Opinion - Briggs - Supp.529

BRIGGS et al. v. ELLIOTT et al.
Civ. A. No. 2657

United States District Court
Eastern District of South Carolina, Charleston Division

May 28, 1951, Heard June 23, 1951, Decided
98 F. Supp. 529

Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter, New York City, Harold R. Boulware, Columbia, S.C., Spottswood W. Robinson, III, Richmond, Va., Arthur Shores, Birmingham, Ala., A. T. Walden, Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiffs.

T. C. Callison, Atty. Gen., of South Carolina, Robert McC. Figg, Jr., Charleston, S.C., S. E. Rogers, Summerton, S.C., for defendants.

Judges: Before PARKER, Circuit Judge, and WARING and TIMMERMAN, District judges.

Opinion by: PARKER This is a suit for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in which it is alleged that the schools and educational facilities provided for Negro children in School District No. 22 in Clarendon County, South Carolina, are inferior to those provided for white children in that district and that this amounts to a denial of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, and further that the segregation of Negro and white children in the public schools, required by Article 11, section 7 of the Constitution of South Carolina and section 5377 of the Code of Laws of that state,1 is of itself violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs are Negro children of school age who are entitled to attend the public schools in District No. 22 in Clarendon County, their parents and guardians. Defendants are the school officials who, as officers of the state, have control of the schools in the district. A court of three judges has been convened pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284, the evidence offered by the parties has been heard and the case has been submitted upon the briefs and arguments of counsel.

At the beginning of the hearing the defendants admitted upon the record that 'the educational facilities, equipment, curricula and opportunities afforded in School District No. 22 for colored pupils * * * are not substantially equal to those afforded for white pupils'. The evidence offered in the case fully sustains this admission. The defendants contend, however, that the district is one of the rural school districts which has not kept pace with urban districts in providing educational facilities for the children of either race, and that the inequalities have resulted from limited resources and from the disposition of the school officials to spend the limited funds available 'for the most immediate demands rather than in the light of the overall picture'. They state that under the leadership of Governor Byrnes the Legislature of South Carolina has made provision for a bond issue of $75,000,000 with a three per cent sales tax to support it for the purpose of equalizing educational opportunities and facilities throughout the state and of meeting the problem of providing equal educational opportunities for Negro children where this had not been done. They have offered evidence to show that this educational program is going forward and that under it the educational facilities in the district will be greatly improved for both races and that Negro children will be afforded educational facilities and opportunities in all respects equal to those afforded white children.

There can be no question but that where separate schools are maintained for Negroes and whites, the educational facilities and opportunities afforded by them must be equal. The state may not deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, says the Fourteenth Amendment; and this means that, when the state undertakes public education, it may not discriminate against any individual on account of race but must offer equal opportunity to all. As said by Chief Justice Hughes in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337, 349, 59 S.Ct. 232, 236, 83 L.Ed. 208. 'The admissibility of laws separating the races in the enjoyment of privileges afforded by the State rests wholly upon the equality of the privileges which the laws give to the separated groups within the State.' See also Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 70 S.Ct. 848, 94 L.Ed. 1114; Corbin v. County School Board of Pulaski County, 4 Cir., 177 F.2d 924; Carter v. School Board of Arlington County, Va., 4 Cir., 182 F.2d 531; McKissick v. Carmichael, 4 Cir., 187 F.2d 949. We think it clear, therefore, that plaintiffs are entitled to a declaration to the effect that the school facilities now afforded Negro children in District No. 22 are not equal to the facilities afforded white children in the district and to a mandatory injunction requiring that equal facilities be afforded them. How this shall be done is a matter for the school authorities and not for the court, so long as it is done in good faith and equality of facilities is afforded; but it must be done promptly and the court in addition to issuing an injunction to that effect will retain the cause upon its docket for further orders and will require that defendants file within six months a report showing the action that has been taken by them to carry out the order.

Plaintiffs ask that, in addition to granting them relief on account of the inferiority of the educational facilities furnished them, we hold that segregation of the races in the public schools, as required by the Constitution and statutes of South Carolina, is of itself a denial of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that we enjoin the enforcement of the constitutional provision and statute requiring it and by our injunction require defendants to admit Negroes to schools to which white students are admitted within the district. We think, however, that segregation of the races in the public schools, so long as equality of rights is preserved, is a matter of legislative policy for the several states, with which the federal courts are powerless to interfere.

One of the great virtues of our constitutional system is that, while the federal government protects the fundamental rights of the individual, it leaves to the several states the solution of local problems. In a country with a great expanse of territory with peoples of widely differing customs and ideas, local self government in local matters is essential to the peace and happiness of the people in the several communities as well as to the strength and unity of the country as a whole. It is universally held, therefore, that each state shall determine for itself, subject to the observance of the fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed by the federal Constitution, how it shall exercise the police power, i.e. the power to legislate with respect to the safety, morals, health and general welfare. And in no field is this rights of the several states more clearly recognized than in that of public education. As was well said by Mr. Justice Harlan, speaking for a unanimous court in Cumming v. County Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528, 545, 20 S.Ct. 197, 201, 44 L.Ed. 262, 'while all admit that the benefits and burdens of public taxation must be shared by citizens without discrimination against any class on account of their race, the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states, and any interference on the part of Federal authority with the management of such schools cannot be justified except in the case of a clear and unmistakable disregard of rights secured by the supreme law of the land.'

It is equally well settled that there is no denial of the equal protection of the laws in segregating children in the schools for purposes of education, if the children of the different races are given equal facilities and opportunities. The leading case on the subject in the Supreme Court is Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 1140, 41 L.Ed. 256, which involved segregation in railroad trains, but in which the segregation there involved was referred to as being governed by the same principle as segregation in the schools. In that case the Court said: 'The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation, in places where they are liable to be brought into contact, do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power. The most common instance of this is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of states where the political rights of the colored race have been longest and most earnestly enforced.'