Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education and Briggs v. Elliott, the poor, rural, mostly minority children of South Carolina are still waiting for an equal opportunity to get an education. The time to act and get involved is now, before another generation of students is lost. The case of Abbeville School District v. South Carolina is being argued in the Clarendon County Courthouse, in Manning, South Carolina the very same Clarendon County involved in Briggs v. Elliott, and fifty years later, the same issues are at stake.
In October 1949, Harry and Eliza Briggs signed a petition crafted by Modjeska Simpkins, matriarch of South Carolina’s civil rights movement asking the all-white Clarendon County school board for equality in education. The school board, chaired by R.M. Elliott, failed to respond to that petition. As a result, Thurgood Marshall filed a suit, and Briggs v. Elliott was born. In December 1953, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Brown v. Board of Education; that appeal included the appeal by Thurgood Marshall in Briggs v. Elliott. Today, the Plaintiffs in Abbeville School District, et al. v. South Carolina, are back in Clarendon County, again asking for equality in education.
The Plaintiffs in Abbeville represent poor, rural, mostly minority school districts in South Carolina. The children in these school districts are receiving an inadequate education. Large numbers of these students, often exceeding 50 percent of the student population, cannot read or write at a basic level. Moreover, the student population in the representative school districts is over 88 percent minority and overwhelmingly poor.
The Plaintiffs in the Abbeville case are asking the General Assembly of South Carolina to live up to their constitutionally-mandated obligation to provide each child in South Carolina the opportunity to receive a minimally adequate education. Specifically, each child in the State of South Carolina should receive the opportunity read, write and speak the English language, and knowledge of math and physical science. Further each child should understand history and how our government operates, so that they can be informed members of society and actively participate in elections that affect their future. Finally, each child should possess vocational and academic skills that allow them to be productive members of their community. The Plaintiffs’ argument requires that the State take each child as they are regardless of their race, geography, or financial means and provide every child with a good chance at getting this kind of education.
There is no time to “wait and see” if problems are being resolved by current legislation. In 1951, South Carolina Attorney General Robert Figg asked the Briggs court to wait and see if a new sales tax would provide equality. Over fifty years later, the children who live in poor rural South Carolina still await equality.
The time to act is now. Organize a group to attend the trial at the courthouse in Manning, demand coverage from the press and make your voice heard by the legislature.