal rights, including affirmative action programs, and the argument of "states' rights" in response.
9. A discussion of affirmative action and recent efforts to eliminate it.
10. A written assessment of the value of affirmative action programs, both originally and currently.
Points for class consideration: To what extent is the assurance of fail and equal opportunity a federal and/or a state issue? What might have happened if the US Supreme Court had not ruled as it did in the Brown and Briggs (and subsequent) cases? What might have happened if the executive branch had not enforced the Supreme Court's ruling? How long will it be necessary to support affirmative action to achieve racial equality of opportunity? To what extent are government actions needed to protect the idea of equal opportunity?

Teacher Reflections

The most enjoyable and beneficial aspect of Teaching American History in South Carolina (TAHSC henceforth) was the opportunity to visit sites of historic interest and significance in the Charleston area.  While I have lived here for more than thirty years, I had never had a tour of Drayton Hall, visited The Yorktown or Ft. Moultrie, been to the SC Historical Society, or done research at The Avery Institute.  Moreover, it was a pleasure to re-familiarize myself with The Charleston Museum and The Gibbes Museum of Art.  At each location, professional staff members exuded enthusiasm for their work and were eager to help TAHSC students in any endeavor.

At the high school level, class excursions are rare; but I am an advocate of students taking “independent field trips”, and I’ve encouraged them to visit many of institutions we saw this summer.  The institutions that offer the most interesting resources for my 11th grade students are The Charleston Museum, Drayton Hall, The Yorktown, Ft. Moultrie, and to a lesser degree, The Gibbes Museum.  Each of these has valuable historic items or exhibits that energize a study of American history.  Students especially would enjoy the decade displays exhibited at The Charleston Museum over the past year, offering a window to the costumes and customs of their forebears.  Although not open to ordinary museum patrons, the behind-the-scenes look at the museum collections was fascinating to me, particularly the old clothes, toys, and a beautiful old grandfather clock cabinet.  Students’ study of World War II would be enhanced by a visit to The Yorktown, especially if it were led by one of the knowledgeable volunteers at the naval museum, many of whom are veterans.  The architectural detail of Drayton Hall intrigued me, as I believe it would those studying our colonial past.  The house does not suffer from its lack of furniture and appointments; rather, its bare rooms magnify its inherent beauty.

As a teacher, I benefited from exposure to the resources at both The SC Historical Society and The Avery Institute, especially the latter from which I drew research materials for my lesson plans.  I had never used the resources at either institution because I mistakenly believed that The SC Historical Society was open to members only; and I did not realize that The Avery Institute was available to researchers outside of The College of Charleston system.  Of the two, I found The Avery Institute to be more user-friendly, but perhaps that is partly because we visited The SC Historical Society early in the course before I had identified a subject for my lesson plans. 

A close second to the above on an “enjoyability scale” was the chance to meet and spend time with area teachers.  Having a class whose members spanned elementary, middle, and high school academic levels gave participants an opportunity to appreciate and assess the challenges and perspectives each faces at his or her particular place on the academic ladder.  History at a high school level is a lecture-based course; and particularly on an eighteen week, four-by-four block schedule with an end-of-course test looming, there is little time for class field trips or enrichment activities.  The study of American history in elementary and middle grades is approached differently, enriched by hands-on projects and occasional field trips.  Rather than studying the full sweep of American history, lower grades focus on certain key periods and move at a more measured pace.  TAHSC offered ample opportunities for teachers across the academic spectrum to get acquainted, to exchange ideas, and learn from each other.  While already strong, my respect for fellow teachers grew tremendously over the course of our two weeks together.  

The structure of the course is appealing.  TAHSC offers the right balance of content, methods, and hands-on experience of historic sites, and (not a minor point) participants are well-fed and cared for over the two-week period.  It was interesting and entertaining to end each session with a Master Teacher lesson.  A gifted teacher, Mike Kreft reflected the joy and enthusiasm good teachers bring to and draw from the classroom.  With his focus on the students, he showed how to fuel their interest in and curiosity about history.  His CAPS framework offered a useful structure for classroom analysis and discussion of primary documents.  The acronym has been a help to my AP students, especially when they must tackle primary documents quickly and efficiently, as when they write a DBQ.   His presentation on oral history projects was refreshing.  I’ve used a similar assignment over the years, and I’ve found that students enjoy learning history from a personal angle and are eager to share and discuss what they’ve learned.  But the finest thing that I learned from Mike, the thing I took away from the course and have used repeatedly, is his question, “So what are you going to do?”  Appropriately student-centered, it places the onus of thought and action where it belongs.  Nice.  Two side comments:  I think Mike owes his students, at least me, an explanation/demonstration of his levitation trick.  And I’m very sorry that he is no longer a classroom teacher.  CCSD’s loss. 

