It's a ruse that has failed each time it's been tried, thanks to lawmakers straining mightily to drag South Carolina, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. As most civilized nations, and a right smart measure of America, has made it safely into the twenty-first century by now, one would think the task is not quite as arduous as all that. But one has to read his South Carolina history to understand why it remains rusted to its root.
In 1975, Ernest Lander Jr. and Richard J. Calhoun compiled a dense and intelligent little volume titled "Two Decades of Change: The South Since the Supreme Court Desegregation Decison." I highly recommend it and intend to quote from it in a future note.
But in chasing down a loose rabbit from the Lander-Calhoun text, I discovered a much more recent tome and couldn't believe the luck of it. Author J. Russell Hawkins, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, submitted a dissertation in 2009 titled "Religion, Race, and Resistance: White Evangelicals and the Dilemma of Integration in South Carolina 1950-1975." In reading now-Dr. Hawkins's work, I felt like Alice in Wonderland -- peering into a looking-glass at the 1950s and 1960s and seeing 2012 reflected back at me.
Hawkins explains expertly, in great detail and in rich context, the origins of South Carolina conservative lawmakers' lust for vouchers and tuition tax credits. Though it's unfair to simplify a work of such depth, I'm tempted to report that, as many have imagined, the issue is race, was always race, is still race, and will be race for as far as the eye can see from the present vantage point.
Hawkins's work is a full book, nearly 300 pages, but it's only available at present in dissertation form and I'll certainly recommend the product when it's published as a commercial work.
For now, I want to share excerpts that might inform those curious about vouchers, tuition tax credits and South Carolina's strange abundance of private schools named for the heroes of segregation.
In South Carolina, the idea of utilizing private schools as a way to avoid public school desegregation actually predated the 1954 Brown decision as state leaders, reading the writing on the wall, took steps that would allow white students flexibility should the integration mandate come to pass.
In a 1951 speech urging state lawmakers to allocate money for the construction of new schools for African American children, Governor James Byrnes suggested that if the public schools were forced to desegregate, the newly built schools could be handed over to citizens to form their own private segregated schools.
In the post-Brown era, however, favorable talk of encouraging private schools as an alternative to desegregated public schools did not surface among state officials until April 1957 when the Ways and Means Committee of the state's House of Representative considered a bill that would grant tax exemptions for parents whose children attended private schools. State Senator Marion Gressette, who had been appointed five years earlier to head an advisory committee to maintain segregation, reported that the state was sufficiently prepared "to meet any situation that may develop in the present [school desegregation] crisis" and pronounced that there was no need in 1957 to pass additional legislation.
The Gressette Committee, in fact, had been instrumental in the passage of several legislative bills two years earlier that provided white South Carolinians firm legal ground to avoid school desegregation if and when that battle was to be fought. These acts included repealing the compulsory school attendance law, which allowed parents to hold their children out of desegregated public schools without legal consequence, and granting more authority to local school boards, which effectively allowed local boards to construct bureaucratic roadblocks to integration. In the summer of 1957, therefore, state leaders saw no need to enact legislation promoting private schools.
In October 1958 a member of the South Carolina legislature representing a low country county with a high African American population again raised the issue of private schools. Sam Harrell, a white representative from Florence County who was irritated by what he perceived as inaction by Gressette Committee, publicly stated that the segregation committee "should do something to set up private schools before the courts act."
Harrell's perspective in the fall of 1958 was no doubt colored by President Dwight D. Eisenhower's deployment of the United States Army to enforce the desegregation of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. Indeed, many white South Carolina citizens looked anxiously at the situation in Arkansas and pledged to support their segregationist neighbors to the west who vowed to continue fighting against school desegregation. The men's club of St. Matthew's Methodist Church in Bishopsville, South Carolina, for instance, passed a resolution of support for Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus and his fight "against the unchristian [sic] and evil forces of the Supreme Court and federal government caused by the pressure of politicians, sociologists, psychologist and do-gooders, ignorant of the issues at hand... ."
