Effort to Rename Brown v. Board Uncovers Family’s Pain Associated with Being First

Cecil Williams began photographing the civil rights movement in South Carolina when he was just 14 years old.

In the 1950s, as a teenager, he documented the South Carolina case, Briggs v. Elliott, which challenged segregation in public education. This case eventually became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Williams, now 86, still reflects on the injustices that occurred in South Carolina following the Briggs case. Many petitioners lost their jobs and some were forced to leave town. The consequences of the case continue to affect generations.

“They were ostracized in their own community,” Williams said.

Since the 1960s, Williams has been advocating for a correction in the naming and ordering of Brown v. Board of Education. He believes that Briggs v. Elliott should have been given more prominence and recognition for its role in the landmark case.

Mullikin, a South Carolina attorney and civil rights organizer, has taken up the cause of renaming Brown v. Board of Education. He spent years interviewing the families involved in the original Briggs case before filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2023. However, earlier this month, the justices denied the petition without comment.

Civil rights activist and former South Carolina legislator Jim Felder, Clemson University’s Dr. Roy Jones, photographer Cecil Williams, attorney Tom Mullikin, plaintiff family member Nathaniel Briggs and state Rep. Terry Alexander on the day Mullikin filed his Supreme Court petition. (Mullikin Law Firm)

Mullikin is determined to continue fighting for the renaming of Brown v. Board of Education, stating that there is a price to being the first, and the people involved in the Briggs case paid that price with their lives, economic fortunes, and livelihoods.

For Nathaniel Briggs, the renaming of Brown v. Board of Education is personal. The Briggs family faced their own hardships following the case, including his father losing his job and ultimately being forced to leave the family. Briggs believes that the stories of the Briggs family and the other families involved in the Clarendon County case have been overlooked and forgotten.

The Supreme Court brief filed by Mullikin argued that Brown v. Board of Education had been incorrectly named due to a clerical error. The petitioners in the Briggs case deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices and rightful place in history, according to the brief.

Despite the efforts to rename Brown v. Board of Education, there are some historians who believe that the case was given preference strategically. The court saw an opportunity to push the issue of school segregation onto a national platform, and choosing a case from a “border state” like Kansas made it easier than choosing one from a Deep South state like South Carolina.

The Briggs family faced numerous challenges and hardships as a result of their involvement in the case. They were forced to move multiple times and faced discrimination and economic struggles. The impact of segregation still lingers in Clarendon County, where schools remain de facto segregated and underfunded.

In conclusion, the quest to rename Brown v. Board of Education highlights the enduring legacy of the case and the ongoing challenges of school segregation in America. It is important to recognize the sacrifices made by the families involved and work towards achieving justice and equality in education.

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