As for the content of the course, my observations may be different than those of other participants.  I have taught American history since 1974, and I’ve taught AP US history for ten years with a record that indicates a strong knowledge of US history and an ability to teach it with success.  (Except for my first year, when only 88% of my students passed the exam, my classes have had a 90% or better record.  In two of those years, including last year, 100% of my students passed the AP exam; and last year 68% of those scored a 5 on the test).  So while I expected my participation in TAHSC would strengthen my rather weak background in SC history and I looked forward to spending time in the historical locations mentioned earlier, I really did not enroll in the class expecting to learn a great deal about US history.  

That having been said, the academic portion of the course was the least satisfying for me.  To cover the one hundred thirty year span of US history since 1877 in two weeks is a daunting task; and while the plan as laid out in the syllabus was promising, its execution fell short.  I was disappointed in the content component of TAHSC, partly because I found Paul Anderson’s teaching style to be off-putting, but mainly because I believe his knowledge of US since 1877 is not extensive and his presentations seemed off-the-cuff.  Paul often seemed more bent on entertaining the group than in giving a substantive lecture or leading an academic discussion.  Don’t misunderstand me – I believe that humor in the classroom is an essential tool, but I felt it was too often used to deflect serious consideration of issues and/or to cover an unwillingness or inability to lead a sustained examination of the historical record. 

Throughout the two weeks, Paul made mistakes which varied from the inconsequential (Dent was not Grant’s secretary, he was his father in law – Orville Babcock was his secretary) to the moderately disturbing (contrary to his description, Woodrow Wilson was very much a progressive) to the egregious (he insisted that 1938, not 1933, was the worst year of the Great Depression and claimed FDR’s policies had caused this incorrectly-labeled nadir).  Although the course syllabus specified daily focus topics, we did not stick to that schedule.  Instead, the class spent too much time at the earlier end of the historical spectrum and too little on the late 20th century, a period of time often covered hurriedly at the end of a term, if at all.  And because the exercise of American power since WW II has literally shaped the world for better and for worse, I think it is essential to educate educators in order that they may educate students about US history since WW II.  A strong daily general lecture focused on the historical issues identified in the syllabus, followed by a round-table discussion of those issues, would have yielded a much clearer picture of the late 19th and 20th centuries that would have benefited elementary and middle school teachers especially. 

The TAHSC requirement to develop and teach a lesson was a challenge I enjoyed.  The difficulty for me was in its timing.  This week, I took a detour from the Roaring Twenties to teach my AP US history classes lessons focusing on the Briggs v. Elliott case and subsequent efforts of African-Americans to desegregate Charleston public schools.  If this year’s TAHSC emphasis had been US history to 1877 (or if I’d been clever enough to create a lesson focusing on the late 19th or early 20th century), it would have been a snap to complete this course requirement.  As it was, my students enjoyed the detour, during which they sketched out the broad scope of civil rights efforts since 1865 and learned about specific inequities in their own state.  Focusing on Briggs and the efforts of Millicent Brown made civil rights a more personal, less abstract issue.  Through a combination of lecture, discussion, video, primary resource readings, and an essay assessing past and current government efforts to promote equal opportunity, students began to think about an issue that continues to be compelling.  Their premature exposure to civil rights efforts of the 1950s and 1960s paved the way for further study as the course progresses.

I enjoyed the TAHSC class because of the opportunity to explore the wealth of historical resources that we in Charleston have at our fingertips.  It was a pleasure to spend time with elementary and middle school teachers, and I came away from the course with a deep admiration for them and a strong appreciation of their challenging work.  It was beneficial to develop and teach an American history lesson plan with SC roots.  And while the instructional aspects of the course offer a nice balance between content and methods, I believe that the academic component of TAHSC would benefit from a more focused, disciplined approach to the topics identified in the syllabus, especially American history since WW II.  

Student Assessments

An assessment of the extent to which the ruling succeeded and failed to assure equal educational opportunities for African-Americans in SC was accomplished through:

1) Students' development of a timeline (class exercise)

2) Class discussion of issues and a critical examination of the merits of the legislative and judicial tactics used in the desegregation fight.

3) The following essay assignment:

Consider what you've studied over the past three days.

First reflect on the efforts of African-Americans to use the national courts and legislation to achieve equal educational opportunities, from the Briggs petition to Millicent Brown’s efforts to desegregate CCSD schools to Supreme Court rulings of the late ordering busing as a means to desegregation. 

Next consider the efforts of state and local officials in SC and elsewhere to push back against forced desegregation.  Remember as well this week’s Post and Courier article and letter to the editor.

Then write a brief reflective essay which considers the following:

To what extent were federal efforts necessary to assure equal educational opportunities for minority Americans?  In your opinion, would equal educational opportunities have been provided eventually by the states?  Why?  To what extent should efforts be made to assure equal educational opportunities as well as student “diversity” today?  Discuss.

Examples of Students Work

No examples available for this lesson plan.


Sheryl A. Blackford
Lowcountry Institute