If you go
What: Dedication of the statue and historical marker to the late U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring.
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: Charleston Federal Courthouse garden, off Meeting Street just south of Broad Street.
Traffic note: For security and crowd-control reasons, the city plans to close Meeting Street between Broad and Tradd streets beginning at 1:30 p.m. until the program ends sometime after 3 p.m.
"I think that the Supreme Court's decision of May 17, 1954, was the greatest thing that's happened in this country in many, many decades. ... It declared in effect that segregation, legal segregation, segregation by law, is illegal and not a part of the American system. All the people, the big people and the little people throughout this land, have awakened to the fact that they have a right." - retired U.S. District Judge J. Waites Waring in a 1957 interview.
It took more than a generation for Charleston to celebrate the life and work of one of its most influential citizens of the 20th century, but that omission will end Friday in a quiet garden off the city's most famous intersection.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and dozens of state and federal judges will dedicate a life-size bronze statue to U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, whose anti-segregation rulings made him a pariah in his hometown but set the table for the Civil Rights Movement.
The statue, which sits between Waring's federal courtroom and his former Meeting Street home, not only pays tribute to the judge but also marks the end of a lengthy civic silence about Waring's impact on ending the nation's policy of "separate but equal."
"One of the ways, of course, of denying a man's true place in history was not to talk about him, and that was the case with Judge Waring," said former Charleston Municipal Judge Arthur McFarland, who grew up in Charleston but didn't learn about Waring until he went off to law school.
"No one wanted to say there was this white federal district judge who bucked the system and who was part of the white aristocratic families of Charleston," he said.
During his years on the bench, Waring ruled to give black school teachers equal pay with whites - and ruled to open the state's Democratic primary to black voters - it was his work on the Clarendon County school desegregation case of Briggs v. Elliott that cemented his legacy.
"The case got buried in Brown versus the Board of Education, and the U.S. Supreme Court probably wanted it that way," McFarland said. The court's unanimous 1954 ruling led to integrated schools and fed oxygen to the embers of the nation's emerging Civil Rights Movement. "The true history is the case should have been Briggs v. Elliott rather than Brown v. the Board of Education."
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel and S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal held a symposium in Charleston in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Briggs v. Elliott ruling. And that led to a committee that raised about $125,000 to commission a statue in Waring's honor.
Its work didn't stop there: A new historical marker stands on Meeting Street interpreting the history of the Federal Courthouse and Waring; artist Jonathan Green gave the court a painting of the large crowd outside the courthouse hoping to hear the Briggs v. Elliott case; and the federal government even repaired the monumental fountain nearby.
"This thing has taken on a life of its own," Gergel said.
About a dozen sculptors sought to create the bronze likeness of Waring, and Rick Weaver, a sculptor from Charlottesville, Va., won the commission.
Harriett Green of the S.C. Arts Commission, and Angela Mack helped the committee of lawyers choose Weaver and oversee the aesthetic aspects, deSaussure said.
Weaver had submitted models of Waring seated and standing, and McFarland essentially led the committee to choose the standing pose.
"We're having this discussion and Arthur tells the story of how he, as a young father, gave his young children their evening bath as they would get ready for bed," deSaussure said. "He would be seated on the floor next to the tub, and he would tell them, 'Stand up, stand up for justice!' "
Gergel said once he heard McFarland's comment, "That was it. Checkmate."
Weaver said he wasn't satisfied with the standing version at first until he began working with it on a larger, life-size scale.
"His robe looked like a dress, and I couldn't get that out of my head. I was interested in doing something a little more dynamic," he said. The final statue shows Waring's robes parted, as he steps forward, staring straight ahead and holding a law book.
Weaver said the depiction is meant to show the judge toward the end of his career, and while he aimed for a likeness of the man, he also wanted to balance Waring's judicial legacy with his imperfections as a man. The sculpture shows him wearing a wedding ring - a nod to his controversial divorce and remarriage.
"Ideas can be conflicting things," Weaver said. "That's what makes the process interesting, having some kernel of an idea and through the process of making a sculpture, you meditate on that idea and discover something completely different."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
Artist Jonathan Green did this painting recently to complement the recent effort to celebrate the judicial career of J. Waties Waring. The image shows the crowd gathered outside the U.S. District Court in Charleston to try to hear the Briggs v. Elliott case. Waring and his bailiff are pictured in the window closest to the American flag.×
Charlottesville, Va., artist Richard Weaver prepares for the Friday dedication of his life-size bronze sculpture of U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, a Charleston native who inspired — and helped orchestrate — the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended school segregation 60 years ago. The statue is in the garden at the Federal Courthouse downtown.×
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