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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, November 30, 2001. Interview C-0297. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thurgood Marshall, J. Waites Waring, and school desegregation cases

Rivera describes the lead up to the <cite>Brown</cite> decision, citing <cite>Briggs v. Elliot</cite> as a particular important turning point. He describes the role of Thurgood Marshall in that case. In addition, he emphasizes that Judge J. Waites Waring deserves credit for helping push legal action to the next level. According to Rivera, Judge Waring urged Thurgood Marshall to take a case that would constitute a "frontal attack" on school segregation because it was increasingly apparent that that was the only way to instigate real change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, November 30, 2001. Interview C-0297. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Thurgood Marshall told them if they could get twenty defendants, the NAACP would take the case. But you see he wouldn't take the case with one defendant and that person would get scared of getting killed and you wouldn't have a case anymore. He didn't expect they would get twelve defendants. I was almost sure he didn't. But they got twenty some odd defendants. They were having meetings at that church, the (Liberty Hill) AME church and they raised money. The principal of the school had lost his job. The assistant had lost her job. They burned his house down, but those freedom fighters stuck right in it. When the case really got rough some people would pass Thurgood Marshall in the hall of the court and say you better not ever come back. You better not ever come back here. But of course see it was a case that had many, many twists. The judge himself, Julius Waring had had his experiences before this kind of case. He had had two or three. I know he had, one was a bus case during the war but a solider who had been harmed and I think he'd been killed. He lost that case and he got determined. The next case they had went after he became a federal judge was a law school case in South Carolina. I can't think of the boy's name there. But [John] Wrighten I think his name was Wrighten. But anyway he sued to go to the University of South Carolina. All of this you could check on, but he Judge Waring ruled in that case that South Carolina either had to admit him to the University of South Carolina, build another school or put a law school at the black school South Carolina State. The white people there said here was a native South Carolinian ruin like that. Then the other case was the Elmore case, George Elmore, I knew him when he sued to vote. He sued to vote. There's George Elmore right there. Judge Waring ruled that they were eligible to vote, and he said anybody that did anything to circumvent his ruling would be in trouble, serious trouble. He said on the day of the voting, I'll be in my office and I'm going to stay in my office until this voting is done. They voted. That was the first time they had voted in South Carolina since Reconstruction.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So Judge Waring had shown some indications that -
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
Yeah. Thurgood Marshall too had been in that case, but they'd been together before. They were together in that case. They were together. So they knew each other. Judge Waring knew about Clarendon County. He knew all about it. He knew the school conditions in Clarendon County. So he was well aware. This is the key thing. When they went, one day one morning the court started. He called Thurgood and told Thurgood, he says, 'Come here. I want you to come into my chambers.' So when he got to his chambers he stayed a few minutes. He went back out, and when he came back out, he was flabbergasted. You could tell that whatever Judge Waring told him was momentous. Thurgood wasn't the kind of guy that would get upset by anything. He was always jovial and he was always in command. He was never very upset. His appearance upset everybody. So they got around him and found out, 'What in the world did the judge tell you?' Thurgood said, 'The judge told me he said he didn't want to hear another separate but equal case.' He said, 'Bring me a frontal attack on segregation.' The judge told him. He said, 'Well what did you tell the judge? Did you tell the judge we're going to lose?' 'Yes.' Said, 'I told the judge we were sure to lose. We're not going to lose in your court, but we're going to lose on the appeal in the appellate court, the three-judge court we're going to lose. He said the judge said, 'Yes, you are. You're going to lose in the three-judge court. You'll get two votes against one in the three-judge court. Then you're automatically in the Supreme Court, and he said, 'That's where you want to be.' He said, 'You're automatically in the Supreme Court. That's where you want to be.' I don't know why nobody seems to want to tell that story. Nobody wants to give Judge Waring -
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Waring was pushing Marshall even further than Marshall wanted to go.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
At that particular time and Marshall told him, said that this is on our agenda but it's not tonight. We don't think this is the case. We don't think this is the time. The judge said, 'This is the case and this is the time. I don't want to hear another separate but equal case.' So down at Washington and all that, the press gave Marshall hell for capitulating to the judge. He was, 'Nothing I could do about it. Said, 'The judge said he didn't want to hear it. Don't even bring it up as a separate but equal case.' So the papers said told Thurgood he's going to lose and all that. Thurgood said, 'Yeah I know.' Sure enough. This is what happened. Then they got to the appellate court, three-judge court they lost just like Judge Waring said they would. Then they were in the Supreme Court, but see I don't follow enough () Virginia. Then it was it should have been, it should have been, the Clarendon case, it should've been named for the Clarendon case. What was that named? Briggs. Briggs.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Briggs versus Elliot.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
It should've been Briggs. No. It was the case here was -
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Oh Briggs versus The Clarendon County Schools.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
Yeah. They decided that they didn't want another South versus North case.