One Baptist minister from Olanta, South Carolina, urged members of the Citizens' Council in South Carolina to send money to Arkansas to help support private schools there. The issue was so important, Reverend Marion A. Woodson believed, that it was time for South Carolinians to make sacrifices to support the private school effort. "We have reached the point," Woodson declared, "where we must be willing to give up the second car, cancel a vacation trip and buy less clothing in order to provide private schools for our children."
Stunning admission, isn't it? Better to deprive our own children of a high quality of life than to allow other people's children to go to school with ours.
The effort to provide private schools for South Carolina white children was soon championed by the state's Farm Bureau and Citizens' Councils. The former group petitioned the state legislature in November 1958 to give "serious consideration" to proposals that would abolish public education in South Carolina altogether. Meanwhile, seven Citizens' Council groups in the Charleston area conducted a survey of the cities' public buildings and churches to investigate the logistical feasibility for private schools should the need arise.
Despite the concerns of white citizens, school desegregation in South Carolina was not an imminent threat in 1958. There would, in fact, be no integration of any kind in South Carolina elementary or high schools until 1963. While South Carolina held out longer than the rest of the South in keeping all levels of educational facilities segregated—-it was not until Harvey Gantt enrolled at Clemson College in January 1963 that South Carolina joined the rest of the Union in admitting black students into one of its public educational institutions-—the fact was, the decade following the Brown decision produced little change in the demographics of the vast majority of southern public schools, particularly in the Deep South.
So long as desegregation was merely talked about rather than enacted, the need for an alternative for public education remained at bay. Despite occasional calls for private schools throughout the late 1950s and first few years of the 1960s, therefore, it was not until 1963 that the South Carolina legislature gave serious attention to providing a safety valve in the event that desegregation occurred.
In January 1963, just weeks after the state had witnessed Harvey Gantt integrate Clemson College, a bill was presented to the South Carolina House of Representatives to provide tuition grants to public school students who decided to withdraw from public schools and enroll in private institutions. The bill proposed that the state give parents the amount South Carolina spent per pupil—-$225 a year for elementary school students, $250 for high school in 1963-—for use toward tuition costs at private schools.
In order to avoid questions of church/state separation, the bill stipulated that the money could not be used at religiously affiliated schools. The grants were to be available to families regardless of race.
The same proposal, with updated figures attached, has been batted around for the past several years in our state capital, for precisely the same reasons.
Of course, no one says the proposals are being made to keep black children and white children separate -- even Lee Atwater acknowledged in the late 1980s that you have to be more subtle than that. But as soon as the proposals were formulated by the Gressette Commission and Gressette's segregationist cohorts, they were already savvy enough to play it off as something else.
When you reach positions of tremendous stature in public office, and the nation is moving in a direction that you fought, you can't jump up and down, wave your arms and shout, "I'm a racist! I hate people who don't look like me, and I don't want their children to have the same access to education that I provide to mine!"
Instead, you have to use sophisticated code words like "local control" and "accountable to high standards."
Demonstrating that state law makers were aware of the necessity for toning down explicitly racial arguments by 1963, school desegregation was "not mentioned or in any way alluded to" when legislators presented the bill. In talking about the bill in his state of the state address, Governor Donald S. Russell justified the necessity of the legislation, saying that passage of the tuition grants would help keep public schools accountable to high standards. What Russell failed to mention in his talk of public accountability for the state's public schools were three desegregation suits filed against South Carolina schools pending in federal courts at the time the tuition grant bill was proposed.
The tuition grant idea was first hatched by Senator Marion Gressette's segregation committee as a safeguard for segregation in the event that the courts ruled that South Carolina's public schools must integrate; a fact that revealed that the issue of race played a larger role in the drive for tuition grants than advocates publically admitted. As cautious as legislators and the governor had been in not mentioning race or school desegregation when debating the merits of tuition grants, the Gressette Committee itself was less discreet in discussing the need for the legislation. In the report proposing the tuition grant measure, the committee declared "South Carolina at all costs must prevent the development of its grammar and high schools into the lawless 'blackboard jungles' that integration has made" in other parts of the country. It was coded language, to be sure, but undoubtedly communicated volumes to South Carolinians anxious about school desegregation. The idea of "lawless blackboard jungles," in fact, was a theme white South Carolinians sounded time and again in the following decade, albeit without the unseemly racialized undertones.
