TwHP Lessons

Separate But Equal? South Carolina's Fight Over School Segregation

Map of the South Carolina School Expansion Program; Public Domain image courtesy of the South Carolina State Library
(Courtesy of the South Carolina State Library)

mmediately cease discriminating against Negro children of public school age in said district and county and immediately make available…educational advantages and facilities equal in all respects to that which is being provided for whites…"

Excerpt from the Petition of Harry Briggs to the Board of Trustees for School District No. 22, 1949 1


During the era of segregation, South Carolina school districts viewed the education of African American students as unimportant.  It was illegal for black and white children to attend school together and the state provided little education for African Americans past the tenth grade.2 In 1951, a lawsuit known as Briggs v. Elliott forced the state to address the disparities and problems in funding public education.  As a result, South Carolina passed its first statewide sales tax. The money from the three percent tax was dedicated to building and improving schools across the state for both African American and white students, in both rural and urban regions. It was South Carolina's attempt to build a "separate but equal" school system.3

Over 700 schools were constructed, improved, or expanded under the program.  Through the 1950s, sleek, distinctly modern schools of brick, glass block, and walls of windows dotted the state. During that time, Briggs v. Elliott went to the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the five cases decided in Brown v. Board of Education. Today, South Carolina's "equalization schools" are still visible across the state. Their history is often forgotten, but they stand as reminders of America's "separate but equal" school systems.


1 Petition of Harry Briggs, et al., to the Board of Trustees for School District No. 22, Clarendon County Board of Education, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, SC, 11 November 1949.
2 J.A. DeLaine, Jr.  Briggs v. Elliott:  Clarendon County's Quest for Equality (Pine Brook, NJ:  O. Gona Press, 2002), 3-6.
Walter Edgar, South Carolina:  A History (Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 1998), 521-523.



About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Map
  1. Map 1: Population Density in South Carolina, 1950.

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Document 1: Briggs v. Elliott Petition, 11 November 1949.
  2. Reading 1: From Briggs v. Elliott to Brown v. Board of Education.
  3. Reading 2: South Carolina's School Equalization Program.
  4. Reading 3: New Architecture For New Schools.

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. Map 2: Educational Finance Commission New Schools Map.
  2. Photo 1: Scott's Branch High School, Clarendon County, c. 1952.
  3. Photo 2: Jane Edwards Elementary School, Edisto Island, Charleston County.
  4. Photo 3: Interior of Baptist Hill Elementary School, Charleston County, 1956.
  5. Photo 4: Florence C. Benson Elementary School, Columbia, 2009.

Putting It All Together: Activities
  1. Massive Resistance in the South
  2. Desegregating the U.S.: The Lawsuits of Brown v. Board of Education
  3. Extra! Extra! Unequal Education in the United States!
  4. Map Your Community's School History

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This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration files for South Carolina's Summerton High School in Clarendon County, Florence C. Benson Elementary School in Richland County, and Mary H. Wright Elementary School in Spartanburg County. These are among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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