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Representative W.

Brian White
Chairman, Ways and Means Committee
South Carolina House of Representatives
525 Blatt Building
Columbia 29201

September 11, 2017

We, the undersigned, are writing to ask the South Carolina legislature to approve the
construction of a statue on the grounds of the State House honoring the late civil rights
leader Joseph A. De Laine. Reverend De Laines pioneering and altruistic work in
Clarendon County led to Brown v Board of Education (1954), the landmark U.S. Supreme
Court decision that ruled school segregation to be unconstitutional.

The first of the five court cases consolidated into Brown v Board of Education was Briggs et
al v Elliott et al (1952) from Clarendon County. Although the U.S. Eastern Court of South
Carolina ruled against the plantiffs in Briggs with a two to one vote, the case was appealed
and the U.S. Supreme Court used the dissenting opinion by Judge Waties Waring as the
legal foundation for its Brown ruling that segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause
of the 14th Amendment. Reverend De Laine, while not a plaintiff in the case, was its
guiding moral and intellectual force. John Egerton, the author of Speak Now Against the
Day, a history of the early civil rights movement, wrote that he found himself wishing
wistfully that Brown v. Board of Education had instead been named De Laine v. Clarendon
County, in honor of the Reverend Joseph A. De Laine of Summerton South Carolina, the one
individual above all others responsible for bringing this first of the five cases into court.

Reverend De Laine, who died in 1974, was a public school teacher in Clarendon County and
a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1947, after hearing a call to action
at Allen University by the president of the South Carolina NAACP, Reverend De Laine began
organizing parents in Clarendon County to protest the disgraceful condition of the countys
black schools. Not only were the black schools dilapidated and understaffed, many
children were forced to walk miles in order to attend because the school board refused to
provide buses for black children. Although the first petition that De Laine organized, Levi
Pearson v Board of Education of Clarendon County (1947), was dismissed for lack of
standing, De Laine refused to back down. He continued his quest, and seven years later his
cause won vindication in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reverend De Laine, a man of remarkable courage and integrity, remained steadfast despite
harassment, retaliation and threats on his life. Both he and his wife, Mattie, lost their
teaching jobs. He was the target of menacing letters. When an arsonist set fire to his home
sixty feet outside the Summerton city limits, the all-white firefighting squad stood by and
watched it burn to the ground. De Laines insurance company refused to pay for the
damages. Later, De Laines church in Lake City was also destroyed by fire. He was
eventually forced to leave the state after defending his home against a group of armed

In highlighting the courage of Reverend De Laine, it is not our intention to diminish the
contributions of the Clarendon County petitioners and supporters. Many of them were also
punished for their bravery. But while Briggs v Elliott was not the work of any single
individual, Reverend De Laine was the acknowledged initiator and leader of the movement
that brought it about. As Judge Waring said of De Laine in a speech to a New York church
congregation, the reason the segregation cases were heard in the Supreme Court is
because of that one mans tenacity.

Although Brown was a watershed moment in the history of American civil rights, we
believe that South Carolina has overlooked the heroic role of its native son, Joseph A. De
Laine, in that struggle. In December of 2003, the United States Congress awarded De Laine,
along with Levi Pearson and Harry and Eliza Briggs, a posthumous Congressional Gold
Medal, its highest honor. The Congressional Gold Medal is given only to persons whose
achievements have been of great and lasting significance. Yet the recognition granted De
Laine by the U.S. Congress has never been matched in South Carolina. The state has no
monuments to De Laine, and apart from a small interstate interchange near Summerton, no
roads, bridges or public buildings bear his name.

The grounds of the South Carolina State House do not currently include any statues of
African Americans. By making Reverend De Laine the first, the legislature would
simultaneously send a powerful message of its commitment to the equality of all its
citizens, its determination to achieve racial reconciliation, and its admiration for a man
whose courage and leadership inspired a movement that changed the course of our
countrys history.

We, the undersigned, are descendants and relatives of Roderick Miles Elliott, the first
named defendant in Briggs v Elliott and the chairman of the segregationist Clarendon
County school board that opposed De Laines work. Although Elliott may have acted in
accordance with the prevailing social customs of the time, we believe he and his colleagues
were wrong to deny school buses to the black children of Clarendon County, wrong to
support an unjust distribution of resources, and wrong to oppose school desegregation.
We are grateful for the graciousness and understanding of De Laines two surviving
children, Joseph De Laine Jr and Ophelia De Laine Gona, in giving us their permission to
make this request. It should go without saying that any final decisions about honoring
Reverend De Laine should rest wholly with the De Laine family.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph C. Elliott
Richard Elliott
James Elliott
Jessica Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Becky Elliott
Sara Elliott Somerville
Carl Elliott
Crawford Elliott
Martha Elliott
Lyle Elliott
Hal Elliott
Walker Elliott
Jackson Elliott
Davis Elliott
Julia M. Elliott
Britt Elliott
Beata Elliott
Julia E. Elliott
Roddy Elliott
Robert A. Elliott

Cc Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Senator Kevin Johnson