The tuition grant bill was by no means widely endorsed by South Carolinians.
Probably recognizing the true impetus for the grants, some legislators right away foresaw problems with the bill passing Constitutional muster. The state NAACP threatened immediate court action if the bill was passed. Additionally, state education officials, already financially pressed, were particularly critical of the tuition grant plan because state school funding was directly tied to student enrollment.
Some legislators believed the amount of money the bill allocated for children to attend private schools was not enough to cover the cost of tuition for most families and would therefore only serve as a subsidy for wealthy South Carolinians who already had their children enrolled in private schools.
You see, our evolving aristocratic elite picked up on the money instantly -- it wasn't enough to cover the costs of educating their children in the style to which they'd become accustomed. More would have to be done.
One private citizens' group supported the bill's intent but worried that its exclusion of religious schools was too restrictive and requested that the General Assembly amend the bill to allow tuition grants to be used at church-related schools.
George Cornish, the attorney for the Foundation for Independent Schools, a group seeking the bill's amendment, argued that disallowing the tuition grants for use at religious schools discriminated against parents who wanted their children educated in such institutions. More importantly, Cornish presciently reasoned, even if a private school was not sponsored by a particular church or explicitly religious in its intent, newly established private schools would likely need to make use of church buildings to help defer overhead costs until the time the schools could become financially stable enough to move into their own facilities.
Ah, that was the key to the whole show -- the beginning of the formal relationship between the right wing and churches, rooted in shared desire for exclusivity.
Despite pressure from those who wanted the bill voted down and those who desired an expanded version of the legislation, the General Assembly passed the tuition grants bill in May 1963 with the clause prohibiting their use at religious schools intact.
The bill encountered no serious opposition from lawmakers in either chamber, passing 78-28 in the House and 35-4 in the Senate. In its final version, the legislature allocated $155 per pupil who opted out of public schools to attend accredited non-religious private institutions. It also provided that local districts could decide for themselves if they wanted to participate and could subsidize the grant with additional local money if thought prudent.
Hawkins found one -- at least one -- senator who told the truth about the bill and its motives:
One state senator who was in the minority opposing the bill took to the floor just before the vote in an attempt to lay bare the bill's true intent. Despite the fact that lawmakers had consciously made no mention of desegregation in debating the bill, state senator Roger Scott declared bluntly, "we might as well say it, it's about white people and Negroes."
Gressette and his disciples spent their careers trying to figure out ways around that one, simple, plain fact, but there it was.
And here it still is.
For South Carolinians worried about school desegregation, the tuition grants bill passed at a particularly fortuitous moment. Just months after the tuition grants bill became law, a United States District Court judge in Columbia, South Carolina, heard arguments on whether twelve African American students would be allowed to enroll in white high schools in Charleston for the 1963 school year. In arguing their case for the necessity of maintaining segregation, the Charleston school district called a professor emeritus of biology from the University of South Carolina to testify that "Negroes have 'an innate lack of capacity' for matching the performance capabilities of whites," which justified educating them separately from whites. The expert witness based his analysis of the intellectual abilities of the races on the weight and perceived characteristics of the brains of whites and African Americans.
In his decision, Judge Robert Martin rejected the school district's pseudo scientific defense and ruled that the black plaintiffs were to be allowed to attend one of the four white high schools in Charleston. Additionally, Judge Martin ruled that all the heretofore exclusively white Charleston schools would have to implement some amount of desegregation by the start of the 1964-1965 school year.
The era of complete segregation in South Carolina's primary and secondary schools had at last come to an end. In closing one sordid chapter of the state's racial history, however, Martin's 1963 ruling also marked the beginning of another in South Carolina: the rise of private schools to avoid racial desegregation. And as it had done all throughout the era of massive resistance, religion played an important role in sustaining the private schools.
