HICKS COLUMN: Fitting tribute to a real hero
Thomas Tisdale still can remember the day in 1951 when his grandmother summed up South Carolina's attitude toward Julius Waties Waring.
“While it is true that Waties Waring is our cousin,” she told the 12-year-old Tisdale, “you should never feel compelled to have to admit it.”
Tisdale's grandmother was merely a reflection of her times; back then not many folks cottoned to Judge Waring. That's because he believed black people deserved the right to vote and to attend the same schools as white students.
And he had the authority, and the audacity, to do something about it.
Although Waring is an extremely important figure in this country's civil rights history, his name means very little to most folks in Charleston. Which is just shameful.
Some people are trying to rectify that. They are in the midst of a $150,000 campaign to erect a bronze statue of Waring in a park next to the Four Corners of Law federal courthouse where he once presided.
And in a bit of serendipity, Tisdale is their chairman.
Ahead of his time
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, a major force behind this effort, has Waring's signed oath of office hanging in his chambers.
Gergel calls the judge a major figure in this city's long, storied line of dissenters. Waring helped change the racial orthodoxy of this nation.
What's most amazing is that Waring, a scion of turn-of-the-century Charleston, showed no signs of racial progressiveness before his appointment to the federal bench in 1942. But then, few white people dared speak of such things, as it was not popular — especially here.
Once seated, Waring gave blacks jobs in his courthouse, ended segregated seating in the courtroom and fought efforts to keep blacks from voting.
Most importantly, he mentored a young Thurgood Marshall, pushed him to aim higher in a lawsuit against the separate-but-equal school systems in Clarendon County. The case became one of five lawsuits that formed the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ended school segregation.
That landmark opinion was based largely on Waring's dissent in the Clarendon County case.
Run out of town
For his efforts, Waring was ostracized in Charleston.
Congressmen tried to have him impeached. There were threats against his life; one night someone threw a brick through a window of his Meeting Street home.
Some tried to claim this animosity was a result of Waring's divorce from his longtime first wife. But the judge noted that no one had burned a cross in his yard until he stood up for black voting rights.
Eventually, he left the state and did not return until he was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in 1968.
To this day, Charleston gets enough grief nationally for its troubled racial past. Gergel says the community's reaction to a Waring memorial is a sign of Charleston's progress.
“It's not just that the city is no longer shunning him but embracing him,” Gergel says.
And it's about time.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.