Brian Hicks: Charleston civil rights hero stood against the entire South: "Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, were playing canasta...
...in their living room when the first brick crashed through the window. Shattered glass flew across the room as another projectile hit the front door. The Warings dove for the floor, certain they had heard gunfire. It was 9 p.m. on Oct. 9, 1950, and the home of a federal judge was under attack.
He had always assumed it would come to this. The Warings had been receiving threatening phone calls almost every night for the past few weeks. Recently, men had accosted Elizabeth on the street, called her a "witch." One day a man came to the door with a petition calling for the judge's impeachment. He said he was from the Ku Klux Klan. And seven months earlier, someone had burned a cross in his yard. It was clear that a lot of people wanted Julius Waties Waring off the bench and out of Charleston - no matter what.
For years, Judge Waring had joked that no one in Charleston would speak to him on the street save for lawyers, and they only did it because they were afraid not to. His hometown had shunned him, exiled him from its prestigious clubs. His friends acted as if he did not exist, and some of his own family publicly ridiculed him. Locals claimed he had been ostracized for the sin of divorce. To be sure, divorce was not even legal in the state at the time, and it had long been a path to social exclusion in Charleston. Waring had not only left his socially connected wife - he then had the audacity to marry a Yankee. But in truth, much of the animosity toward Waring was simply the Old South fighting for a lost cause with its dying breath.
This week, a statue to Waring will be unveiled in the park behind the federal courthouse. The monument is a nod to an unsung hero who orchestrated the end of segregation on the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. It was a ruling that owed everything to Waring. In the five years leading up to the attack on his home, Waring had done something no one thought possible in the South. He had eliminated segregation in his courtroom, he had declared that black teachers deserved the same pay as their white counterparts. And worst of all, he had declared the state's insular Democratic primary open to black voters. Waring believed that the rally cry of Southern politicians - "separate but equal" - was inherently unequal, and he was trying to change that. The reaction was swift and harsh. State officials asked that he be removed from the bench. Southern congressmen threatened impeachment. Now they were attacking his wife, his home. But Waring was not a man easily intimidated.
"You can expect this sort of thing in South Carolina," he told reporters. "It's a state dominated by the Klan - a crime-committing Klan that has gone unpunished. . We do not live in darkest Africa. We live in darkest South Carolina." It seemed the entire state was against Waring. The local police quickly dismissed the attack on 61 Meeting St. as a kids' prank and the FBI closed its own investigation within days. But the judge would not give up. Within a year of the attack, Waties Waring would set into motion a chain of events that ultimately led to Brown v. Board of Education, and changed the course of American history. All it cost him was Charleston....
In early 1942, Julius Waties Waring became a federal judge. Waring's first years on the bench were fairly typical. He heard the cases of several people accused of violating wartime rationing laws, and was harsh in his sentencing. In late 1943, Waring heard his first case involving teacher pay. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had brought a suit that claimed South Carolina paid black teachers far less than their white counterparts. Waring was impressed with the NAACP's young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, and ruled in his favor, demanding the state equalize pay between black and white teachers within two years.... He presided over a case in which a black man was in debt to his employer, a farmer. The two had a falling out and the man quit, but the farmer kidnapped him, forcing him to work on the farm for $1 a day. Waring put the farmer in prison for violating the man's civil rights.
In 1946, Waring heard the case of a black Army veteran, Isaac Woodward Jr., who was taken off a bus in Batesburg and beaten by local police. They claimed he was drunk. The federal government filed suit against the police. Woodward testified that he had asked the driver to let him use the restroom when they stopped to pick up more passengers. When the driver told him to sit back down, Woodward asked the driver to "talk to me like I'm talking to you. I'm a man just like you." The driver called the police. When the jury acquitted the police after less than 20 minutes, Waring was distraught. He chose to strike back where he had the power - in his courtroom. He ended the practice of segregating audiences and juries, and hired a black man to serve as bailiff. Such changes did not go unnoticed in Charleston. But for the moment, few people said anything.
In 1947 Waring declared war. That year he heard a case challenging the all-white Democratic primary, and ruled that the party could not exclude black citizens from voting. The Constitution, he said, gave all men the right to vote in whatever primary they chose. "It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union," Waring said. "It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections. Locals were furious. Even his nephew expressed outrage in the pages of The News and Courier. "It would have been edifying to the citizens of his state," Tom Waring Jr., the paper's editor, wrote, "had Judge Waring informed them how long South Carolina has been out of the Union." That was an accurate assessment of local feelings. It was not just Waring's opinions that upset people. It was the disdain the judge and his wife seemed to hold for their neighbors. It was an attitude that did not set well with Charleston, or the state. Waring's ruling prompted Southerners opposed to civil rights to walk out of the Democratic national convention and establish the Dixiecrat party. They nominated Gov. Strom Thurmond for president of the United States.
The backlash against Waring's ruling was so intense it even sparked a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Politicians got involved. Charleston Congressman Mendel Rivers asked for an investigation of Waring's conduct on the bench - the first step toward impeachment. Through most of this, Waring and his bride lived in solitude. There were phone calls, a burning cross in the yard, constant ridicule. When lightning struck the house next to Waring's Sullivan's Island beach home, the owner put up a sign that said, "Dear God, he lives next door." By 1950, the threats had become routine. Spotted at a hardware store buying a mouse trap, Elizabeth was defiant. "I am more afraid of a mouse than the whole Ku Klux Klan," she said Soon after that came the attack on 61 Meeting St. The attackers knew the Warings would be home. At that point, they had nowhere else to go.
One month after his home was attacked, Waring held a pre-trial conference on a case out of Clarendon County. At the request of local residents, the NAACP had filed suit against the school district to provide bus services to black schools. There was little question that "separate but equal" wasn't working. The state spent nearly $400,000 on white schools in the county that served 2,400 students. The black schools got $282,000 and educated nearly three times as many children. Marshall argued the state should honor its laws on equality, but Waring said he was aiming too low, that segregation by its definition was not equal. Marshall was hesitant to challenge the law of the land in the South. He knew that such a case would be heard by a three-judge panel - and he did not expect to find two sympathetic judges in the South. But Waring insisted.
Briggs v. Elliott would become the first legal challenge to "separate but equal" in the South. When the three-judge panel ruled after a month of testimony, it went exactly as Marshall expected. Only Waring sided with the plaintiffs. Waring wrote a dissent, arguing that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was meant to confer blacks full rights of citizens, that segregation was a "unreasonable, unscientific and . unadulterated prejudice." His arguments, his "passion for justice," would not carry the day. But a Charleston businessman and NAACP leader, Arthur J. Clement Jr., told Waring that he would one day be proven right. "I have the belief that your dissent today will be the assent in an early tomorrow . and at some later date, the South will raise a monument to you," Clement wrote.
In early 1952, Waring retired from the bench. He and Elizabeth moved to New York City, leaving Charleston forever.... A year after Waring retired, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the appeal of five school segregation cases, including Briggs v. Elliott, under the title Brown v. Board of Education.... Waring died on Jan. 11, 1968. His final request was to return to Charleston and be buried in Magnolia Cemetery, where so many of his ancestors had been laid to rest.... When the hearse carrying the judge passed through the gates of Magnolia Cemetery, 200 black residents fell in line behind it and walked Waring to his grave.