As the 1963 school year began with four of their city's schools experiencing desegregation for the first time, white groups in Charleston immediately began meeting to discuss opening private schools to take advantage of the newly enacted tuition grant program. Five separate groups in Charleston alone made plans for private schools, including the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, which carefully wrote the school charter so it was unassociated with the church itself and thereby qualified for the tuition grants.
The scene in Charleston was one that was replicated across the state starting in the mid 1960s as court decisions and federal funding programs led to desegregated schools in communities throughout South Carolina. Complying with court rulings and the Department of Housing Education and Welfare (HEW) guidelines that mandated desegregation in exchange for federal money, South Carolina school districts between 1964 and 1967 produced freedom-of-choice plans for school integration that produced little more than "token" desegregation. These plans invariably resulted in no white students choosing to attend black schools, while only a miniscule number of African American students "integrated" formerly all-white schools.
For all intents and purposes, the practical result of these plans was the continuation of segregated education in the state. During the 1965-1966 school year, for instance, despite 80 percent of the state's school districts being in compliance with HEW guidelines for acceptable desegregation plans, only 1.5 percent of African American students in South Carolina attended school with white students.
During this same period, thirty-two new private schools—-all racially segregated—-opened their doors. As federal courts' rulings forced southern schools to move beyond token desegregation and demonstrate substantial integration percentages, private schools in South Carolina flourished. The rate at which private schools were created was directly proportional to the amount of desegregation occurring in state schools. In 1970, the year the Supreme Court's ruling in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education mandated immediate and massive desegregation take place throughout the South, 93 percent of South Carolina's African American students attended desegregated schools. The previous year, only 29 percent had done so.
Not coincidentally 1970 also marked by the advent of thirty-six new segregated private schools in South Carolina, the most in a single year.
Gressette and his commission failed to keep federal law out of South Carolina completely, but he succeeded in bringing together the political right and the evangelical community, and in giving them cover long enough to get their operations up and running. By the time the Gressette Commission was dissolved in the late 1960s, the segregation academy movement had sufficient momentum.
Integration would be thwarted after all, and those who wished never to integrate -- to view individuals of other races as equal human beings, and treat them accordingly -- would have plenty of options available to them.
Between 1964 and 1972, when the majority of school desegregation in their state took place, white South Carolinians formed 111 new private schools. In 1973 these recently established private schools enrolled 25,000 white students.
And South Carolina found a way to lead its region again!
South Carolina had a higher percentage of students enrolled in private schools than any other southern state by the mid 1970s. But the same pattern of public school desegregation followed by a rash of private school openings that occurred in South Carolina was repeated to varying degrees in all the states of the South. The same factors at play in desegregating South Carolina schools-—court rulings and access to federal money—-insured that the integration of public schools in the former Confederacy quicken its snail-like speed. The microscopic number of African American students attending formerly all-white schools throughout the South rose to 46 percent of the total southern black school-age population by 1973.
In October 1969 an estimated 300,000 students throughout the South were enrolled in private schools upholding racial segregation. Following a November mandate that same year from the Supreme Court ordering school districts to integrate "at once," the estimated enrollment numbers jumped an astonishing 33 percent. By 1971 the number of pupils attending segregated private schools topped a half million. Twenty years after the Supreme Court handed down its Brown decision, it was estimated that between three and four thousand private schools had been established in southern states whose roots could be found in the desegregation of public schools. Attendance at these "segregationist academies" accounted for an estimated three-quarters of a million white schoolchildren whose parents believed strongly enough in segregation to pull their children out of the free public school system and pay to enroll them in these newly established institutions.
Most state money that may have originally been devoted to help parents pay for these private schools was frozen by court challenges by 1967. In South Carolina, for instance, tuition grant payments were halted almost as soon as they were dispersed.
Opponents of the payments were granted an injunction against the state-sponsored tuition grants, and the courts ultimately ruled them unconstitutional in 1968. Despite this, however, the growth of private schools in South Carolina remained unabated after school desegregation began in 1963. The same scenario held for white families across the South: as the 1960s progressed and school boards at last put desegregation into practice, many white parents throughout the region demonstrated that they were willing to bear the financial burden of private school tuition to keep their children out of racially integrated public schools.
