Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Educational Leadership and Policies
Christian K. Anderson
The Law School at South Carolina State College, or more commonly known as “State College,” opened on September 17, 1947 with nine African American students. It closed on May 15, 1966 when the Law School graduated its final class. The Law School was conceived when John Wrighten, an African American veteran of World War II and graduate of State College, applied for admission to the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Law on June 30, 1946. Wrighten, who was denied admission due to his race, sued the University on grounds that the rejection violated his constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The case of Wrighten v. Board of Trustees of University of South Carolina was argued in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of South Carolina between June 15, 1947 and July 12, 1947. J.Waites Waring, the presiding judge, ruled on July 12, 1947 that the University could either close the School of Law for refusing to admit black students, admit Wrighten to the School of Law, or create a new law school for black students at State College. If Wrighten’s suit succeeded in gaining admission to USC, 1947 would have marked the year South Carolina desegregated its first public school since Reconstruction. However, due to the implicit racism in the post-war South and state laws against the comingling of races, USC agreed to the third option.
The opening of the Law School at State College was widely criticized. State leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), James Hinton and Modjeska Simkins, believed the new law school would be an inferior program that expanded segregation in the state. Thurgood Marshall, Wrighten’s attorney during the case, believed the developing law program would become a “monument to the perpetuation of segregation.” Despite these and other objections, the Law School at State College opened in 1947.
The Law School occupied a single building that contained a library that could accommodate 50,000 volumes, offices for faculty and staff, a moot court, and a meeting place for a student-led organization that held membership with the American Law Student Association, a national club approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The faculty of the law school graduated from historic law programs at Harvard and Howard Universities. Despite never being fully accredited, the Law School’s provisional accreditation allowed it to graduate fifty-one students between 1947 and 1966. Though the Law School was plagued by low enrollment throughout its nineteen-year existence, a factor that played a major role in its closing, the students nevertheless experienced greater interaction with their professors than their counterparts in larger, more established law programs.
The alumni of the Law School at State College handled numerous major civil rights cases that enhanced civil rights liberties in South Carolina. The Law School alumni represented clients involved in sit-ins, boycotts, and civil rights demonstrations. Additionally, the alumni provided legal counsel in cases such as Gantt v. Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina (1963), Henrie Monteith’s lawsuit against the University of South Carolina (1963), and Brown v. School District No.20, Charleston, South Carolina (1963), which desegregated Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, and Charleston County grade schools respectively. These institutions were the first public schools in South Carolina to admit black students in the Jim Crow era.
Furthermore, seven students who attended the Law School became judges, including Ernest A. Finney, Jr., the first black chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, and Matthew J. Perry, Jr., who became the first black federal judge in South Carolina history.
Moore, A. D.(2016). Thorn in the Side of Segregation: The Short Life, Long Odds, and Legacy of the Law School at South Carolina State College. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3373