Faced with the requirement to send their children to desegregated public schools, parents instead chose to simply create their own schools. Independent of public funding, these schools sheltered white children from mixing with members of different races.
In South Carolina some felt that the new wave of private schools operating in the state by the mid 1960s necessitated the creation of an organization to help further private education in the state. Accordingly, in 1965 T. Elliot Wannamaker, the headmaster of the Wade Hampton Academy, invited representatives from seven of the other newly formed private schools to Orangeburg in order to discuss the creation of an independent school association. As a result of that meeting, the South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA) requested and received a corporate charter from the state.
The executive secretary of the SCISA in the first two years of its existence was a young lawyer from Barnwell County, South Carolina, named Tom Turnipseed. As one of the founders of the Jefferson Davis Academy in Blackville, South Carolina, Turnipseed was committed to the idea of private education, and as the executive secretary of the SCISA, Turnipseed was instrumental in establishing private schools throughout the state. The majority of these schools were located in the South Carolina low country, where the African American population density was highest.
In addition to insuring that the quickly forming new schools were able to obtain tax-exempt status, Turnipseed's other chief responsibility was to spread information about the SCISA. As the public relations manager for the SCISA, Turnipseed's primary message was that the newly formed association was not a segregationist organization but instead was a group of prominent citizens concerned about quality education in the state. In later years, however, after he had undergone a transformation in his racial attitudes, Turnipseed admitted that race played much more of a motivating factor in the establishment of the independent schools in South Carolina than the association let on at the time.
Publically, the SCISA never mentioned race, reflecting the significant change taking place in southern society at that time. In reality, however, the independent school movement of the mid 1960s "had everything to do with race." The SCISA even brought in a scientific expert in the mid-1960s to explain to association board members and headmasters that the frontal lobes of African Americans' brains lacked the deep folds found in the brains of whites, supposedly inhibiting the formers' capacity for critical thinking.
Ideas such as these were the basis on which the Charleston school district had petitioned the U.S. district court to uphold segregation in the city's public schools. The school district appealed the ruling rejecting these supposedly scientific findings all the way to the Supreme Court in 1964. Even though the highest court in land rejected the notion of the innate inferiority of the black race without comment, such ideas were still being promulgated among the supporters of the private schools in South Carolina.
Tom Turnipseed was only with the SCISA for two years before leaving South Carolina to help organize George Wallace's presidential campaign in 1968. During his brief stint with the SCISA, Turnipseed helped organize more than thirty schools while broadcasting the message that the newly formed schools had nothing to do with race.
Despite the mantra of quality education, the leaders of the SCISA were unquestionably driven to support private education at least in part because of racial prejudice. SCISA president, Elliott Wannamaker, for instance, had written two years before founding the private school association that the "separation of the races in education, in recreation, in living quarters, and in churches is in the best interest of both races and is essential to the preservation of racial integrity."
As executive secretary, Tom Turnipseed shared Wannamaker's racial views and even withdrew from the Methodist denomination to join the Southern Methodists who remained firmly committed to segregation of the races. It was not too difficult to see the racist motives underneath the thin veneer of "quality education" the SCISA espoused to justify its schools' existence.
Religion figured prominently in the creation of private schools in both South Carolina and the region as a whole. In South Carolina, white churches were essential in forming many of the member schools in the South Carolina Independent School Association. As leader of the SCISA, in fact, Elliott Wannamaker encouraged groups interested in starting private schools to work in conjunction with local churches, which had ample Sunday School classroom space to house the schools during the week.
Wannamaker's own school, Wade Hampton Academy, spent the first year of its existence housed in the Northside Baptist Church in Orangeburg. In time the school was able to raise enough capital to move out of the church building and construct its own facilities, but for Wade Hampton Academy, the church was instrumental in getting the school off the ground.
Many churches in South Carolina, however, did more than just house newly formed private schools. While some churches like Northside Baptist granted private schools use of their facilities while having no formal association with the schools, a good number of churches took an active role in creating and running racially segregated schools that operated under the authority of the churches themselves.
According to one study, of the 111 segregation academies in South Carolina by 1973, more than one-third were church sponsored and operated. That churches established schools for the sake of avoiding racial integration is strong evidence that religion played an instrumental part in the fight against desegregation into the 1970s. The schools that met across the South in church basements, Sunday School classrooms, and fellowship halls in the wake of desegregation did so with God's implied sanction. The inescapable message of a racially segregated school created under the aegis of a church was divine favor for such a school.
The statement these church-affiliated schools made, tacit or otherwise, was that God supported racial segregation—-exactly the religious argument conservative white Christians had preached for decades in explicit segregationist folk theology and in more recent years in covert appeals to racial orthodoxy as demonstrated by the arguments during the Methodist merger.
Even the secular private academies established in the South, however, were not without religious underpinnings that helped buttress the righteousness of the segregationist cause. "Religion is an integral part of the Independent School movement because it's an integral part of the South," Donald Roberts, a principal of one of the newly formed private schools, professed in a 1972 interview. "Our people-—supporters of the Independent Schools—-are convinced that God is behind us. That I am sure of, we are doing God's work," Roberts continued. "This is something somebody outside the South can't understand. If you don't include that [the religious] aspect you're missing a good part of the motivation behind this movement. People believe full heartedly that God doesn't want us to mix."
Religion, therefore, was not limited in its importance to the private schools directly associated with local churches. Even schools that claimed no religious affiliation relied heavily on Christian reputations to justify their existence.
Many of these secular private schools also emphasized Christian principles in their classrooms. One study examining the philosophy of the southern private school movement found that even the non-sectarian schools "open classes with prayer... [which is] expanded into a considerable devotional exercise, with readings from the Bible." In throwing his considerable political weight behind the SCISA, Senator Strom Thurmond reiterated the idea that independent schools, although often unassociated with any church, nonetheless maintained a palpable religious identity. As Thurmond told his constituents in South Carolina, the newly created independent schools "are unabashedly Christian in outlook and daily practice," despite the fact that they were not church-related.
The Southern Council Academy provides a useful example of how schools not affiliated with local churches still imbued their students with Christian teachings.
Established in Durham, North Carolina, in September 1971, the Southern Council Academy was one of 396 institutions in a network of schools overseen by the national organization of the Citizens' Councils of America that year alone.45 "Although Southern Council Academy is not affiliated with any church group," the school's handbook informed potential applicants, "it is a 'Christian' school. A basic premise for our school is 'The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.'" In addition to the quote from the book of Proverbs, the handbook assured parents that "every home room teacher daily conducts devotions during the home room period." The headmaster of the school "is also a Christian minister, [and] teaches a Bible class daily...." The school also required chapel once a week for the high school and elementary students who attended.
Conspicuously missing from the Southern Council Academy's informational handbook was any mention of race. At the time school officials wrote the handbook in the early 1970s, however, explicit mention of racial segregation as a purpose of these private schools was usually absent. In addition to the fact that an openly discriminatory policy was outside the bounds of social acceptability by the 1970s, the omission of race from private school handbooks was in large part also the result of changes in IRS tax codes, which required private schools to strike any mention of racial discrimination from their institutional charter in order to maintain tax exempt status.
"As middle class whites in the South have become more conscious of their image in racial matters," one study suggested in 1976, "they have begun to say (and to believe) that they have many reasons for patronizing the schools that have little to do with race." This sentiment was certainly true. Parents began citing behavioral problems and lower academic standards that they saw growing in desegregated public schools as justification for sending their children to receive religious-based teachings in all-white private schools whose very existence was owed to racial integration in public schools. Even a headmaster of one of the schools in the South Carolina Independent School Association conceded that "there can be no doubt that one of the major factors affecting the growth of those (independent) schools and the establishment of a great number of private schools in 1964 and the following years in South Carolina was the beginning of mass integration of black students into the public schools."
As racist attitudes were mitigated throughout the state in the 1970s, many South Carolinians sounded seemingly sincere appeals for private education. Some parents saw private education as good and necessary regardless of its ties to segregation, past or present. "Parents are prohibited from giving their children the school environment they would like," one South Carolina father wrote to William Workman. "When pupils are bused away from their communities to achieve the kind of integration our courts seem to desire, it not only hurts the child, but it hurts the community socially.... It is not so much the integration but rather the environment in the public schools to which I object."
One South Carolina mother who wrote to Workman spoke for many who were growing tired of the constant association between private schools and racism: "it is a little exasperating that 'private school' has become a dirty word, synonymous with racism and sin." For many South Carolina parents by 1975, private schools were not likely regarded as intentionally segregationist havens, despite the institutions' history. Instead, they were viewed as something necessary to make sure the sons and daughters of South Carolina received the best education available.
Yet southern private academies of the mid 1970s simply cannot be divorced from their segregationist origins. In a 1972 interview, one of the founders of Clarendon Hall, a private school in Summerton, South Carolina, claimed that the school-—which operated in the county that Briggs v. Elliot originated-—"was started not so much because of integration as [it was] the Supreme Court decisions on prayer and teaching the Bible in school."
Although this kind of justification for private schools were becoming popular in the 1970s, they were difficult words to believe coming from S. Emory Rogers, the lawyer who had argued for segregated schools before the Supreme Court in 1954; who went on to serve as the president of the South Carolina Association of Citizens' Councils; and who published a pamphlet on the compatibility of Christian love and segregation that circulated across the South in the 1960s.
Even if Rogers was sincere in his claim that Bible reading and prayer were the primary cause for Clarendon Hall's founding, the enrollment history suggests a different reason for the school's continued success. When Clarendon Hall opened in conjunction with a Baptist church in 1968, 127 students attended; the following year enrollment stood at 124. In 1970, however, the first year Clarendon County saw significant school integration, Clarendon Hall's student body swelled to 434 pupils. By 1972 enrollment topped 500 and the school was no longer associated with the Baptist church. The fact that enrollment at Clarendon Hall exploded after desegregation and continued to grow even when the school was no longer operated by the Baptist church cast doubts on the idea that religious concerns were the sole motivation behind the county's largest private academy.
By the early 1970s the South teemed with schools like Clarendon Hall that were created in the years between 1954 and 1970 as the threat of desegregation spread through the region. As a character candidly admits in a Walker Percy novel written in the heyday of the private school movement, these institutions were founded "on religious and patriotic principles and to keep Negroes out."
Percy perhaps used one conjunction too many in his description of the South's private schools. Schools "founded on religious and patriotic principles to keep Negroes out" would have been a more accurate description of the segregationist academy movement that took hold in the South by the mid 1960s. When the Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated in 1954, the Deep South held out valiantly. Many who participated in the massive resistance against integration did so with the unassailable belief that God was against racial integration. It was a belief white southerners found supported as they viewed nature, read their Bibles, and listened to their ministers.
Some historians have suggested that segregationists gave up their fight relatively easily compared to their pro-slavery forebears in large part because religion was not a motivating force for twentieth century southerners as it was for their Confederate ancestors. But this view perhaps underestimates the rise of private academies in the South and conservative religion's importance to the new schools.
Massive resistance morphed into segregationist academies; white evangelical religion justified both.
If you're ever in Columbia and have a few minutes to spare, you should stop by the State House complex and marvel at the statues and the names on the buildings. There are only a few statues and buildings, so who they represent and celebrate reflect the state's deepest-held values.
Among the statues, you'll find the murderous governor Pitchfork Ben Tillman facing the Confederate flag, the war hero and Confederate redeemer Wade Hampton on his steed, and the loveable statesman Strom Thurmond walking tall. In a leafy front corner of the complex, as if hiding or hidden purposefully, you'll find Governor James Byrnes, seated and solemn, who served as assistant president and Secretary of State to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Then, among the buildings behind the State House, there's the John C. Calhoun Building, the Edgar Brown Building, the Rembert Dennis Building, the Solomon Blatt Building that houses the House offices, and the Marion Gressette Building, which houses the Senate offices.
While we breathe, we hope.